Democrat Doug Jones was victorious in Tuesday's senate election against alleged statutory rapist and Boss Hogg cosplayer Roy Moore, a man, who aside from the sexual-misconduct accusations, is on record saying racist, homophobic and sexist remarks. Even still, the election was painfully close, with white voters (men and women, people with college degrees and not) turning out for Moore.
Given the high-stakes election — which, with Jones' victory reduces the Republican majority down to just one seat and gives the Democrats an early win ahead of many of the significant elections next year — Alabama has been in the national spotlight all season. Alas, this meant hearing scores sweeping stereotypes and caricatures about the state and its constituents from both the right and left.
More so perhaps than anything else, this campaign and the way it ended should serve to remind people that Alabama is much more than what Roy Moore and costal critics make it out to be. After all, it's the state where a committed black electorate saw through the politics the GOP candidate represented and answered him with an organized, nearly universal response that swung the final outcome. As writer and teacher Clint Smith aptly tweeted Tuesday night: "don’t erase the lives & experiences of black, brown, & LGBTQ folks in Alabama who don’t subscribe to the same politics as those who are voting for Moore."
Beyond the battle between Moore and Jones, and even politics more generally, Alabama has produced important civil rights figures, legendary athletes and performers, and is home to various museums, organizations and centers that work tirelessly to make the state and country at large a more equitable, cultured, worthy place.
Alabama, like every state in the U.S. is complicated in both its history and current politics — but it's important to not negate the people and institutions in Alabama who've worked for decades to change its narrative.
This is all to say that there's a lot of things to love about the red-leaning state once you set aside your preconceptions. Here's just a few.
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
This museum and research center tells the story of Birmingham's role in the fight for civil rights, both as an epicenter in the movement in the 1950s and '60s and also as an ongoing capital for black people and black freedoms.
Shepherded into being by the city's first black mayor, it officially opened to the public in 1992, recently celebrating its 25th anniversary. Significantly, it stands across the street from the 16th Street Baptist Church where four young black girls lost their lives after white supremacists detonated a bomb in 1963. While there are several prominent civil-rights centers in the south, Birmingham's remains one of the largest and oldest.
While tributes to the grace of various civil-rights leaders are many here, this is not a place that hides the ugliness of segregation and racism. Exhibits such as the "Confrontation Gallery" show the daunting white robes and hoods members of Ku Klux Klan wore as they terrorized black communities. It's not just a catalog of who fought for equality, but a sharp exploration of why they were fighting.
Political activist Angela Davis was born and raised in Birmingham, and her commitment to social justice has not wavered in over five decades of work. Davis is most known for her iconic afro, membership in the Communist Party, affiliation with the Black Panther Party and for becoming a political prisoner after being charged with conspiracy, something she was eventually acquitted of after thousands organized for her release.
But Davis has continued to be a fierce advocate for many of important causes nationally and abroad, forwardeding an internationalist and intersectional approach to social justice. Her work includes authoring books connecting the struggles between Ferguson and Palestine, pointed examinations of the prison-industrial complex and meditations on women, race and class.
Davis has spoken out against the death penalty, transgender discrimination and misogyny within civil rights movements and organizations. Simply, she is a tireless champion for the values she learned in Alabama.
Rosa Parks Library and Museum
The Rosa Parks Library and Museum, located on the grounds of Troy University in Montgomery, preserves the legacy of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the individuals who made such a profound and powerful protest victorious. The museum also highlights the many contributions of the woman who became known as the "mother of the civil rights movement."
There are several components to the museum, but most notably is an exhibit that functions as a reenactment of the day in 1955 when Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery City Bus to a white man, a moment that many see as the spark that lit the civil-rights movement. No impromptu, unplanned moment of resistance, the move was strategic for Parks and the organizers she worked with. More crucially, the museum shows how it was one part of a larger career of activism and advocacy on behalf of black people and women.
Southern Poverty Law Center
Founded in 1971 by Morris Dees and Joseph Levin Jr., the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has fought and continues to fight against hate and bigotry and defend marginalized people through litigation, education and advocacy in a way that few organizations ever has.
As its website explains: "Our lawsuits have toppled institutional racism and stamped out remnants of Jim Crow segregation; destroyed some of the nation’s most violent white supremacist groups; and protected the civil rights of children, women, the disabled, immigrants and migrant workers, the LGBT community, prisoners, and many others who faced discrimination, abuse or exploitation."
SPLC is also known for documenting and exposing hate groups, as well as taking on criminal justice reform. The Center has its own magazine called "Intelligence Report" and founded the Civil Rights Memorial located across the street from its center. Both institutions in Montgomery were built around the corner from the church where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. presided as pastor during the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Heavyweight and cruiserweight champion, Evander Holyfield was already one of boxing’s revered White Hats before the bout in June 1997 when, in a clinch in the third round, Iron Mike Tyson bit off a chunk of his right ear and spit it onto the mat in center ring. Who needs that? Certainly not Evander Holyfield, an Olympic gold medalist who had won and lost and then successfully defended his heavyweight title three times before retiring in 1992, and then abandoned retirement in order to fight Tyson.
What few people recall about the Tyson fight, originally billed as “The Sound And The Fury,” is that when it resumed immediately following his disfigurement, Tyson almost succeeded in biting off Holyfield’s left ear. “The Bite Fight” as it has been remembered was stopped before the start of the fifth round. Whatever he was doing, and whoever was biting him, Holyfield's always paired determination with true class — a true credit to his state.
Much like his fellow Alabaman pugilist, Holyfield, the “Brown Bomber” combined technique and raw power to become a champion in the ring. Unlike Holyfield, however, Louis was also a profoundly consequential figure in black history, one whose value is often overlooked by white society.
One of the most famous men of his age and perhaps the first black international hero (most of America saw Jack Johnson as a villain), he inspired crowds of African-Americans to take to the streets, cheering his name during a time when they didn’t have much to cheer about. Long after his career was done, President Ronald Reagan said of the man, "Joe Louis was more than a sports legend — his career was an indictment of racial bigotry and a source of pride and inspiration to millions of white and black people around the world."
Corretta Scott King
Born in Heiberger, Corretta Scott King was much more than just the wife of Dr. King. She was an author, activist, singer and civil rights leader in her own right. Her advocacy work only increased after King's assassination as she assumed roles in the women's movement, founded the King Center and was instrumental in the recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a national holiday.
Jesse Owens & Carl Lewis
Owens is one of the greatest track-and-field athletes of all time. Fellow Alabaman Lewis kept his athletic legacy alive in the latter part of the 20th century. Owens won four gold medals during Adolf Hitler's 1936 Berlin Olympics, undercutting the Nazi myth of the "master race". Lewis, for his part, won nine gold Olympic medals and has been called "Olympian of the Century" by Sports Illustrated. Two fast men, one home state.
Now, what’s good about Doug Jones isn’t just limited to his win over Moore. Nor is it circumscribed by the graceful, simple way he went about campaigning or actually listened to black voters while doing so. As a lawyer, he’s also brought to justice abortion-clinic bombers, prosecuted some of the KKK members who torched Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963 killing four young girls, held Monsanto to task and more.
Muscle Shoals Sound Studio
If you’ve ever had a soul, rock R&B or pop song from the ‘60s or ‘70s by Percy Sledge, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, the Rolling Stones, Bob Seger or many others stuck in your head, there’s a decent chance it came out of this out-of-the-way studio with instrumentals from the legendary Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. While off the beaten path, it’s ground zero for much of the music that provides the soundtrack for America.
Frank Lloyd Wright's Rosenbaum House
While nowhere near as famous or spectacular as the architect’s “Falling Water” house, this ranch-style, single-family home in Florence may be just as influential and is certainly more livable. Warm, yet angular, welcoming, yet bold, it offers not just a model for the ideal modern home, but a blueprint for living happily with arresting architecture, not just cooped up in it.
The U.S. Space and Rocket Center
Located in Huntsville, it’s not just one of the largest museums dedicated to space exploration, it’s one of the most open and welcoming. From the titanic rockets that boosted the early days of the American space program outside, to the simulators and exhibits inside, it makes exploration technology something as approachable, touchable and inspiring as it should be.
U.S. Veterans Memorial Museum
Similarly, this other Huntsville institution, “where every day is Veterans Day,” doesn’t keep history under wraps. Unlike the marble monuments to our service members all over our country, this museum takes visitors up close to the arms they carried, the items they used and, in its outside portion, the vehicles they rode in.
Simply put, Alabama owns college football. The Alabama Crimson Tide and the Auburn Tigers have set the standard with 21 National Championships between them. The names on the field are legendary — Bear Bryant, Joe Namath, Bo Jackson, Cam Newton — and the annual Iron Bowl between the state rivals is a classic.
SAW's Soul Kitchen and BBQ
No one does soul food and BBQ quite like the south and SAW's is a staple in Alabama. The pork and greens is a patron favorite, but the menu of these sister restaurants offers many, many more mouth-watering options. Don't leave the state without a visit.
Hangout Music Fest
Once a year, people travel from all over the South to let loose at this three-day music festival on the beaches of Gulf Shores. At what some may consider to be the Coachella of Alabama, musical artists such as The Black Keys, The Killers, the late Tom Petty and Stevie Wonder have all graced the stage in the last few years.
Alabama Wildlife Rehabilitation Center
Located in Oak Mountain State Park, it’s the oldest wildlife rehabilitation center in Alabama and cares for almost 2,000 bird patients every year. What started as a volunteer-based organization in 1977 has now grown into one of the largest, and most vibrant, wildlife rehabilitation centers in the country.
Highlands Bar & Grill
This French restaurant features a menu that changes daily, making it a place both tourists and residents can return to since its foundation in 1982. But the experience at Highlands Bar & Grill goes beyond just the cuisine. Fine dining Alabama-style, it's a cultural institution.
Dexter Parsonage Museum
Another iconic landmark for the civil rights movement, the Dexter Parsonage Museum is famous for being the home where Dr. King and his family lived during some of his most productive, consequential years. A center point for the Montgomery Bus Boycott, it's a tangible artifact from those days you can walk into.
Ave Maria Grotto
A synthesis of religious kitsch, folk-art splendor and Christian reverence, Ave Maria Grotto presents itself as a series of miniature landmarks, from Jerusalem to the Vatican, painstakingly crafted by a monk, Brother Joseph Zoettl. Despite being off the beaten path, Ave Maria Grotto has taken its place in the canon of American folk-art monuments, likely because it's so quintessentially American.
The site is famous for its role in the Battle of Mobile Bay during the Civil War and remains home to many of its relics including original cannons, the massive brick fortifications and the anchor from Admiral David Farragut’s flagship, USS Hartford. More than just an attraction for history buffs, though, Fort Gaines sits right at the lip of the Gulf on Dauphin Island, a beautiful location in and of itself.
Hank Aaron & Willie Mays
Alabama is home to two of the greatest, and most idiosyncratic, baseball legends. Aaron went straight from playing in an Alabama city league to the national level where he eventually broke Babe Ruth’s homerun record with a certain quiet grace and dignity. Mays, the "Say Hey Kid," was far more flash and dash, but no less talented. Famously, he's been in the starting lineup for more MLB All-Star Games than any other player in history.
Mia Hamm & Bo Jackson
And that's not the end to Alabama's athletic legacy. Not only is Hamm a two-time FIFA Women’s World Cup winner, she’s also a two-time gold medalist. Bo Jackson, an Auburn alum, is the famously multi-faceted athlete who played both baseball and football, becoming a massively popular all-star in both sports on the professional level.
USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park
This relic South Dakota-class battleship is the sixth to be named after the State of Alabama. Commissioned in 1942 and a veteran of both theaters of World War II with nine battle stars, she's a must-see sight for history fans passing through Mobile. She sits moored next to other attractions such as an aviation museum, an outdoors arms gallery and the submarine USS Drum, a World War II survivor herself.
W.C. Handy & Hank Williams
And, yes, many famous musicians have called Alabama home, including W.C. Handy. Born in Florence, Alabama, in 1873, the African-American composer was so influential he's become known as the “Father of Blues.” Hank Williams, too, helped lay the brickwork for an entire genre. The Mount Olive native is perhaps the quintessential country star and, overall, one of the most influential singers of the 20th century.
Born in Tuscumbia just 19 months before she lost her sight and hearing, Keller’s writing and, at times, speech transformed the way the world views disability. Through the help of Anne Sullivan and others, Keller overcame what many at the time viewed as the permanent isolation of deafness, dumbness and blindness to become perhaps the best advocate for the disabled this nation has ever had and a co-founder of the ACLU. It is through her example that many began to view physical limitations as obstacles to be overcome, not permanent boundaries.
Located on one full acre of land in Auburn’s historic downtown, the aptly named Acre is a farm-to-table operation owned by Alabama-born and San Antonio-raised Executive Chef David Bancroft. Opened in a stone house in 2013, the kitchen garden grows everything from Arbequina olives to collard greens and lemongrass. What Bancroft doesn’t grow himself he gets from nearby ranchers, fishermen and foragers. Try the roasted gulf snapper served with creamed popped corn and collards.
There’s a lot of things you can hold against the senior U.S. senator from Alabama, but you can’t call him a coward. He’s blood-red on almost every issue you can name from abortion and gun control, to health care and the environment. But when it came between choosing his party’s agenda by voting for Roy Moore and doing the right and moral thing, he chose the high ground. “I think the Republican Party can do better" than Moore, he told CNN. "The state of Alabama deserves better." He cast his vote for a write-in conservative candidate and left the election with his dignity intact, which is a lot more than many in the GOP can say.
Barkley grew up 10 minutes outside of Birmingham, in Leeds, and all through his storied career in the NBA played the heel to faces like Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas and, especially, Michael Jordan. Barkley left the league for the chattering classes court side in 2000 and has been a reliable, enjoyable provocateur ever since. A life-long Republican, Barkley flirted momentarily with statewide office in 2008 but recanted that promise to run for governor when the opportunity arose two years later. This year, he tore a path through the state campaigning against Roy Moore and for Doug Jones.
"To Kill A Mockingbird"
Published in 1961 and based on events in and around Monroeville where author Harper Lee grew up, the lessons of “To Kill A Mockingbird” about the death of innocence in a radicalized America may be the one universally accepted text that children are encouraged to read in order to begin an explanation of the color line in this country. In an odd way, it might the state's greatest tangible gift to America's children