1905 Presidential visit
The 1905 Presidential visit was short visit by President Theodore Roosevelt on October 24, 1905. The president spent the day in Alabama, staying in Montgomery and making a morning trip to Tuskegee to tour the Tuskegee Institute and Female College at the invitation of Booker T. Washington.
Roosevelt, a Republican who had been sworn in as president after the assassination of William McKinley, defeated Democratic challenger Alton Parker in the 1904 election. Alabama had voted overwhelmingly for the Democrat, and Roosevelt's tour in the South was intended to express solidarity with the region as he promoted his progressive "Square Deal" agenda.
The city of Tuskegee constructed a platform out of cotton bales for his speech, in which the president praised the work of its churches and institutions of higher learning to train local residents to meet the demands for skilled and conscientious laborers, and hoped that through such efforts that members of the black race would be able to become more useful to themselves and their communities.
President Roosevelt returned to Montgomery at mid-day and gave a speech there "under the shadow of the Confederacy's first capitol". He returned to his train at 2:00 PM for the trip to Birmingham, arriving a little before 5:00 for a two and a half-hour visit. On arrival at the Union Station, he was introduced by Alabama Great Southern Railway president Frank Y. Anderson to Mayor George B. Ward, who planned to give a short speech of welcome, but stammered out that he had forgotten what he was going to say and simply welcomed him heartily to the city. Smiling, Roosevelt replied, "Mr. Mayor, that’s the finest speech I’ve heard since I left Washington!"
The party then boarded horse-drawn carriages for the parade up 20th Street. Along the way, the president's carriage was escorted by Miss Sammie Harris, riding horseback as sponsor for Troop D. Marching alongside were veterans of both armies in the Civil War, with Spanish-American War veterans and cadets from Howard College and Marion Institute following. Memoli’s Band provided music.
Roosevelt's parade was "cheered at every turn" by crowds of young and old as it made its way to Capitol Park (now Linn Park). As he passed 5th Avenue North, the president noticed a man drop a pistol from his pocket onto the sidewalk. He alerted nearby police officers, who promptly took the man into custody.
Roosevelt addressed the public from a platform constructed in front of the Confederate Soldiers & Sailors Monument at the southern edge of the park. The platform was illuminated by banks of electric lights. He was introduced by Birmingham News publisher Rufus Rhodes.
Roosevelt remarked on the agricultural and industrial development in Alabama, and credited not just the state's natural resources, but also the quality of its people. He noted that he was welcomed to the state by an honor guard of Civil War veterans from both sides of the conflict, "...the men who wore the blue, the men who wore the gray, united forever." He concluded by praising the veterans organizations that apply only one test of character, "did he do his duty in the place in which he was," and suggested that the same test applied to the civic duties of all Americans in the present day.
After the conclusion of the speech, Roosevelt boarded an electric streetcar for a visit to the Alabama State Fairgrounds, where he was met by another enthusiastic crowd, represented by Birmingham Commercial Club president T. H. Molton. The president's special train departed at 7:30 for Memphis, Tennessee and Little Rock, Arkansas.
- "President Saw Pistol, Caused Man's Arrest" (October 25, 1905) The New York Times
- "T. R. Comes to Town" (November 2016) Birmingham History Center Newsletter, Vol. 6, No. 6, pp. 3-4