Alabama is updating its historical presence in the U.S. Capitol, swapping out a statue of a rather unknown former congressman for a new bronze likeness of Helen Keller.
The Keller statue, being unveiled Wednesday morning, is the first in the National Statuary Hall Collection depicting a person with a disability and the only one of a child. Showing Keller as a 7-year-old girl, it replaces one of Jabez Curry, a former Confederate officer, educator, ambassador and preacher who was once well known for advocating for free public education.
"This is not to diminish Mr. Curry at all, but I think Helen Keller probably is as recognizable nationally and internationally as anyone who has been born and raised in Alabama," said Gov. Bob Riley, a former congressman who came up with the idea for the change.
Each state has two statues in the Capitol as part of the Capitol collection, which was permanent until 1992, when Congress allowed for changes.
Keller became known worldwide as an educator and advocate for the disabled despite being blind and deaf. She died in 1968. The statue depicts her standing by the water pump at her home in Tuscumbia, at the moment she solved what she called "the mystery of language" when her teacher spelled out the word water in her hand while pumping water over her other hand.
Riley said he thinks the statue will be one of the most memorable in the collection, particularly for schoolchildren, who will see how Keller overcame extraordinary hardships as a young girl.
The bronze, which cost about $325,000 and was paid with private donations raised by the state, will be placed in the new Capitol Visitor Center.
The statue of Curry, who died in 1903, will be moved to Samford University in Birmingham.