This Week in Alabama History Mar 20 – Mar 26

This Week in Alabama History Mar 13 – Mar 19
March 13, 2017
This Week in Alabama History Mar 27 – Apr 2
March 27, 2017

This Week in Alabama History Mar 20 – Mar 26

Every day of the year, something exciting, notable, or just downright strange has happened in Alabama history.

Scroll down and check out what happened THIS week.

Governor and Mrs. Gordon Persons entering the Governor's mansion with their children, 1951. (Alabama Department of Archives and History, Encyclopedia of Alabama.)

March 20, 1928

Governor Seth Gordon Persons married Alice McKeithen, who became his wife of thirty-seven years. A successful businessman, Persons was known for installing rural electric lines, directing the Public Service Commission, and founding Montgomery’s first radio station, WSFA. Elected governor in 1950, Persons led the state with a no-nonsense, quiet approach to politics that included refusing all speaking engagements during his four years in office. He worked harmoniously with the legislature and successfully introduced prison reform, improved highway safety, and increased funding for education and educational television in the state. Persons suffered a major heart attack during his final months in office and never returned to public service.

Marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge during the Selma to Montgomery March, 1965. (Alabama Department of Archives and History.)

March 21, 1965

Approximately 8,000 demonstrators marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge at the beginning of the final Selma to Montgomery March. Protesting for black voting rights, the activists crossed the bridge four days after US District Judge Frank M. Johnson Jr. ruled that the state could not interfere with the march as they had on Bloody Sunday and Turnaround Tuesday. The protest culminated on March 25 with Martin Luther King Jr. delivering his “How Long? Not Long!” speech from the capitol steps to a crowd of 25,000. In 1996, Congress designated the Selma to Montgomery National Voting Rights Trail a National Historic Trail.

Ruins of the Selma Ordnance and Naval Foundry following Wilson's raid. (Alabama Department of Archives and History.)

March 22, 1865

Union general James H. Wilson launched the largest cavalry raid of the Civil War into central Alabama with approximately 13,480 troops. Targeting industrial facilities like coal mines and ironworks, Wilson’s troops faced little resistance except for 5,000 cavalry troops under the command of General Nathaniel Bedford Forrest, who they defeated twice. In less than a month’s time, Wilson captured the important industrial cities of Montevallo, Tuscaloosa, Selma, and Montgomery. The raid effectively destroyed Alabama’s ability to support the Confederacy with military supplies, but it had almost no effect on the outcome of the war, which was determined at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on April 9.

Dr. Wernher von Braun is in his office. (NASA, Wikimedia.)

March 23, 1912

Rocket engineer Wernher von Braun was born in Wirsitz, Germany. Credited with inventing the world’s first ballistic missile, the V-2, for Nazi Germany, von Braun secretly moved to the US in 1945 and Huntsville in 1950. While at Redstone Arsenal and, later, the Marshall Space Flight Center, von Braun led the development of the Redstone family of rockets responsible for launching the first US satellite into space, America’s first two manned spaceflights, and the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969. Von Braun received the National Medal of Science in 1975 and was posthumously inducted into the US Space and Rocket Center Hall of Fame in 2007.

Portrait of Creek chief Opothle Yoholo, who was present for the signing of the Treaty of Cusseta, by painter Charles Bird King. (Print by McKenney and Hall, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

March 24, 1832

The US government and the Creek Nation signed the Treaty of Cusseta in Washington, DC. In the treaty, the Creek Nation ceded their remaining five million acres in Alabama in exchange for approximately $350,000 and land claims for any Creek wishing to remain in the state. The agreement followed a series of state and federal laws passed to undermine the authority of Native Americans and to encourage their emigration west, including the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Creek landowners received approximately two million acres in land claims, but many of them quickly lost the land to swindlers and illegal squatters.

Postcard printed by the International Labor Defense protesting the conviction of the Scottsboro Boys, 1931. (Alabama Department of Archives and History.)

March 25, 1931

Local law enforcement arrested nine black young men ranging in age from thirteen to twenty under false accusations of raping two white women on a train in Jackson County. Despite overwhelming evidence of the Scottsboro Boys’ innocence, the arrest sparked a long series of trials that included multiple death sentences and two US Supreme Court cases that improved black legal rights in court. Ultimately, all nine men served at least six years in prison with the last surviving defendant serving until his pardon in 1976. In 2013, Gov. Robert Bentley signed legislation exonerating the men of all guilt at the Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center.

Star-patterned quilt by members of the Freedom Quilting Bee. (Photograph by Nancy Callahan, Encyclopedia of Alabama.)

March 26, 1966

A group of black craftswomen officially established the Freedom Quilting Bee cooperative in Rehoboth, Wilcox County. Often confused with the nearby Quilters of Gee’s Bend, the Freedom Quilting Bee formed to raise money for poor black women in the Black Belt to earn money during the Civil Rights Movement. The cooperative hosted several auctions in New York under the leadership of Estelle Witherspoon as the price of the quilts rose from $10-15 to more than $100. The quilts, with patterns reflecting at least a century of black quilting in the area, sold at Bloomingdale’s, were featured in Life magazine, and exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution.

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