For Tuscaloosa, 2019 is a year of celebration. On December 13, 1819, Tuscaloosa became a city, the day before Congress admitted Alabama as the 22nd state of the Union. On December 13 of this year, Tuscaloosa will have its 200th birthday. This makes 2019 the Bicentennial year for both the city and the state. Tuscaloosa will celebrate with gusto for this milestone birthday, remembering how much the city has seen over the last two centuries, and building momentum for what lies ahead.
Since before its incorporation by the territory of Alabama, this region attracted settlers for the same reasons the Native American tribes inhabited the area, predominantly because of access to what we know as the Black Warrior River. The river provided accessibility that fueled industry, allowing the city to thrive, and to become what it is today.
“These companies know they would not be what they are if they had not been planted in the soil of Tuscaloosa,” said Cathy Randall about the corporate sponsors of Tuscaloosa 200, the collective name of the events scheduled for the bicentennial year. Because of these sponsors, members of the public can attend these events for free.
Randall is one of three co-chairs of the Tuscaloosa Bicentennial Commission, the group formed to organize the year’s events. Tim Parker, Jr., and Harrison Taylor make up the trio of leadership. Within the commission, nine community volunteers chair different segments of the planning and facilitation, along with hundreds of other volunteers who have (and will continue) to lend their time, effort, and talents to the preparation and execution of the vision set forth.
Kicking Off the Celebration
To kick off the 12 months of celebration, the commission held a dedication ceremony declaring the gazebo in Government Plaza downtown as Bicentennial Square, complete with the unveiling of a plaque stating that the square is “Dedicated in honor of the 200th Anniversary of the founding of the City of Tuscaloosa on December 13, 1819,” and naming this as “A Year to Remember.” At this dedication ceremony, the Commission chairs, along with other key players involved, presented the line up of what’s to come – and what the community can expect in the coming months.
The Tuscaloosa 200 website calls out its mission “to celebrate Tuscaloosa’s past and reflect on a better future for all citizens of Tuscaloosa.” Organizers know that by focusing on what our city has seen in years past, and what it’s accomplished since, will establish a foundation for continuing all its achievements in the future.
“It is awe-inspiring to walk down the same streets as the people who helped make Tuscaloosa what it is today,” said City Council President Cynthia Almond. “Part of the goal for 2019 is to celebrate all that our predecessors brought to fruition.”
Celebrating the Past: The Bicentennial Quilt
One way the Commission plans to celebrate Tuscaloosa’s past is through a Bicentennial Quilt. Local folk artist Yvonne Wells was brought in to lead this endeavor. Wells’ story quilts have been displayed prominently, and to much acclaim, all over the U.S.
“We jumped at the chance to work with Yvonne,” said Amy Echols, the executive director of Kentuck and one of the artists who lent her creative talents to the Bicentennial Quilt.
Echols, along with Becky Booker, Sharron Rudowski, and Tonyia Tidlin, worked with Wells to create the quilt. Each woman took a quadrant of the city [North, South, East, and West] and created four squares depicting historical and memorable people, places, and/or events represented in that area. Wells had a few guidelines she gave to her team: each section had to contain a sun, three birds for the Holy Trinity, lots of greenery for the Druid City (City of Oaks), and a personal element from the artist in each square.
More than quilting, Wells put her team together for their artistic talents. Some of the ladies had never quilted before this project.
“It was not so much about the quilting,” said Wells, “but about being able to immerse one’s self in the story.”
The details of the stitching don’t matter as much as the message shared through the designs.
“We’re not quilters; we’re storytellers,” said Echols.
Bicentennial Launch Ceremony
The quilt will be revealed at the Bicentennial Launch Ceremony on January 31 at Tuscaloosa River Market, one of several events lined up in celebration.
In addition to the Fireworks at the Amp that rang in the new year, there will be a Bicentennial Bash at the Amp in March, an all-day music festival featuring big headliners to entertain our community.
The Tuscaloosa public schools are adding an educational component to Tuscaloosa 200, with each school taking a different era and creating projects that associate with that time in the city’s history. These will make up the “Tuscaloosa Through Time History Expo” at Coleman Coliseum April 24-27.
To wrap up the celebration, on December 13, the community will celebrate Tuscaloosa’s 200th birthday with a City Birthday Party, including a Bicentennial parade, a sculpture unveiling, and a time capsule burial.