Alabama commission nearing agreement on Helen Keller statue at State Capitol

Women’s Tribute Statue Commission says Rosa Parks statue could be unveiled mid-next year

By: - September 5, 2023 6:59 am
A black and white photo of Helen Keller, standing among with books in braille, holding a large Braille book in her hands.

Helen Keller, a writer, educator and advocate for the disabled, holds a Braille volume in a library surrounded by shelves containing books and decorative figurines in a 1956 portrait. A childhood illness left Keller, a native of Tuscumbia, blind and deaf. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The Alabama Women’s Tribute Statute Commission expects to finalize a contract by mid-September to design a statue of writer and activist Helen Keller, to be placed on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol.

The commission, charged with erecting statues of Keller and Rosa Parks on the Alabama State Capitol Grounds, should also get an update on work on the Parks statue from Julia Knight, a sculptor from Decatur, Georgia designing the statue. The commission approved a working model of the monument at its previous meeting in April.

“The artist is going to report on her progress on the full-scale model at the September 12 commission meeting,” said Catie Marie Niolet, a lawyer from Birmingham representing the commission.


After a full-scale model is approved, Knight will work with a foundry to complete the statue.

Rosa Parks statue passes another hurdle on way to Alabama State Capitol steps

The commission does not have a timeline for completion of the Keller statue but expects to finalize a contract with the artist in the next two weeks. Niolet declined to name the Keller artist, citing the pending finalization of the contract.

The funding source for the Helen Keller statue, expected to cost between $211,485 and $245,000, was not clear earlier this year. But in the spring, the Alabama Legislature approved HB 125, sponsored by Rep. Rex Reynolds, R-Huntsville, a supplemental appropriations bill. The legislation allocated $200,000 towards the Keller statue. The commission is also accepting donations for the statue.

The Parks statue will show the civil rights activist standing on a platform, facing those coming up the stairs to the Capitol. Parks will gaze upwards, symbolizing her courage and determination.

The statue will face North Bainbridge Street at a diagonal angle. According to the proposal, the statue of Parks will be nine feet high and stand on a six-foot tall granite podium.

Parks, whose arrest on a Montgomery city bus in 1955 sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the modern civil rights movement, will be depicted stepping onto a platform facing North Bainbridge Street.

A statue working model is presented on Zoom
A working model for the Rosa Parks statue is presented at the Alabama Women’s Tribute Statue Commission on Apr. 18, 2023, by artist Julia Knight. (Alander Rocha/Alabama Reflector)

A seamstress and longtime civil rights activist, Parks boarded a segregated Montgomery bus on Dec. 1, 1955 and refused to give her seat to a white person. Parks’ arrest led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott and kicked off the modern Civil Rights Movement.

The current model shows the wind blowing behind Parks’ coat, which Knight said in a previous meeting is meant to symbolize “freedom, blowing in the wind flying up, not restricted.”

It is not known when the statue will be ready for installation. Knight said Friday in an interview that the final model, about nine and a half feet and about 1,100 pounds worth or clay, will be voted on by the commission in December. The foundry could take about six months to complete the statue, which will be made of bronze. The statue could be ready to be unveiled in about a year, she said.

Montgomery’s Court Square, where Parks caught the bus on Dec. 1, 1955, features a life-size statue of Parks. A statue of Parks also resides in the U.S. Capitol.

Keller, an advocate for disability rights, became deaf and blind at 19 months.  She overcame substantial challenges, becoming a symbol of inspiration for many. Keller’s work laid the foundation for the disability rights movement, leading to advancements in accessibility and inclusion.

The Alabama Women’s Tribute Statue Commission was formed in 2019 to plan and erect statues of Rosa Parks and Helen Keller on the grounds of the Alabama State Capitol. The commission consists of six members, and is chaired by Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville.

“We’re excited. We’re moving in a good direction, and we’re excited to honor those wonderful women,” Niolet said.


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Alander Rocha
Alander Rocha

Alander Rocha is a journalist based in Montgomery, and he reports on government, policy and healthcare. He previously worked for KFF Health News and the Red & Black, Georgia's student newspaper. He is a Tulane and Georgia alumnus with a two-year stint in the U.S. Peace Corps.