Fountains appeared a light shade of red, Alabama's state color, as members of the Lee County community gathered in front of the Opelika Courthouse Thursday afternoon to kick off Alabama’s bicentennial celebrations.
Opening with a flag ceremony by Troupes 7230 and 7283 of the Girl Scouts of Southern Alabama and an invocation by Reverend Robert Cadenhead of Macedonia Baptist Church, the ceremony featured representatives from the cities of Lee County and members of the newly formed Alabama Bicentennial Commission discussing what would be happening over the next three-year celebration.
“From now until December 14, 2019 events in Alabama that have happened in the last 2 centuries will be honored by civic ceremonies,” said Sidney Nakhjavan, co-chair of the commission. “We will celebrate our places, our people, our story.”
After Lee Vanoy presented an American flag from Alabama Representative Mike Rogers, Claire Wilson, also co-chair of the commission, introduced the newly passed resolution signed by Auburn, Loachapoka, Opelika and Smiths Station that endorsed participation in the bicentennial celebrations.
Chairman Bill English of the Lee County Commission read the first part of the resolution, explaining how Alabama became its own territory on March 3, 1817, and Mayor Gary Fuller of Opelika added how in 1819 it became the 22nd state.
Auburn Mayor Bill Hamm explained the reason for celebration.
“Commission members were appointed to organize and execute a bicentennial celebration intended to improve the education and understanding of all Alabamians and visitors regarding the state's history and heritage,” Hamm said. “2017 to 2019 has been divided into three thematic years to acknowledge the environment both natural and developed … the people regardless of race, culture or background… and the history both ancient and recent of the state of Alabama”
The Mayor of Smiths Station, represented by Councilor Richard Cooley and Mayor of Loachapoka Zach Homes concluded the resolution, detailing the educational and commemorative aspects of the celebrations.
Director of Alabama’s Department of Archives and History Steve Murray elaborated further on what the bicentennial celebration will do for Lee County.
“There is no community in the state that has engaged this effort more actively and energetically than Lee County,” Murray said. “We have a wide and ambitious set of programs across the state that will give opportunities to engage in the state's past.”
Murray explained the importance of Alabama’s youth learning about their state, especially during a time where history and social studies stay in the margins of the classroom. He stated that if Alabama is to raise generations of leaders and members of the state’s society, they need to understand where they come from.
“You can't love what you don’t know,” Murray said. “Too many of us today don’t really know much about the state we live in and we want to go about changing this.”
To end the ceremony, Co-chair of the Bicentennial’s public relations Ali Rauch let those in attendance know how they could get involved before members of The Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Lee County sang “Alabama." Co-chair of the bicentennial committee Randy Price gave closing remarks and invited everyone to enjoy ice cream and cake at the Museum of East Alabama.