Column: Revisiting Clanton’s 1955 Miss Alabama winner

Published 12:01 pm Tuesday, January 9, 2024

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By Billy Singleton | Community Columnist

In August 1955, the Union Banner Newspaper reported that the city of Clanton stood in awe over an honor that might come its way only once in a lifetime.

“A lovely girl from our midst has been chosen from a long list of the most talented and beautiful contestants in the state and crowned Miss Alabama.” The article explained that the people of Clanton hardly knew how to take it but hoped, in some way, to show their appreciation for the honor.

Civic clubs in Clanton quickly organized an automobile caravan that originated in Thorsby to provide a suitable escort for Patricia Byrd Huddleston, a 21-year-old music major at the University of Alabama, to a festive celebration in her hometown where all residents were invited to pay a tribute of welcome and to extend congratulations to the 1955 Queen of Alabama.

During a ceremony held on a stage erected in the hangar of the Chilton County Airport, Clanton Mayor Fenn Jones presented the new Miss Alabama with a key to the city and read a proclamation honoring Huddleston as the First Citizen of Clanton. A special guest at the ceremony, Mayor Jimmy Morgan of Birmingham, complimented Huddleston and residents for their cherished achievement, and for the good will that existed between the city of Birmingham and the county seat of Chilton County.

The daughter of William Eugene and Alma Huddleston of Clanton, Patricia was described as a “lovely, brown-haired Capstone songbird.” She was crowned Miss Alabama during Coronation Ceremonies held at the Alabama Theater in Birmingham after being selected from a large field of contestants in what was described as the keenest of the Miss Alabama competitions. In addition to being crowned Miss Alabama, Huddleston received a $500 cash award and the honor of representing her home state in the prestigious Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Before becoming Miss Alabama, the National Federation of Music Clubs had selected Huddleston to receive the Stephen Foster Award as the most talented musician among entrants from fourteen southeastern states. She was also awarded a scholarship to an Opera workshop at Pennsylvania College for Women as the winner of the Alabama Federation of Music Clubs talent competition. Huddleston also was selected for a leading role in the musical production of “Brigadoon” at the University of Alabama and performed as a soloist at the National Kiwanis Convention in St. Louis. Following graduation from college, the reigning Miss Alabama planned to pursue a career as a concert artist.

During the Miss America competition in September 1955, Huddleston received the Preliminary Talent Award for her performance of the classical vocal “Pace, Pace, Mio Dio!” from the Italian Opera “La Forza del Destino” by Giuseppe Verdi. Selected as one of ten finalists, she was awarded a scholarship of $1,000 to the college of her choice.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Music Degree, Huddleston set out for New York and a career in musical theater. She soon earned a part in the Broadway play “Juno” starring Melvyn Douglas and Shirley Booth. While in New York, Huddleston performed in touring and summer theater productions.

In 1956, while performing at a Chamber of Commerce dinner in Attalla, Alabama, Huddleston was introduced to James D. Martin who was described as the most eligible bachelor in North Alabama. The couple wed in 1959, the beginning of a union that lasted for six decades until his passing in 2019.

Throughout its history, the City of Clanton and Chilton County has produced many notable individuals who have achieved national, and in some cases, world renown fame by sharing their remarkable talents in acting, music, sports and a host of other passions. These special individuals might come our way only

once in a lifetime, but we should always remember their contributions and celebrate the awe and honor they bring to their hometown and its people.