Mobile lost one of the most accomplished and esteemed members of its cultural community when historian David Ernest Alsobrook died on Oct. 28 after a brief illness. The author and archivist spent decades on the national stage before returning to serve as director of the History Museum of Mobile from 2007 to 2015. He had just turned 75 on Sept. 15.
Alsobrook earned a B.A. in English from Auburn University in 1968, an M.A. in American history from West Virginia University in 1972 and a Ph.D. in U.S. history from Auburn University in 1983 with a doctoral dissertation covering progressive-era Mobile. He worked in the Auburn University Archives and the Alabama Department of Archives and History before beginning a long career with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). That work included nearly 30 years in presidential libraries. He was a supervisory archivist at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, then founding director of both the George H. W. Bush and William J. Clinton presidential libraries. He was the first person charged with founding more than one presidential library.
When Alsobrook retired from NARA to return to Mobile, it made national news. Similarly, his death was shared on social media by the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library account.
“[Alsobrook] hired the original staff and one of his greatest legacies are those that still work for the National Archives across the system. Thanks to David, a thorough and accurate record of the Bush administration is available to researchers as well as a world-class museum. This is the ultimate goal of an archivist and David was among the best,” the announcement read.
Though born in Eufaula, Ala., Alsobrook was raised in Mobile after his parents relocated to work in the Azalea City’s World War II economic boom.
Alsobrook authored more than 20 articles in publications including the Alabama Review, Gulf South Historical Review, Provenance, Alabama Heritage and the online Encyclopedia of Alabama. He received the Milo B. Howard Award for his 2004 Alabama Review article on the Mobile streetcar boycott of 1902.
Alsobrook was a member of the Alabama History Association, Phi Alpha Theta and was listed in Marquis Who’s Who.
He authored the books “Southside: Eufaula’s Cotton Mill Village and Its People, 1890-1945” (Mercer University Press, 2017) and “Presidential Archivist” (Mercer University Press, 2020). The former won the Alabama Historical Association’s Clinton Jackson Coley Book Award.
Interviews with Alsobrook can still be found on C-SPAN, and Auburn University holds a collection of his papers.
Donations in his memory may be made to the Alabama Historical Association or the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
The nucleus for one of Alabama’s most cherished novels will host a unique one-woman show based in regional history. Storyteller Dolores Hydock performs “A Sweet Strangeness Thrills My Heart: The Journals of Sallie Independence Foster, 1861-1887” on Nov. 13 and 14 in the historic Old Courthouse Museum at the center of Monroeville, Ala.
The courthouse was the inspiration for the central scenes in Monroeville native Harper Lee’s novel “To Kill A Mockingbird.” Sets in the following film adaptation were modeled on the building.
Hydock’s play is a chronicle of daily life in Florence, Ala., in the years before, during and after the Civil War. She conceived it after discovering the journal in the archives at the University of North Alabama, where Foster’s family home is now part of the campus. She further utilized letters and other period documents to craft a tale of life’s experiences amidst the jarring reality of war.
“She shares everything — as diaries do — from schoolgirl crushes, to the anxiety of having ‘Yankees’ on her front porch and brothers gone to war, to navigating a radically changed world as a reluctant adult,” President of the Monroe County Museum Endowment Board Gail Dees said in a press release.
The board is sponsoring the performance as the keynote event for the endowment’s annual autumn Fruitcake Festival. There will also be a silent auction on Saturday, Nov. 13 featuring a Winchester rifle, an authentic Confederate bond, a 19th-century coin and more. A limited number of connoisseur fruitcakes will be available for sale as well.
Performances will be Nov. 13 at 5 p.m. and Nov. 14 at 2 p.m. Saturday tickets are $40 and include a wine and cheese reception following the performance. Sunday tickets are $30. Student tickets are half-price.
Tickets and information are available at the museum, by calling 251-575-7433 or via Eventbrite. For more information go to the museum’s website at monroecounty.org.
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