- Images of America: Huntsville by John F. Kvach, Charity Ethridge, Michelle Hopkins, and Susanna Leberman, and: Images of America: Cullman by Melanie K. Patterson, and: Images of America: Madison by John P. Rankin
The Images of America series, published by Arcadia Publishing, uses historic photographs, postcards, maps, and documents to tell the histories of communities and important events across the country. Authors combine these images from local libraries, archives, and personal collections with local history research. The Images of America series allows readers to clearly see “change over time,” which allows readers to appreciate how their communities got their start and how they have subsequently developed (Kvach, et al, 7). In their introduction to Images of America: Huntsville, authors John Kvach, Charity Ethridge, Michelle Hopkins, and Susanna Leberman make a strong case for why these books are so popular among readers: “Local history provides a unique perspective because it allows historians to see what life was really like for the average American. Local history emphasizes the familiar; the people in these photographs woke up, went to work, raised families, had fun, and lived pain.” (Kvach, et al, 8) Readers can understand that the history of their communities is just as important to the broader narrative of American history as the events happening in far off places. [End Page 269]
In 2013, Arcadia Publishing released three books in the Images of America series focusing on north Alabama communities: Huntsville, Cullman, and Madison. These three works help to further our understanding of how communities in Alabama developed during the frontier period and beyond. The three towns are very different today. Huntsville, the largest city in north Alabama, was once a thriving center of cotton and, surprisingly, watercress production. Today it is home to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, Redstone Arsenal, and many defense industry contractors, as well as the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Madison, located just to the west of Huntsville, got its start in 1857 as a stopping point for trains along the Memphis & Charleston Railroad. Cullman, located approximately fifty-five miles southwest of Huntsville, was founded by John Cullmann, a German immigrant who recruited other Germans to immigrate to Cullman, and the new arrivals quickly turned the area into the strawberry capital of the South.
The authors of Images of America: Huntsville draw on the rich collection of the Huntsville–Madison County Public Library to tell the story of Huntsville from its founding in the early 1800s through the 1970s. As was the case for much of north Alabama, many people arrived in the area that would become Huntsville seeking new lands for cotton production. They brought with them many enslaved African Americans to grow the cotton, while at the same time pushing out the Native Americans who had long dwelled in the mountains and fields of modern day Huntsville. The authors do an excellent job of calling attention to the inequalities present in Huntsville during the nineteenth century, juxtaposing images of slaves working in the cotton fields and of slave quarters with the Greek Revival homes popular amongst the planter class. They also call attention to the impact of segregation on the African American community in the twentieth century with an image of young women standing in front of the African American branch of the Huntsville public library. Images of Huntsville–area Rosenwald Schools show inequities African Americans faced in education. The authors show the changes new technologies [End Page 270] brought to Huntsville in the early twentieth century, pointing out the coexistence of horse-drawn wagons, automobiles, and street cars in images of the bustling downtown. They also demonstrate a similar shift in the later portion of the twentieth century as the interstate replaced street...