Locations for Helen Keller and Rosa Parks statues on Alabama State Capitol grounds unveiled
A working model for the Rosa Parks statue sits in front of the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery on Oct. 11, 2023. The final version will stand at about 15 feet tall. (Alander Rocha/Alabama Reflector)
A statue of disability rights advocate Helen Keller at the Alabama State Capitol will stand near Union Street in Montgomery, facing the current Alabama State House.
The Alabama Women’s Statue Tribute Commission, overseeing the erection of statues of Keller and civil rights advocate Rosa Parks, decided on the location at its meeting in Montgomery Wednesday.
The Keller statue will be to the left of the back entrance. The current Statehouse is expected to be knocked down and replaced by green space after the construction of a new Statehouse
“I like it better than the original — the way it faces. It’s there when you’re driving up, and also kids come right by there,” said Oregon-based sculptor Jay Warren, who will design the Helen Keller statue.
The statue of Parks should be placed on the Alabama State Capitol steps, near the main entrance of the building, facing North Bainbridge St. at an angle.
Wayne Hoyt, head of Capitol operations, was concerned with staging a Christmas tree in front of the Capitol every year without potentially damaging the Parks statue.
“This is my 18th year for the Christmas tree,” Hoyt said. “I’m very familiar with how it’s unloaded. And I’m just telling you, I certainly wouldn’t want anything to happen.”
But Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, pushed back.
“We’ll follow the guidelines as the law was written,” Hall said in the meeting after a tour of the Capitol grounds.
Hall added that no representative voted against the legislation that would erect the Parks and Keller statues, and said the “worst thing” would be to change something that is in the bill.
“And they find out — ‘Oh, we voted thinking it’s going to be here,’” Hall said. “And that’s on me.”
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Rev. Agnes Lover, a commission member, said the issue seems like an engineering problem. If the company responsible for installing a five-feet granite base for the Parks statue could find a way that wouldn’t damage the Capitol, Lover said, perhaps they can find an alternative for staging the Christmas tree.
“Sometimes, we don’t think out the box. I think just you offering that as an alternative … that will open up the dialogue a little bit more,” Lover said.
Chase Tourney, a representative from Clark Memorials, which will build the Parks statue base, said that if they can install the piece of granite from the street, they would be able to install the tree “10 times over.” He said there are plenty of cranes that can handle that.
Commissioners also wanted to ensure that the Helen Keller statue is handicap accessible.
Hoyt said that they can easily cut the curb and install a ramp in some sections of the driveway leading up to the Keller statue.
“That’s wonderful. Isn’t that nice that the state Capitol is adding access,” said Annie Butrus, a Birmingham artist and member of the commission.
Accessibility has been a topic of discussion in the Statehouse across the street since before the 1980’s, which lack compliance with the Americans with Disability Act.
The statues are expected to cost about $611,000. The commission has raised about $700,000 for the statues. Remaining money will pay for any additional costs.
The Parks statue received a $300,000 grant from the Alabama Power Foundation, which can’t be used for the Keller statue but will likely be used for ongoing maintenance.
The source of the money to build the Keller statue, expected to cost almost $300,000 ($245,000 for the sculptor and $50,000 for site preparation), was not clear earlier this year.
In the spring, the Alabama Legislature approved HB 125, a supplemental appropriations bill sponsored by Rep. Rex Reynolds, R-Huntsville, and spearheaded by Hall that allocated $200,000 towards the Keller statue. The commission is also accepting donations for the statue.
Warren has designed statues of historical figures around the country, including statues of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Congressman John Lewis in New Jersey and Medger Evans in Mississippi. Warren also designed the Emancipation and Freedom Monument in Virginia.
Julia Knight, a Georgia-based sculptor responsible for designing the Parks statue, couldn’t hide her excitement about the Parks statue being one step closer to the Capitol. She brought a working model to the meeting and wheeled it across the street to give the commission a better visual.
“I would like to have her there because I think once you see her there, then there’ll be no questions,” Knight said.
The working model Knight brought to show the commission sits at about six feet on top of a table. The real statue will stand at about 15 feet.
“I’m just really excited. I’m really excited. And then when [Tourney] put the tape measure up to 15 feet —oh my gosh, it’s going to be so exciting,” Knight said.
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