While perusing some of the articles dealing with the 200th anniversary of the founding of the state of Alabama, I came across some information about some rather remarkable native Alabamians.
One of them was Helen Keller. She was born healthy to her parents, Captain Arthur Henley Keller and his wife, Kate Adams Keller, at Ivy Green in Tuscumbia, Alabama in 1880. When she was 19 months old, she was struck with a devastating illness that left her blind and deaf. Imagine being plunged into a world of total darkness and silence simultaneously.
Doctors were never able to come up with a definitive diagnosis. Her parents struggled with Helen and her petulant behavior that followed the onset of her blindness and deafness.
That all began to change following a visit with Alexander Graham Bell who suggested Helen's parents meet with Anne Sullivan a former student of Perkins Institution for the Blind in Boston to see if she could be of help. For the rest of Sullivan's life she certainly lived up to the title of the play about living with Keller, "The Miracle Worker."
Sullivan taught her young student to read and write in Braille and use a typewriter. Amazingly by age 16, Helen could speak well enough to attend school. When she was 18 she attended Cambridge School for Young Ladies in preparation for her enrolling in Radcliffe College where she went on the earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. She was the first deaf-blind person to ever to earn a B.A.
Sullivan and Keller were literally inseparable in the years to come traveling around the world, meeting the powerful and important men and women in education, politics, the military and industry.
Sullivan died in 1936 and Helen Kellers' secretary for the previous 24 years, Polly Thomson, took over.
If you had to categorize Keller's political and social issues, she was a lifelong socialist and an advocate for women's suffrage. She advocated for workers' rights, was an early member of the American Civil Liberties Union. Needless to say she was a tireless worker for the American Foundation for the Blind.
Helen Keller died on June 1,1968 in Easton, Connecticut, a month short of her 88th birthday.
If you'd like to get information about visiting her birthplace, Ivy Green in Tuscumbia, and perhaps attending a live summertime performance of "The Miracle Worker" in Tuscumbia, check out hellenkellerbirthplace.org online.
If you're looking for another famous Alabamian whose legacy is worth a visit, you might try The Rosa Parks Museum which is operated by Troy University. It's a terrific tribute to the courage displayed by Ms. Parks and the thousands of other Montgomerians who stood up for what they believed to be right.
Straying from our topic of famous individuals who were natives of Alabama, you might consider visiting Montgomery's unique tribute to the dark and painful side of the civil rights movement - the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.
The Memorial is commonly referred to as the "National Lynching Memorial" because it is home to 805 hanging steel rectangles representing each of the counties in the U.S. where nearly 4,400 documented lynchings took place between 1877 and 1950.
It's difficult to describe the memorial. It's something you have to experience in person to understand why, in the words of Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange, this may be "our nation's best chance at reconciliation."
Thousands of people have already visited both sites which are located on six areas in downtown Montgomery. Private foundations donated the $20 million the two complexes cost to construct.