Days Gone By - stories from the past

The first speech given in the South by a sitting president which called for racial equality was given in Birmingham, Alabama in 1921. [vintage photographs]

Founded in 1871, Birmingham was a model city at this time – railroads, blast furnaces and steel mills marked its landscape.  It was a bustling industrial giant; and, it was here in this thriving metropolis that President Harding delivered the first speech given in the South by a sitting president which called for racial equality.

Terminal Station And Subway Birmingham

Lasted two days

The city of Birmingham had a huge birthday party which lasted two days on its 50th anniversary in October 1921. President Harding arrived at the Birmingham Terminal Station at 8:45 A.M. aboard a special train from Washington.  A grand parade began at 10:00 A.M., in the lead car President Harding greeted thousands of onlookers waving American flags and eventually traveled to the Tutwiler Hotel. The Tutwiler’s balcony served as the reviewing stand for the President and his party as the parade traveled past – Civil War veterans, groups of industrial workers, National Guardsmen – the whole city turned out for the Presidential visit.

Birmingham terminal stationBirmingham Terminal Station

Let the black man vote when he is fit to vote

Harding’s official address to the city was delivered in Woodrow Wilson Park at 11:30 A.M. to a large crowd. His plan was to use this speech to make his first public show of support for the Republican National Committee’s plans to reorganize the party in the South.

In his speech, President Harding spoke of the great migrations of black laborers to the North during World War I, the meritorious service given by black soldiers during the war, and then spoke of political equality as a guarantee of the U.S. Constitution: “Let the black man vote when he is fit to vote; prohibit the white man voting when he is unfit to vote.”  While white listeners fell largely silent, African Americans cheered from their segregated section of the park.   Calling for “an end of prejudice” Harding went further than any president since Abraham Lincoln.



 Above – Masonic Temple, Sixth Avenue and 19th Street

Participated in laying cornerstone at Masonic Temple

During the visit, President Harding also participated in the cornerstone laying ceremony of the Masonic Temple and was given an honorary degree by Birmingham-Southern College in ceremonies conducted at the First Methodist Church.

A great civic parade in which 67 beautiful women selected by the different counties of Alabama, and 1,000 members of the American Legion selected from every post in the state participated. Each Queen was provided a decorated car for their use in the floral parade.

Queens of semi=centennial birmingham67 Ladies who were Queens for their counties

Commemorative coins and stamps are rare

Commemorative coins were also made that same year. The coins were half-dollars issued in 1921 to honor the 100th Anniversary of Alabama Statehood, which occurred a few years earlier in 1919. The coins were first placed on sale in Birmingham on Oct. 26,1921 in connection with Birmingham’s celebration and the first coin was presented to President Harding. War time conditions had delayed the production of the coins until 1921.

A special postal cancellation stamp was made for that year in honor of Birmingham’s anniversary. It was the first postal commemoration of Birmingham and the surviving copies are very rare.

The official start opened at noon on the 25th of October with the blare of bands and the blowing of whistles at every industrial plant in the district. The ceremonies started at Woodrow Wilson (Capitol) Park with a speech by Chairman Sydney J. Bowie.

President_Warren_G_Harding_arriving_in_Premocar 1921 Birmingham 50th anniversaryPresident Warren G. Harding arriving in Remocar

Activities planned

Activities included a fashion show by the Fashion-Industrial Exposition that took place in a long tent that extended the full length of West Twentieth Street. The Birmingham municipal band provided music. Henderson and his flying circus performed in the air over the middle of the city. His act ended with death defying stunts from an airplane while gripping the rope with his teeth.

Other activities included:

  • A children’s costume and baby parades were held on Friday with prizes awarded.
  • Children held several competitive games with prizes for the winners.
  • Donald Robertson, As Prophet, And John Henley, As “Duke of Birmingham,” performed in an Allegorical Play on Monday at Avondale Park presenting the life and changes of Birmingham.
  • Baseball at Rickwood Field took place with a double-header. The first game was according to rules in 1871 and second according to rules in 1921.
  • Free bank concerts and orchestras continued throughout the event. Some orchestras came all the way from West Virginia to perform for the President.
  • Queen of the event contest
  • Art lectures at the art museum
  • Masquerade carnival one night
  • Pageant at Avondale Park
  • Queen’s Ball at the Tutwiler hotel on Tuesday night at 10:00 P.M.
  • President and Mrs. Harding arrived on Wednesday October 26 at the Terminal Station
  • President and Mrs. Harding and party headed the grand civic parade (they later reviewed the parade from the balcony of Tutwiler Hotel on 5th Avenue and 20th St. North
  • President Harding delivered an address at Woodrow Wilson park (Capitol Park)
  • President Harding attended at luncheon given by the Semi-Centennial committee at Tutwiler
  • Opening of Alabama division of American Cotton Association at Tutwiler
  • President Harding attended the Birmingham-Southern College inauguration of Dr. Guy Snavely and the President received degree of LL. D. Ceremonies were held in First Methodist at Sixth Avenue and Nineteenth Street, North.
  • President Harding moved across the street and took part in laying of cornerstone of new Masonic Temple.
  • President Harding attended the fashion-auto-industrial exposition
  • Reception in honor of Warren G. Harding at the Birmingham Country Club
  • President Harding witnessed mine demonstration at US bureau of mines station at West End. Then he took an auto ride through the city
  • Semi-Centennial pageant, President Harding attended
  • Fashion show at Capitol Park
  • Street dancing at Capitol Park
  • Ball for queens at Country Club 10:00 P.M.

    50th Anniversary birmingham streetBirmingham – all decked out for a party

Huge Grandstand and many participants

Bands who participated in the event included:

  • Birmingham Municipal Band
  • Avondale Mills Band, Birmingham
  • Avondale Mills Band, Mignon
  • Alabama Boys’ Industrial Band
  • American Steel and Wire Band
  • Masonic Home Band

The grandstand was 660 feet long and had a capacity of 6,000 persons in the unreserved sections. In the reserved sections there were 604 boxes which accommodated 12 persons each. The stand was erected by McDougall Brothers. More that 150,000 feet of lumber was used in the stand and the stage. The stage was 60×120 feet and was the largest in the South at the time. There were two 40 foot high pylons at each side.

President_Warren_G_Harding_standing_on_the_Tutwiler_Hotel_balcony 50th Birmingham anniverasary birmingham libraryPresident Warren G. Harding standing on Tutwiler Hotel Balcony

Three Juniors escorted county queens to 50th anniversaryLeft to right above, Chappell Covy, Jr. with Miss Jefferson, Mary Elizabeth Caldwell; W. W. Tarleton, Jr. with Miss Barbour, Eva Kalgler; and Irving M. Enget, Jr with Miss Montgomery, Miss Laura Mae Hill

Jefferson_County_semicentennial_queen Mary Elizabeth CaldwellMiss Jefferson County, Mary Elizabeth Caldwell



  1. “Crowds Pouring in as Birthday Party Reaches its Stride,” Birmingham News, October 25, 1921
  2. “Harding Says Negro Must Have Equality in Political Life; Does Not Mean Same Social Plane, He Tells South in Birmingham Speech. Warns Against ‘Demagogy’ Tells Audience He Will Speak Frankly, ‘Whether You Like it or Not.’ Praised By Underwood Alabama City Gives Rousing Welcome to Chief Executive, Who Receives College Degree.,” New York Times, October 27, 1921


Freemasons contributed to America and the state of Alabama through their patriotic service and philanthropic work since 1811, but little is known about their backgrounds. Utilizing the bonds of their fraternity, but without fanfare, the freemasons built schools, orphanages, nursing homes, provided for the sick and elderly, fought wars, and were an integral part in building the state of Alabama and our country. They were, simply put, ‘the epitome of good patriots and citizens. 

Find out more about Alabama Freemasons in The Grand Masters of Free & Accepted Masons of the State of Alabama 1811-2011  makes a great gift for a Freemason 


The Grand Masters of Free & Accepted Masons of the State of Alabama 1811-2011 (Paperback)
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The Grand Masters of Free & Accepted Masons of the State of Alabama 1811-2011 (Paperback)

By (author):  Causey, Donna R

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About Donna R Causey

Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and All her books can be purchased at and Barnes & Noble. She has authored numerous genealogy books. RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE) is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2) is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series) Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) is the continuation of the story. . For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

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