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Mobile’s “cannon of many colors” and PRIDE month

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Lynn Oldshue
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A relic of the Civil War is now a symbol of Alabama Pride month. The annual observance recognizes the state’s LGBTQ community. The cannon stands guard in a small median in the middle of Government Street in Mobile. Once used to defend Fort Morgan, which played a pivotal role in the Battle of Mobile Bay. The cannon became a part of football victories, celebrations, and fundraisers. Its latest role is being part of Pride Month. For the first time, the cannon is painted rainbow colors as Mobile’s LGBTQ community celebrates the freedom to be themselves.

“A friend of mine and I were double dating one night and we were in his daddy's great, big old Bonneville,” said Norville Harrison. “It was after a high school fraternity party and we decided we would paint our fraternity letters on the cannon that night.”

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When the cops pulled up, his buddy was ready with an alibi as to how frat letters got on the historic cannon.

“A policeman pulled up and asked what we were doing. My buddy was a quick thinker. He said, “Officer, I thought I had a low tire because it was pulling a little bit.’ We got out to check and we didn't find anything wrong. He said, ‘Alright, y'all get out of here.’

His story also points out how unclear it is as to went the tradition of painting the cannon began. Sometimes it would be covered in orange, black, blue, or gold paint, depending on which high school football team won that night. The painting was usually done with spray cans late at night. Sometimes a little beer was involved. Norville Harrison picks up her cannon painting story he left off…

“As we got back into the car, He didn’t notice that the cannon had been painted,” Harrison recalled. “Fortunately, we stuck the paint cans far enough up in the bushes so that he didn't see him either.”

Painting the cannon is now a good memory of friends riding around Mobile looking for something to do and listening to the Beeker Street show on KAAY. That’s an AM radio station out of Little Rock that played underground rock and roll. Norville says it was just something to do.

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“Sadly my buddy has gone on to the maker,” said Harrison. “We had some good times we just were for back then. There was no internet, so we got away with a little bit more than folks do today.”

There are stories of Murphy High School’s Class of 1967. They draped the cannon for their 50th reunion instead of spraying the cannon. That was because they we were too old to run from the cops. A few students who attended McGill Institute, as it used to be known, posted For Sale signs all around the cannon.

“It's one of those things. If you're born in Mobile, people drive by the cannon a thousand times and don't really think about it. They just think, oh, well it's always been there, said Tom McGehee who answers local history questions in a column for Mobile Bay Magazine. He tells the story of how the cannon that dated back to 1879 in Fort Morgan landed on Government Street in 1953.

“It had originally been in the median on Government Street, known as Duncan place, which is that grassy section, just east of Royal Street before you get to Water Street,” recalled McGehee.

“In 1905, it was put on that median by William Butler Duncan, who was President and Chairman of the Board of the Mobile Ohio Railroad. That section of Government Street was pretty seedy with a lot of dive, bars and secondhand stores. And if you were entering Mobile, you would have come to the foot of Government street where the L& N station was, or you would've come down the street from the GM&O station,” he said.

Duncan wanted visitors to Mobile to have a more attractive entrance to the city so he built a median east of Royal Street and put the cannon there. The median was also planted with trees and named Duncan Place. Thirty years later, the construction of the Bankhead Tunnel removed Duncan Place. Tom MaGehee says, after that, the cannon was moved to the courtyard in what is now the History Museum of Mobile.

“In 1981, the city stripped the cannon of dozens and dozens of coats of paint that had been slapped over the other layers of paint. One of the coatings, they found it had been painted candy apple red, which was interesting. No one could remember why it had been painted bright red,” he recalled.

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Lynn Oldshue
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Painting the cannon in rainbow colors in June was the idea of Bryan Fuenamayor. The work is done by volunteers from the Mobile Arts Council. Fuenamayor plans public art projects during Pride Month to raise moral. Past years projects have been a rainbow crosswalks, a mural and a parade during Pride Month. He wanted something a little different this year to show affirmation and acceptance in Mobile.

“I especially wanted to do this year because we had three anti LGBTQ bills passed through the Alabama Senate and House and signed by the Governor,” said Fuenamayor.

Fuenamayor is proud of the cannon and the reaction it has received from many in Mobile on behalf of the local LGBTQ community.

“I have seen tons of comments of people saying I am proud to live in Mobile or proud that this city that I came from,” he said.

Like rainbows, the colors won’t stay for long. Permits to paint the cannon are popular and organizations pay $50 to paint the cannon and $250 to repaint it black. The next organization scheduled to paint the cannon is Distinguished Young Women for the National Finals in Mobile at the end of June.

Editor's Note—

A reported act of vandalism is being corrected regarding the PRIDE month cannon. WPMI-TV
reports someone spray painted the cannon black. It’s being restored its rainbow colors.

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