UAB Magazine Online Features
UAB Team Tracks a Forgotten People
By Claire L. Burgess
After years of isolation and poverty, Alabama’s MOWA Choctaw tribe is reclaiming its roots—with the help of UAB alumna Jacqueline Matte and UAB anthropologist Loretta Cormier.
Thirty years ago, UAB alumna Jacqueline Matte went out to the Choctaw reservation in southwest Alabama in search of a story. What she found has haunted her ever since, fueling decades of interviews, investigations, and heartache. Nine years ago, UAB anthropologist Loretta Cormier, Ph.D., joined the struggle. Separately and together, Matte and Cormier have fought through swamps both literal and legal, seeking clues to one of the great vanishing acts in Alabama history. It is no easy task; after all, they are looking for a people who haven’t wanted to be found for more than 150 years.
The Alabama Choctaw lived in poverty and isolation until the 1940s, when they began sending some of their children to Indian schools in other states because their own were not accredited. When those educated children came home, they led the tribe out of isolation and into the public eye, launching a campaign for state recognition. In 1979, they officially became the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians, the first recognized tribe in Alabama. (The name MOWA comes from the tribe's location on the Mobile County-Washington County line.) The following year, the tribe began to seek federal recognition, a lengthy and involved process requiring extensive genealogical research. That is where Jacqueline Matte comes in.
A Mother’s Journey at UAB
By Lisa C. Bailey
Liz and Mike Lorbeer with their daughter, Sarah
After only nine months of marriage, Liz Lorbeer convinced her husband, Mike, to make a “big, bold jump” and move to Birmingham from Chicago. Liz’s new job as associate director for content management at UAB’s Lister Hill Library of Health Sciences was the primary motivating factor, although both she and Mike admit that the barbecue was a really big draw. Little did they know that it would be burritos, not barbecue, that would signal an even more significant change in their lives.
“We really wanted children, but we never thought about it, we never planned it,” Liz says. “We said if it happens, it happens; if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. So I didn’t even have a doctor here. But I did see a nurse practitioner at The Kirklin Clinic for the annual, routine gynecological checkup. And in June of 2007 I said to her, ‘Well, so is it possible to have a child? You don’t see any problems or anything?’ She answered, ‘No, you can have a baby if you want to have a baby.’ I think that was the first time I had ever asked anybody.”
One couple’s winding road to parenthood at UAB
By Lisa C. Bailey
James and Emily Copeland with their son, Matthew
To this day, Emily Copeland and her husband, James, have no idea when their son was born. They know the year, of course, and the day, and the hour. After that, it gets a little fuzzy. There were a few too many things going on that May morning in 2006 when Matthew decided he wasn’t going to wait to full-term to make his debut—much less make it to the hospital.
Emily, who has worked at UAB for five years, got up that morning expecting to visit her obstetrician, but just for a routine visit. “My pregnancy was pretty much normal up until 28 weeks,” Emily says. “But the night before I had Matthew, I started feeling a little bit of discomfort. And I thought, ‘OK, I’ve got an appointment in the morning. I’ll just tell my doctor at 8:45. I can make it until then.’” Emily was due August 1—almost three months later—“and we really thought we had our stuff together,” she says. “We were getting his nursery ready. I had no clue.”
Bringing to Life Birmingham’s Iron Age
By Charles Buchanan
For nearly 90 years, Sloss Furnaces helped fuel Birmingham’s booming growth, drawing hundreds of families to live and work in the shadow of the massive iron plant. Today Sloss curator—and UAB history instructor—Karen Utz is learning about this vanished way of life and sharing it with her students. In the process, she is shedding new light on a key, but often overlooked, era in the city’s past.
In this slideshow, Utz describes how she uses oral histories and even recipes to preserve the stories of Birmingham ironworkers.