Confronting Auburn’s History


"1986, Auburn, Alabama, I was on my way to Atlanta with my girlfriend and before we got a half block we saw this. This was my corner. This was where I used to walk to get ice cream when I was a little boy, I couldn't believe what I was seeing, I told my girlfriend to pull over and I got out and confronted them, My girlfriend stood up and took this photo through the sunroof. These are my political views. This is America and it is for everybody."
“1986, Auburn, Alabama, I was on my way to Atlanta with my girlfriend and before we got a half block we saw this. This was my corner. This was where I used to walk to get ice cream when I was a little boy, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, I told my girlfriend to pull over and I got out and confronted them, My girlfriend stood up and took this photo through the sunroof. These are my political views. This is America and it is for everybody.” Bruce Larsen

Auburn, like most of the South, is a place rich in history; and like most of the South you have to look at the layer underneath the surface to find it. Sure, Auburn has a sense of heritage with old buildings like Samford Hall and statues of venerated athletes. However, past the old photos of Toomers and tales of eagles flying over football fields, the full past of Auburn goes mostly unacknowledged. Especially the history of non-white people who were not star athletes. Auburn has an historic marker about “Desegregation at Auburn” that talks about the efforts of Harold A. Franklin to desegregate Auburn. However, I don’t blame most people for not knowing its existence since located off to the side of RBD and Mary Martin Hall on a rarely traveled stretch of sidewalk. Maybe I’m being a bit glib, but the point is that Auburn’s memorial landscape (or lack thereof) is insufficient in acknowledging Auburn’s full history. There is no memorial or any sort of dedication to the men and women enslaved by the university’s founders. The only reference to near an Auburn building to slavery is the seldom read marker next to the University Chapel/Players Theatre stating it was built with bricks made by enslaved people. There is also no mention or memorial of the Creeks who lived in the area prior to their forced removal in the 1830s.

I have been at Auburn for going on five years now, and have seen very few efforts by the administrations to preserve Auburn’s history. The only new additions to this memorial landscape in my time have been a statue of Charles Barkley and one dedicating 125 years of women attending Auburn. I like these statues and their commemorated subjects; however, I still feel as though there is a lacking to acknowledge the full history of the university. Buildings still have the name of enslavers, KKK members, and segregationists on them. Which are seen as symbols of racism that make non-white students feel unwelcomed. Auburn acknowledges the higher rate of Black students leaving Auburn without a diploma, and their current program is selling “unity” t-shirts. Which is all well and good, but strikes me as performative at best. Auburn is still failing to acknowledge fully the dark parts of its past and then to try and make real reconciliation based on these truths. Instead, the University is interested in building new homogenous buildings for things like parking or the culinary arts. The university is focused on the past as a marketing tool or old buildings as targets of demolition to clean up the past and build something more marketable. It has fallen on professors and students to raise their voices and remember the past. Student groups like the Harold A. Franklin Society and efforts by faculty like Dr. Kenneth Noe and Dr. Kate Craig have worked to make us more aware of our past than any administration in my time.

Object Biography


Pictured is one copy of the 1979 revision of the Book of Common Prayer. The book has a black leather binding with a gold colored cross on the front and gold writing that says “The Book of Common Prayer” on the spine. As well as the publishing logo for Churching Publishing Incorporated, the publishing arm of the Episcopal Church. The page ends are also gold colored. The book is worn in the front of the binding and text block, which along with crinkled pages suggested it was used regularly. The book was place on a shelf along with other versions of the Book of Common Prayer, Hymnals, Bibles, and other Anglican religious books. It appears not to have been carried based on its sized, except maybe in a large bag like a briefcase or suitcase. The book was mass produced in the United States from between 2016 and 2020 given the authorization note in the front dated 2016 and the reception of the book in 2020. As is evident was a personalized gift tag dated “4 Pentecost June 28, 2020” and belonged to one Mr. Kyle Munroe.


This version of the Book of Common Prayer is the 1979 revision to Thomas Cranmer’s original 1549 Book of Common Prayer for the Church of England and builds on major revisions in 1662, 1789, and 1928. The book has widespread circulation in different versions and languages. The 1979 version could be found in almost every Episcopal Church in America, with the 1928 in others, and the 1662 being in every Anglican church around the world. However, this version is a personal one, small enough to find in a bag for travel if desired. Indicating that idea was for the owner to take it with them in travel or even daily life to use. Additionally, the book is not common to the South, as most Southerners at the time were Baptists or Methodists, who did not regularly use the Book of Common Prayer.

Based on the wearing of certain pages Mr. Munroe used the book every morning and evening for a set of prayers and readings known as the daily office. The daily office goes through the Psalter every month and the entire Bible over a two-year cycle. Below is an example of the page with the psalms divided morning and evening with the readings below. Everyday is a reading from the Old Testament/Apocrypha, Epistles, and Gospels. It is believed that this book was used by an individual like Mr. Munroe in attempts at finding greater peace and meaning in their lives. Mr. Munroe was a good decade older than most confirmands, and is believed he was not a member of any church prior to 2020. The Book of Common Prayer has significance not only to Mr. Munroe but to most all Episcopalians, it’s the secondary key text of the denomination after only the Bible. Contained within is the directions for how to perform all necessary sacraments for the running of a church, and contains the liturgies for services.


“Everything Fell Apart Pretty Quick” A COVID-19 Oral History

I interviewed a twenty-one year old journalism major at Auburn University about his experience during the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic on September 20, 2020. His overall reaction was a mixture of frustration with forces and groups within the United States, but also a newfound appreciation for friends and the small things in life. Over the course of the twenty-four minute interview, the narrator explained his experience over the last six months, as well as his general thoughts and observations about the factors that have lead to COVID-19 having such a disastrous effect on the United States.

I tried to first ask him about himself and his daily routines, but he works at the newspaper so the topic quickly swerved into the media and it’s handling of the pandemic coverage.On the whole he rejected the idea that the pandemic had united people at all, instead it has only further divided the country into two irreconcilable camps. He blames many of the problems in the pandemic on right wing media outlets who “haven’t dropped the ball, they were never trying to pick it up,” and inciting widespread conspiracy theories as well as noncompliance from a vocal section of the the population. Which also lead to a larger societal critique of how the United States has become a country of “ultra-individualism” where people do not care about each other. In general, it seemed like the narrator was more interested in talking about society at-large then his own issues. Additionally, he saw COVID as just a part of a year which shows how fragile the world is and how “humans are at fault for just about everything,” including new developments since the arrival of COVID-19 such as the wildfires and Black Lives Matter protests.

However, when asked directly he talked about how he did not feel restricted by the COVID safety procedures, and sees it as more about protecting other people than themselves. In general the narrator counters what has become a popular narrative of the pandemic, that everything slowed down. Instead, he said the world wouldn’t let him slow down with work, school, and new issues arising out of old problems over the pandemic summer. On the bright side he kept highlighting the importance of being near friends and people he liked as keeping him together during the pandemic, especially how he could talk through the rapidly changing world with other people having a similar experience. He also touched on how rapidly reality changed and people had to adapt to the new normal, echoing a popular sentiment. “Everything fell apart pretty quick” as information became more readily known about the COVID-19 virus and executives around the the state scrambled to keep up.

I felt like on the whole I was able to get a good idea about how the narrator felt about the pandemic, as well as his general worldview. He both affirmed widespread narratives such as a deep concern to help other in the time and the importance of in-person interactions, but also pushes against popular messages of COVID-19 bringing people together as well as slowing down the world. I tried to make sure I affirmed the narrator’s feeling and ask follow-ups to questions. I think I made the narrator comfortable with informal small talk before the interview about things in their lives not related to this oral history. I think the narrator was forthcoming, and was very accommodating to my questions as well as small things such as my writing down questions. Additionally, I think this process has taught me that when you interview someone about something you both experienced it helps to get you reflecting about the event too. In the end there are no great, packageable lessons here about an individual’s striving to succeed and rise above the circumstances. This is not StoryCorps, this is life.

Ask a Public Historian: Casey Gamble

Casey Gamble is the Museum Programs Coordinator at Vulcan Park and Museum in Birmingham, Alabama.

Panel discussion to complement new Alabama justice exhibit at Vulcan Park  and Museum scheduled for Feb. 26. Get tickets now. | Bham Now

How would you describe your job, do you consider yourself a “public historian?” 

My official title is “Museum Programs Manager” and right now that pretty much means doing all the history, education, and collections related things at my small history museum. And yes, I would say that makes me a “public historian” using the definition by NCPH. 

What was your general career path?  

It’s been a kind of long and windy road: I earned a B.S. in history with the intention of going straight to grad school and eventually earning a PhD. But, life changes plans sometimes, and I needed to find a job right out of college and wound up working in accounting for over 5 years before finishing up a master’s in secondary education with a focus on social studies. I taught in a classroom for a brief time, but quickly realized that environment was not for me, and I sought out alternatives. It just so happens that the museum where I had done a year long internship while in grad school was hiring a part time education coordinator, and I was able to transition to a full time position after that. 

What was your favorite project that you have worked on?

For the centennial of the passage of the 19th amendment we created a women’s suffrage exhibit for our small temporary gallery. I was able to help with the research, writing, and editing of that exhibit and I had so much fun working on it! At the opening reception, some of the women featured were able to attend, and although some of them had passed away, their families came and it was awesome to get to meet everyone and hear personal stories. 

What advice do you have for someone looking for their first public history job?

Get as much varied experience as you can. Us historians like to specialize, and that’s great, but not always practical. Try to get internships, volunteer work, or part time jobs (if feasible) in collections, research, education, and even front line positions like visitor services. Try to do as much as you can while still in school so that you have a solid resume when you graduate. I know it’s not fun, and believe me, I know it’s hard, and can seem almost impossible. But even if you can devote a few days a month to volunteering, that helps! Look into writing articles or blog posts for museums, present at a conference, attend training sessions. It all helps! Right now, there are virtual volunteer opportunities, too. Don’t wait!

History, According To My Brother

I think the Presence of the Past survey from the University of Indiana does a good job of revealing the subject’s general view of history and their frequency of interactions with it. To my brother, history was very personal with “someone who was there” receiving the highest marks for trustworthiness at a nine. Whereas to him history teachers were considered the least reliable, along with TV shows, at a 5. To him history is also material, with his most extensive contact with history being collecting “knives, guns, coin, and records” because they are to him fun and “preserve a piece of the past.” This is probably representative of many young professionals like him who in our materialistic society see ownership and consumption as the best means to interact with history. Additionally, the prizing of eye witness testimony illustrates the general ignorance of the public’s ability effectively evaluate bias in historical sources. His interview further shows the continuation of Americans wanting a history where they can take the lessons “America can do anything it puts it mind to” while critiquing museums for having a “tilt.” Not much has changed since the Enola Gay exhibit in 1995.

Informative Article: The Rise of American Consumerism – heiditerra

Overall, I think this is a good survey, but suffers from being almost thirty years old. There are no questions about the internet, the greatest opportunity and challenge to public history in our current age. Today most individuals would have more interactions with historical content online than many of the sources listed in the survey. Historians are now vying for space in an age of increasing information overload with the public looking to history as a source of fun, individualistic consumerism, when they consider history at all.

Cathedral Caverns: My First Historic Experience

Cathedral Caverns State Park in North Alabama has the largest cave mouth in the world, its also about a 15 minute drive from my childhood home. We went all the time when I was a child and I remember going there and hearing the tales of native people, pioneers, and outlaws who all were parts of the caves history. At least according to the tour guide. I remember this opened up a lot of questions about history to me and I can remember asking my father about all sorts of other historical topics when we would go to the cave. To this day, these are fond memories of my historical understanding.

Government and Royal: The Place of Confederate Monuments Today

In the dead of night of June 5, 2020, the city of Mobile removed the statue of Confederate Admiral Raphael Semmes from the intersection of Royal and Government street in the heart of downtown. The monument had stood for around one hundred years, unavoidable at one of the most prominent points of entrance into the city. Mayor Stimpson announced it would be moved into the Mobile History Museum next to where the statue stood. Now is the trickiest phase for the city as they have to balance the careful considerations of how to communicate the city’s history.

 Mobile was right to remove the Semmes statue from its place in the landscape of public symbols, where it was part of a concerted effort to communicate a Lost Cause vision of the Civil War in the city’s public spaces. The current history museum was the city hall when the Semmes statue was erected. Confederate statues cannot be contextualized where they are, as their entire placement was to deliberately influence the way the public thought of their shared history. Semmes is inarguably a part of Mobile’s history, the chief player in her important chapter in the Civil War, and the namesake for a large suburb of the city.

However, this statue is not Semmes and its place in history does not belong in the Civil War section of the museum, instead it belongs in the area dedicated to Reconstruction and Jim Crow. Its place is not back on another pedestal as some magnificent centerpiece in the section devoted to the Battle of Mobile Bay. This statue was made long after the end of the Confederacy and the death of Semmes, it should be contextualized as a part of the Lost Cause revisionism championed by white supremacists in the city. It should be on the ground next to a similar symbol of the period, a Klan robe. Both are reminders of how white supremacists, secure in their belief of the justness of the Lost Cause, ruled Alabama and systemically oppressed black Mobilians.