For the second session of Applied Democracy Exchanges, the Mathews Center invited Dr. Kathy King to share the work of the Montevallo Legacy Project, which protects, preserves, interprets, and educates about the history and culture of under-represented communities in Montevallo.

On Thursday, February 16, participants from around the nation gathered online to discuss the perils of democracy both domestically and abroad. In recognition of Black History Month, February’s exchange was titled “Research and Reckoning: Uncovering the Hidden Histories of Marginalized Communities.” 

Dr. David Mathews remarked on the state of divisiveness in our nation and how so many efforts have failed or even widened this division further. “What we need now, around the world, is to reawaken our inventive side,” he noted. “America has a great tradition of inventiveness, and sometimes it follows periods of chaos.” 

A great example of this inventive spirit in Alabama is the Montevallo Legacy Project (MLP), an organization that preserves stories of the past, fosters community unity and cultural diversity, and makes available empowering legacies for the future. After visiting the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Dr. Kathy King and Anitka Sims were inspired to found MLP and uncover the incredible stories hiding just under the surface in their backyard.

“After visiting the Memorial for Peace and Justice, I learned, almost accidentally, that there had been a lynching in Montevallo. It wasn’t talked about in our town. It wasn’t unknown, but it wasn’t the sort of thing anyone called attention to,” she explained. “I knew we needed to have this marker up in Montevallo.”

Utilizing public records, Dr. King and members of the Montevallo Historic Preservation Commission were able to construct the story of this horrid event and properly memorialize the lives taken through the installation of an interpretive marker on Main Street.

DMC Creative Director Justin Lutz, who, as a member of the Historic Commission assisted in efforts to establish the marker, described the process of communicating with the community. “There was a good amount of public feedback and community engagement around this, too. Because we knew that it was not something that would just be done by the historical commission and foisted upon everyone else, we wanted to get the opinions of others that weren’t exactly on the same side. That was very important to us.”

The Montevallo Legacy Project has embarked on a number of projects since the Community Remembrance Project marker installation in 2020. MLP has carried on the efforts of the Montevallo African-American Heritage Trail first launched in 2017 by former mayor Hollie Cost. Recently, MLP has compiled an anthology of the local black history of the town in the book Untold Stories of Black Montevallo, which can be viewed and downloaded for free online.

Other Exchange participants shared their personal experiences with “controversial history” in their communities in places like Mobile, Cullman, and other towns in Georgia, Florida, and Nevada. We are grateful to all who join our Exchanges and help expand our conversations with unique perspectives and compelling stories.

Our next ADE session will take place on Thursday, March 16, at 12:00 PM CST online via Zoom. In recognition of Women’s History Month, we will talk with historians and organizations that examine how women helped shape the fabric of our nation’s democracy. You can register at the ADE Eventbrite page here.