Alabama State Capitol Interior

Part 2 of 3: The Interior Architecture and Murals of the Capitol

David Smitherman
10 min readMar 3, 2024

Visitors can enter the capitol at the front west entrance, or below the east portico at the Union Street level, where there is a visitor information center just inside the entrance. I recommend entering the West entrance so you can experience the Entrance Hall first, and then up the spiral staircase one level to the Rotunda and the entrance to the House and Senate Chambers. Ask for a guide brochure; if none are available at this entrance, there should be some at the visitor center next to the east entrance.

Alabama State Capitol main entrance.

The original interior construction was covered in whitewashed walls, and it was not until the late 1800s and early 1900s when the beautiful decor we see today was completed.

First Floor

The capitol building interior from the west entrance has two beautiful spiral staircases to the upper floors, and the capitol guide provides a numbered plan for tours beginning at this Entrance Hall.

Entrance Hall, and First Floor Plan.

1. Entrance Hall. The two spiral staircases in the Entrance Hall are believed to have been designed and built by Horace King, along with much of the interior woodwork. Two memorials of note in the Entrance Hall include Horace King, and Lurleen Wallace.

Horace King, 1807 to 1885, was born into slavery in South Carolina, and believed to be of African, European, and Native American descent. He was educated by his second owner John Goodwin, at a time when it was illegal to teach slaves to read and write. Goodwin later sent him to Oberlin College in Ohio, the first college to accept African American students, and then partnered with him on numerous construction projects in the southeast Alabama area. King became an accomplished architect, engineer, and bridge builder, constructing numerous bridges, homes, and courthouses across south Alabama. In 1846, he bought his freedom from Goodwin, and State Senator Jemison introduced a bill that would permit him to stay in Alabama, something that was prohibited for freed slaves at that time. Horace was described as looking more Indian, meaning Native American, than black, which is likely part of the reason he eventually won his freedom. In 1868, during reconstruction after the Civil War, King was elected to the state legislature.

Horace King and his spiral Stair; sculpture of Governor Lurleen Wallace.

Lurleen Burns Wallace, 1926 to 1968, was Alabama’s first female governor, and the wife of Governor George Wallace. Her sculpture in the center gallery, below the Rotunda, may be by a F R Schoenfeld from 1968, but no detailed information was found.

2. Supreme Court Chamber. The Alabama Supreme Court Chamber extending to the east, was also part of the original 1851 construction, but today is used as a museum and gallery space for special events.

Old Supreme Court Chamber; and the Court Library in 1885, and today.

3. Supreme Court Library. Behind the former courtroom was the Supreme Court Library, which in 1885 when completed, included the court’s library on the first level and offices for the justices in and open gallery above. Today the space is also used as a museum and gallery for special events.

4 to 6. Governor’s Suite. The Governor’s Suite since the 1912 addition, occupies the entire north wing, including the former Governor and Secretary of State offices. Visitors are restricted from this area as it is an active office of the governor and staff.

Second Floor

The second floor is perhaps the grandest, as you can enter from the Entrance Hall and up one of the spiral staircases to the Rotunda.

Second Floor Plan.

7. Rotunda. The Rotunda is located between the entrances to the House and Senate Chambers, and is crowned with the capitol dome, a beautiful work, that includes eight murals around its perimeter by artist Roderick MacKenzie. MacKenzie worked on the murals from 1927 to 1930, which were intended to depict Alabama history from 1540 to 1930.

Rotunda, and interior of Dome above.

John Roderick Dempster MacKenzie, 1865 to 1941, was born in London England, but emigrated to the United States with his family, and grew up in Mobile Alabama. He studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and later traveled to France to study in Paris, eventually setting up a studio there, and later in India, and then London. With events leading to World War 1 in Europe, he returned to the states to set up a studio in Mobile. Each mural is described as follows:

a. Hostile meeting of DeSoto, Spanish explorer, and Tuscaloosa Indian Chieftain, 1540. The Tuscaloosa chieftain and hundreds of his warriors were killed in the Battle of Mauvila, believed to be one of the earliest conflicts between Europeans and Native Americans.

Murals 7a and 7b.

b. France establishing first white colony in Alabama under Iberville and Bienville, Mobile, 1702 to 1711. The French were the first to colonize the area around Mobile Bay, followed by the English and Spanish. By 1813, the city of Mobile and the surrounding region was part of the United States.

c. Surrender of William Weatherford, hostile Creek leader, to General Andrew Jackson, 1814. The Battle of Horseshoe Bend defeated the Creek Nation leading to their expulsion from the territory.

Murals 7c and 7d.

d. Pioneer home seekers led into the Alabama wilderness by Sam Dale, 1815. Samuel Dale, 1772 to 1841, led many pioneers to new settlements in the Tombigbee River basin north of Mobile.

e. Governor Wm W Bibb and committee drafting the first state constitution at Huntsville, 1819. The events depicted actually occurred in a carpenter’s wood working shop, known as Constitution Hall, and not in a formal chamber as depicted.

Murals 7e and 7f.

f. Wealth and leisure produce the Golden Period antebellum life in Alabama, 1840 to 1860. Cotton production brought great wealth to many in Alabama leading to the romantic Plantation Era legends, popular at the time these murals were produced.

g. Secession and the Confederacy, inauguration of President Jefferson Davis, 1861. The Confederate States of America was formed at the Alabama Capitol, but the new nation’s capitol moved to Richmond Virginia a few months later.

Murals 7g and 7h.

h. Prosperity follows development of resources, agriculture, commerce, and industry. 1874 to 1930. After the Civil War, the state rebuilt its economy through iron and coal production in the Birmingham area, and the continuation of agriculture across the state.

There are some obvious problems with the History of Alabama presented in the murals by Roderick MacKenzie. Every mural brings up questions, but the most notable are the missing facts about colonization, the impact on Native Americans, slavery, and the Civil War. In Mural 7f, for example, there is no mention of all the slaves that were used to produce the cotton that built up tremendous wealth among white slave owners. And then, there is no mural on the Civil War, and the devastation Alabama contributed to by seceding from the Union, and helping to create the Confederate States of America. A written and graphic reconciliation is needed in the Rotunda that explains and illustrates the facts. That explanation should include preservation of the murals to show how this era, promoting a fictional history in the early 1900s, was real, and still lingers on, even today.

Coat of Arms representing France and England.
Coat of Arms representing Spain, and the Seal representing the Confederate States of America.

In the Rotunda there are three Coat of Arms representing France, England, and Spain, and one Seal for the Confederate States of America, representing former administrations that once had claims, and shaped the development of Alabama. All are beautifully sculpted reliefs.

8. Old House Chamber. The old House Chamber has been restored to its appearance in the late 1800s, with a few pieces of original furnishings still remaining.

Old House Chamber, and their last meeting in 1985.

In 1985, the House and Senate moved to their current location in the Alabama State House, and the artist J C Turner created this depiction of their last meeting in the old chamber.

9. Old Senate Chamber. The old Senate Chamber is no longer in use for legislative meetings, but still has the original decor from the late 1800s, and some of the original furnishings.

Old Senate Chamber, and a published drawing from 1861.

In 1861, delegates met in the Senate chamber and voted to secede from the Union and form the Confederate States of America, eventually leading to the Civil War. A drawing of the Senate Chamber in 1861, shows the delegates voting, which was published in Harper’s Weekly, and Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Magazine.

In 1868, after the Civil War, Horace King was among the first African Americans to be elected to the state legislature, representing Russell County in the House of Representatives. The last representative during reconstruction after the Civil War was elected in 1878, and by 1900, white supremacists had succeeded in removing all African Americans from the state legislature, in Alabama, and across the South.

African Americans elected to the legislature during reconstruction after the Civil War.

Third Floor

House and Senate Galleries. On the third floor are the entrances to the House and Senate galleries where the public may view legislative sessions in progress. Also, in the Rotunda at this level, a better view can be seen of the surrounding murals below the dome.

Third Floor above west front entrance, and Basement Level at east Union Street entrance.

Basement Level

The accessible sections of the basement level include the newest construction on the East Wing, completed in 1992. Visitor facilities include a museum store, visitor information, elevators, restroom facilities, and an auditorium.

Other points of interest around the capitol include the Alabama State House where the state legislature meets. The Alabama State House was built in 1963, originally as a Highway Department building. It is located across Union Street from the east side of the capitol building, and has provided legislative chambers and offices since 1985.

Alabama State House on Union Street.

House and Senate Chambers

The House and Senate Chambers have comfortable and modern meeting facilities with electronic systems for communicating, viewing materials, and voting.

Current House and Senate Chambers in the State House.

There are numerous problems with the State House, and many more improvements that probably should be made to the old Capitol. Although there have been ongoing discussions in the legislature about adding to the Capitol or replacing the State House with new construction, no consensus has been reached so far.

The Guide to the Alabama Capitol provides information on a number of additional historic sites in the area. It was printed in 2006, so missing are the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum. You can read my stories on these two tours at the links provided.

Guides available at the visitor center.

There is a Part 3 planned for the sculpture and monuments across the capitol grounds, so stay tuned.

Travel Notes

At the capitol building multiple trips were required because the interior was closed during the worst part of the pandemic, which I expected, but then I encountered a closing for a state holiday that I had never heard of, and later a closed section where they were preparing for a special event. So, in retrospect, it might be worth calling ahead to see what is happening and if you will be able to have access for touring.

Notes and References

Story and photographs by David Smitherman, with data collected from onsite inscriptions and brochures, Wikipedia, and Google Maps. Site visits were made in February and May 2021, and June 2022.

“A famous Mobilian you should know: Roderick D. MacKenzie, international artist”, on, 2014, at:



David Smitherman

Retired architect and space architect from NASA. Married with a growing family. Currently into travel, historical architecture, photography and genealogy.