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Commission challenge: Summarize Rosa Parks and Helen Keller in 70 words or less

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Commission challenge: Summarize Rosa Parks and Helen Keller in 70 words or less

Jun 18, 2024 | 4:01 pm ET
By Alander Rocha
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Commission challenge: Summarize Rosa Parks and Helen Keller in 70 words or less
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A working model for the Rosa Parks statue is presented at the Alabama Women’s Tribute Statue Commission on Apr. 18, 2023, by artist Julia Knight. (Alander Rocha/Alabama Reflector)

The Alabama Women’s Tribute Statue Commission was tasked with a unique challenge Tuesday: capturing the monumental lives of two Alabama pioneers, Rosa Parks and Helen Keller, in 70 words or less.

The commission is working with the Alabama Department of Archives & History and Gov. Kay Ivey’s office to ensure plaques installed at statues of the women at the Alabama State Capitol are historically accurate and handicap accessible.

“The good and bad part is that we really are limited to keeping things within the parameters of the other statuary text, which looks like it’s about 70 words,” said Annie Butrus, a Birmingham artist and commission member.

Steve Murray, director of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, said it’s important to consider the existing monuments when adding new monuments to the Capitol grounds. Murray said members should consider the commission’s mission, space constraints in determining the size of the plaque, and existing text on other statues on the Capitol and around Montgomery.

Birmingham firm to develop Rosa Parks, Helen Keller statue sites at Alabama State Capitol

“This is what the state of Alabama is saying about Rosa Parks, and the reason that the state has chosen to memorialize her on the Capitol grounds,” Murray said, adding that fitting that into 70 words “will not be an insignificant challenge.”

The Parks statue will be installed on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol. The Keller statue will be placed on the Union Street side facing the state house. Both Parks and Keller’s statues could go up in Montgomery early next year.

The statues are expected to cost about $611,000, according to previous projections. The commission has raised about $700,000 for the statues. The remaining amount will be used for site maintenance.

The commission in late May selected a Birmingham-based engineering firm to begin site development for the Rosa Parks and Helen Keller statues. Georgia-based artist Julia Knight designed the Parks statue and Oregon-based artist Jay Warren is designing the Keller statue.

The Alabama Legislature in 2019 approved the installation of statues of Keller and Parks, the first women on the Alabama State Capitol grounds. 

Parks’ arrest on a segregated Montgomery bus in 1955 sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, considered the beginning of the modern Civil Rights Movement. Keller, a Tuscumbia native who lost her sight and hearing before her second birthday, became a world-renowned author and advocate for the rights of the disabled.