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History Review    

 
 
ALABAMA GOVERNORS: A Political History of the State
Edited by Samuel L. Webb and Margaret E. Armbrester
University of Alabama Press, 2001
ISBN: 0-8173-1083-5

 

Alabama has had, at best, an interesting history. Secession, racial division, poverty, and defiance of federal mandates pepper the state’s past--and present. 

ALABAMA GOVERNORS: A Political History of the State provides a different perspective of the state’s history via a series of short essays on each of the 53 men and one woman who have served the state as governor. 

In addition to providing interesting trivia (the first native-born governor, the first and only female governor, and so on), the essays include a mixture of personal and political information that keep the reader’s interest while stitching together a historical patchwork that is colorful and varied, but, like a quilt, shows a coherent pattern when viewed as a whole. 

The essays are written by a number of different authors, all distinguished in their fields.  The editors, also distinguished historians, have done an exceptional job in editing each piece; the reader finds it easy to move from one selection to the other without abrupt changes of voice or tone. The editors have also provided transitions that augment the essays by giving overviews of each era of government, adding helpful background information that puts the governors’ terms into historical perspective. 

Albert Brewer, a former governor, penned the preface, which includes this perceptive comment: 

The reader of this volume discovers an interesting consistency in the actions of Alabama’s governors, both in positive and negative ways.  Most have genuinely, and a few disingenuously, tried to represent the great majority of people in the state who were small landowners, farmers, and laborers.  In appealing politically to these groups, however, the state’s governors have demonstrated an unfortunate willingness to subordinate discussion about the real issues that affect our lives--education, roads, prisons, public health--to appeals to fear and emotionalism for the purpose of political gain. 

The rest of the authors represented in this book are just as candid in their comments, presenting each governor’s accomplishments, difficulties, weaknesses, and scandals. For instance, in describing George Wallace after his second marriage and at the beginning of his presidential bid, author Glenn T. Askew said, “Cornelia replaced Wallace’s dark undertaker suits, white shirts, and narrow ties with fashionable color-coordinated ensembles. His hair was now puffed up and sprayed rather than greased.”  William H. Stewart said of Fob James, “He was his own worst enemy and his inattention to detail led to embarrassing mistakes.”  No attempts to whitewash are apparent here or elsewhere in the volume. 

ALABAMA GOVERNORS is an easy read, offering interesting information in manageable chunks.  It is also informative and revealing.  Any observer of Alabama politics would be well served to read it. 

Dr. Martine G. Bates
Southern Scribe Reviews
 

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