By: Mary Ann Neeley; Featuring the photography of Robert Fouts; Corporate profiles by Charles Barnette
Reviewed by: Julia Oliver
Beers and Associates, 2007
No one writes more animatedly and authoritatively about the history of Montgomery, Alabama, than Mary Ann Neeley. The author of four previous books on the subject, plus guidebooks, supplementary school texts, and scholarly essays in regional journals, Neeley was for many years the original Executive Director of Landmarks Foundation, which oversees Old Alabama Town, the city’s show-place collection of preserved and restored archetypal buildings. The narrative here is reproduced from her 2007 book Montgomery and the River Region Sketchbook.
Montgomery photographer Robert Fouts apprenticed under renowned Montgomery cameraman John E. Scott Jr. (The collections of John and June Scott are cited in the Acknowledgments.) Fouts has received over 150 awards in competitions. His work has been featured in Time-Life books, Southern Accents Magazine, and various other publications, as well as in four earlier books from Montgomery publisher Ron Beers. The photographs have been selected to reflect a then-and-now perspective. Also, as the book jacket commentary notes, “Fouts records, as nearly as possible, the site and scene of the original picture, offering us the opportunity to compare the similarities as well as the differences within the setting.”
The title page includes a black and white image of the “Spirit of the South Parade” which took place on May 5 and 6, 1926, in observance of “Alabama Homecoming Week.” With a ghostly-looking Alabama Capitol dome in the background and led by an all-white float that looks as if it’s made of feathers, a parade of decorated automobiles chugs along a banner-draped Dexter Avenue. One side of the street holds a bleacher-full of seated spectators; on the other side, they’re standing. Large signs on buildings proclaim the then-locations of Brown Printing Company and The Advertiser. (Pages 40-41 have head-on views of the Alabama State Capitol in 1890, when it was not quite half a century old, and as it looks today.)
Part One begins with 113 pages about Montgomery. The next thirty-five pages provide scenes and information about Prattville, Millbrook, Wetumpka, Tuskegee, Tallassee, Fort Deposit, and Hayneville. Part Two, labeled “Business and Industry,” veers toward a Chamber of Commerce style of presentation in 106 pages, with over seventy topical headings that include the book’s “corporate sponsors” and various organizations. Among these are Alagasco, Baptist Health, Tang’s Alterations, Brown Chambless Architects, YMCA Montgomery, Alabama Power, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, and Montgomery City-County Library. The corporate profiles are by Charles Barnette. Listed as “Contributing Profile Writers” are Melissa George, Nancy Bradford, Kathleen Bradford, and Julie Ceporis.
This handsomely produced book is worthy of your best coffee table. The fine sampling of bygone times in Central Alabama should remind those of us who live here to take note of the changes, and pride in the journey.
Julia Oliver is a Montgomery writer. You may contact her at JuliOliver@aol.com.