Now let’s back up a moment. A week or two after the final honoree concept was agreed on, at a time when I had given the actual selections only minimal thought, the park was announced to the press by the Retirement Systems. The press, including the Advertiser in particular, jumped on the story. A disarming young reporter named Melissa Montealegre began the first of several articles about our endeavor. The honorees especially caught her interest. At her behest I naively rattled off a half-dozen or so names of the caliber we might consider in making our selections. Melissa became so excited that she wrote a story quoting me as if the deed were near done, and inviting her readers to make suggestions. Her story ran on April 28, 1998, headlining Section C of the Advertiser, and was complete with a color reproduction of our rendering. An absolute hubbub erupted from the readers in general, and from the local history buffs in particular.
I always thought history nerds were as mild mannered as Clarke Kent, but kid you not, they are, as a group, fiery and obstreperous. On reading the article they wrote letters to the editor, to Dr. Bronner, to me, and to one another. Probably this group was still fuming over what the RSA had done to the Rice-Semple House to make way for the RSA Union, and what Morris Dees had done to the famous Seibels Mansion to build the RSA’s Alabama Center for Commerce. To them, it was too late for us to make amends.
Local historian Wesley Phillips Newton wrote an indignant letter to the Advertiser which claimed that “choosing only six will create division”, and that “the people running the show should have cast a wider net for consultants”.
John Hawkins Napier, III, past president of the State Historical Association, called and wrote Dr. Bronner demanding that his list of candidates be selected. Then Napier and Newton got into a fight between themselves and dueled via letters to the editor.
Then there were General Will Hill Tankersley, and Ed Bridges, Director of the State Archives. Who knew what turmoil that pair would stir up.
The black community sent a delegation to my office to be sure that we would not tread unfavorably on any Civil Rights heroes, which they declared was theirs to commemorate. Michael Chappell, a right winger and head of the “Alabama Flag Trust”, wrote and demanded that he be immediately informed of our selection for the Civil Rights and Civil War periods.
The tempest stirred up by the Advertiser disturbed Dr. Bronner greatly. It took place during the same month as did the squabble between Bear Brothers and Upchurch Construction–in which his two advisers, Ron Blount and I, were on opposite sides. The whole affair became so distasteful that Bronner seriously considered dumping the entire project. I managed to persuade him to keep it going only with a proposal that we announce that our selection of honorees would be kept secret until the day of dedication, which, at that point, was expected to be 15 months away.
-Charles Humphries (“Peril and Intrigue Within Architecture”)