By Brian Lyman, Legislative/state government reporter, Montgomery Advertiser
A state committee work- ing to put up statues of Rosa Parks and Helen Keller on the grounds of the Alabama State Capitol will solicit entries through early January, hoping to have them in place next year.
The Alabama Women’s Tribute State Commission plans to accept proposals through Jan. 4. Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, the chair of the commission, said in a recent interview the date moved up from mid-Novem- ber to give college students a chance to enter the com- petition. Most colleges and universities in Alabama should end classes by mid- December.
“It’s certainly important to have students participate in this project,” Hall said.
The project would call for the Parks statue to go on the west side of the Alabama State Capitol, facing Bainbridge Street and pos- sibly looking down Dexter Avenue, where Parks boarded a bus on Dec. 1, 1955. Her refusal to give up her seat to a white passenger led to the chain of events that triggered the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
The statue of Helen Keller, the author and disabilities rights activist from Tuscumbia, would go on the State Capitol grounds. No exact location has been set. The 2019 law approving the statues, sponsored by Hall, said the state wants the Keller statue to be “readily accessible to, and touchable by, people with disabilities.”
The committee expects to pick up to three finalists for each statue, each of whom will receive a $2,000 stipend to create a model of the statue.
Helen Keller is the subject of one of two official Alabama statues in the National Statuary Hall collection in the U.S. House of Representatives, the other being Joseph Wheeler, a Confederate general. Parks also has a statue in the hall, though it has no direct state affiliation. The city of Montgomery unveiled a statue of Parks in Court Square in 2019.
The Alabama Capitol grounds include a memorial to World War I, but tributes to the Confederacy dominate the landscape. A statue dedicated to Confederate President Jefferson Davis faces Dexter Avenue, as does a statue of J. Marion Sims, a 19th-century obstetrician who performed experiments on enslaved women who could not consent. The 88-foot tall Confederate Memorial Monument rises on the north side of the Capitol.
The bill to put up the Parks and Keller statues passed the Alabama House and Senate without a dis- senting vote in 2019. Hall said she hoped the spirit of that vote carried forward.
“The message I’d want to take forward is the same feeling I felt that day, that we can get beyond the idea that the only statues that are important in the state of Alabama are Confederate statues,” she said.