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Gubernatorial Inauguration Facts

Since William Wyatt Bibb took the first oath of office on November 9, 1819, in the temporary capital of Huntsville, fifty-one men and one woman have been inaugurated as Governors of the state of Alabama.

 

Cover of the program from the inauguration of Governor William D. Jelks.

 


Cover of the program from the inauguration of Governor William D. Jelks.

 

Setting

The state capitol building, whether in Cahaba (1820-26), Tuscaloosa (1826-46), or Montgomery (1847-present), has served as the backdrop for inauguration ceremonies. While earlier swearing-in ceremonies were conducted within the legislative chambers of the building, since the late 19th century investitures have taken place outside on the capitol steps where the public can better witness the festivities. In 1849, the December 17th inauguration of Governor Henry W. Collier had to be held at Montgomery's First Methodist Church (where the federal courthouse now stands) because the then two-year-old capitol building had been destroyed by fire just days earlier.

 

Jimmy Buffet performing at the inauguration of Governor Don Siegelman.

Jimmy Buffet performing at the inauguration of Governor Don Siegelman.

 

The weather has played a role in inaugural events since the ceremonies have been moved outdoors. The wind was such on December 1 of 1886 that Thomas Seay's inaugural address could be heard only by those standing next to him. Remarking on the rainy weather ten years later when Joseph Forney Johnston was sworn-in, the Montgomery Daily Advertiser stated: "A worse day could not have been selected." George C. Wallace's first (1963) inauguration ws the coldest on record--the temperature reportedly did not rise above 17 degrees. While the weather was not as frigid for his 1975 ceremony, both Governor Wallace and First Lady Cornelia donned thermal underwear to ward off the chill of the overcast day.

 

photo of the State Bible

 

the State Bible

 

The Bible

The Bible first used to swear in Governor John A. Winston in 1853 has been used by every governor at his or her inauguration, although a number of governors have chosen to place personal/family Bibles on top of the official one when taking the oath. Even when Governor-elect William J. Samford was too ill to attend his own inauguration in 1900, the State Bible was there to be sworn on by his son and personal secretary, Thomas D. Samford. The same Bible served its purpose when Jefferson Davis took the oath of office as president of the Confederate States of America in 1861 while Montgomery was the Confederacy's temporary capital. The "Jefferson Davis Bible" as it subsequently came to be known, is on display in the Alabama Department of Archives and History when not in use.

 

Capitol in Montgomery, Alabama, during the inauguration of Governor Guy Hunt.

 

Capitol in Montgomery, Alabama, during the inauguration of Governor Guy Hunt.

Parades

Parades have long been a feature of inaugural events. Since at least 1874, when George S. Houston's election "redeemed" Alabama from Radical Republican Reconstruction, state military units have often been displayed in the processions. Horse-drawn carriages delivered the governor-elect and accompanying dignitaries up Dexter Avenue to the Montgomery capitol into the early 20th century. Thomas E. Kilby, who became governor in 1919, was the first to arrive by automobile. In 1931, with the state and nation in the midst of the Great Depression, the traditional parade was replaced by a two-car, 50-mile-an-hour sprint past the crowd assembled to see Benjamin M. Miller inaugurated.

 

photo of Gov. James Folsom's inaugural parade

 

Governor Jim Folsom waving his hat to the crowd from a convertible, probably on the way to his inauguration.

 

National crises since that time sporadically have scratched parades from inaugural agendas. With war in Korea looming, Gordon Persons had no parade of celebration in 1951 out of respect for Alabama's 31st Dixie Division guardsmen who were called to active duty on the January 15th day. Alabama's only woman governor, Lurleen B. Wallace, did have a parade before her 1967 inauguration, but dedicated the parade to the state's troops in Vietnam. Her husband, George C. Wallace, had no parade at his 1975 or 1983 inaugurations due to recessionary economic conditions on both occasions.

 

offical portrait of Governor Lurleen B. Wallace

 

Official portrait of Governor Lurleen Burns Wallace

 

Inaugural Balls

Balls also have been features of most inaugural celebrations since at least the 1837 induction of Arthur P. Bagby. These were often formal-dress affairs, though not always--Thomas H. Watts proudly wore a homespun suit made by his mother to his post-inaugural soiree held in 1863, during the midst of the Civil War. In more recent years, a variety of evening events replaced the traditional single ball. James E. Folsom pointedly attended separate balls for white supporters at the Coliseum and for black supporters at what is now Alabama State University when he embarked upon his second term in 1955. Guy Hunt's first inauguration in 1987 included a series of receptions for which attendees, uncustomarily, were charged admission to defray expenses. In 2006, at Governor Bob Riley's second inauguration, festivities were held in Birmingham's BJCCC because the Montgomery site was under renovation.