Alabama’s constitutions now in Huntsville, on display for the first time

Updated: Jun. 25, 2019 at 6:16 PM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) -Some of Alabama's most important documents have made their way to Huntsville for a historic exhibition.

The state’s six constitutions are going to be on display in the Rocket City as part of the state's bicentennial celebration.

This is the first time all of the documents have left the capitol for public display.

On Tuesday, crews carefully loaded everything up in Montgomery and got on the road to Huntsville, receiving a special law enforcement escort.

The Bicentennial Motorcade arrived at the Huntsville Museum of Art late Tuesday morning where the items will be prepared for viewing by the public.

“We knew that it was part of the special story of Alabama’s statehood. We wanted to share that with the citizens of Huntsville and North Alabama so it wasn’t a difficult decision at all. We knew that it needed to be here during this bicentennial year. Each of them is a reflection of the concerns that existed in the state at the time they were created and some of the major forces that were shaping Alabama at the time,” explained Steve Murray, Director of the Alabama Department of Archives and History.

“We the People: Alabama’s Defining Documents,” which showcases-for the first time outside of Montgomery- Alabama’s six constitutions will be on view in Huntsville from June 30 through August 11, 2019.

(Source: Alabama Department of Archives and History)

In the summer of 1819, forty-four delegates met in Huntsville to draft Alabama’s first constitution, the defining document that provided the framework for the state’s government.

Two hundred years later, the constitution of 1819 returned to the city. The exhibition will feature all six of Alabama’s constitutions, along with the 1861 ordinance of secession, which declared Alabama’s separation from the Union on the eve of the Civil War.

“This exhibition will explore how these documents, some of the most important in state history, reflect their framers’ values, hopes, and fears,” the Huntsville Museum of Art wrote in a press release.

This exhibition is curated and designed by the staff of the Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH) in Montgomery, where the documents permanently reside.

In preparation for the celebration of Alabama’s bicentennial year, extensive conservation work was conducted on the documents by the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) in Andover, Massachusetts, one of the leading labs in the country for that kind of work.

Steve Murray explained that most of the old documents were written on parchment, which is actually animal skin. Parchment has special conservation requirements.

“They were flattened and straightened. Some minor tears were repaired. Several of these constitutions were connected as scrolls so they rolled up and the connections between those pages had deteriorated over time. All of that work was repaired and put back in good shape,” he added.

The conservation center also treated all of the ink on the parchment in places where it had started to separate. A special treatment is used to make sure that the ink adheres and doesn’t flake off so the documents won’t continue to fade over time.

“All of that work together made it possible for us to put them on display here at the Huntsville Museum of Art. It also puts us in good shape to preserve these documents for the next 100-200 years," Murray stated.

The exhibition will be on view at the Huntsville Museum of Art June 30 through Aug. 11. On Sunday, June 30, from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m., the museum will offer free admission.

On the opening day, an official ribbon cutting will be held at 1 p.m. inside the galleries.

“This exhibition is an historic milestone for our state and we are honored to showcase these important documents at our Museum in the city where it all began,” commented Christopher J. Madkour, executive director of the HMA. “We hope everyone in our community is able to visit the museum to view the documents in person before they return to our state’s capitol.”

Connie Grund with the Daughters of the American Revolution says they have 70 chapters across the state. They focus on historic preservation, education and patriotism and have been preparing for the bicentennial for more two years.

“It’s a perfect time for us to honor our ancestors, preserve our history, educate our communities about the constitutions and also the history of Alabama and what an important role that we have played in the United States,” she said. “It’s so important for the residents of Alabama to know about their history, especially the school children.”

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