Alabama is a state in the United States. Alabama joined the Union on December 14, 1819, as the 22nd state. The state capital, Montgomery, became the provisional capital of the Confederate States of America in 1861 and is popularly known as the Cradle of the Confederacy.
The principal rivers in the western half of the state are the Tombigbee and its chief tributary, the Black Warrior. Much of eastern and central Alabama is drained by the Alabama River and its headstreams, the Coosa and the Tallapoosa. The Tombigbee and Alabama unite north of Mobile to form the Mobile River, which flows into the Gulf of Mexico through Mobile Bay. The Mobile is roughly paralleled by the Tensaw River, which extends from the Mobile just below the junction of the Alabama and Tombigbee to the bay. Southeastern Alabama is drained by three major rivers, which all flow into the gulf. They are the Chattahoochee, which forms the southern part of the Alabama-Georgia state line, the Choctawhatchee, and the Conecuh. In the north the Tennessee River flows westward in a great bend across almost the entire width of the state before turning northward to join the Ohio River in Kentucky. The Tennessee is the most important river in northern Alabama and forms a section of a vast inland waterway system.
Introduction to Alabama - Video
Alabama has a humid subtropical climate, with short, relatively mild winters and long warm summers. Temperature differences between the coastal and inland areas, however, are small. January averages range from about 11°C (57°F) at Mobile to about 7°C (44°F) at Birmingham. July averages are in the upper 20°s C (low 80°s F) at Mobile and at Birmingham. Very low or very high temperatures are unusual. The growing season, the period between the last killing frost of spring and the first killing frost of fall, ranges from about 200 days in the north to more than 300 days in the southwest. During the summer, daytime temperatures are frequently in the upper 20°s C (mid-80°s F) or higher and afternoon thundershowers are common. In winter, mild humid air masses from the gulf alternate with cold air masses from the north. Snow occasionally falls in the north. Rainfall is plentiful, ranging annually from about 1,350 mm (about 53 in) in the north to more than 1,730 mm (68 in) in the southwest. Most rainfall occurs in winter and early spring, but a second wet season occurs in July, owing primarily to thunderstorms.
Early human to make Alabama their home lived in the area about 15000 years before the arrival of European settlers. The first Europeans to reach Alabama were Spanish explorers looking for gold. Alonso Alvarez de Piñeda and Pánfilo de Narváez explored the coast early in the 16th century. The first expedition into the interior was led by Hernando de Soto, starting in 1539. With a force of several hundred soldiers, de Soto intended to find and conquer a kingdom rich in gold that he believed existed in the region. The Native Americans had no immunity to the new diseases brought by the Europeans, and their societies were drastically changed. Thousands of people became ill and died. Many towns and villages were abandoned. The survivors merged into larger groups, so that by the 18th century few of the peoples that de Soto met were still organized under the same names. Most of the native Alabamians became members of four major Native American nations: the Cherokee in the north, the Chickasaw in the northwest, the Choctaw in the southwest, and the Creek Confederacy in the center and southeast. The first successful European colonizers in Alabama were the French. In 1682 they claimed the huge land they called Louisiane (Louisiana), which extended from the Gulf Coast to Canada and included Alabama. The first French settlements were fortified trading posts. The first one in Alabama was Fort Louis de la Louisiane, commonly called La Mobile, built in 1702 by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, on the Mobile River at Twenty-Seven Mile Bluff. This fort was the seat of French government for Louisiana until 1711, when Bienville moved the colony downriver to the site of present-day Mobile. Called Fort Condé, this settlement was the capital until 1719, when the seat of government was moved into present-day Mississippi. Meanwhile, settlers arrived from France and Canada. Black slaves were introduced to clear the fields after 1719. Through their hard labor, large areas of land were cleared to raise food for the soldiers and settlers as they searched for products that could be sold to support the colony. French traders moved inland, building Fort Toulouse (1717) at the meeting of the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers and Fort de Tombecbé (1736) on the Tombigbee River. Traders from Great Britain, who were rivals of the French and disputed the boundary of Louisiana, arrived in Alabama from South Carolina and later from their new colony, Georgia. The British built Fort Okfuskee on the upper Tallapoosa. French influence waned as the Native Americans learned that British traders offered better products than the French and demanded fewer deerskins in exchange. Great Britain and France fought a series of wars in the 18th century that climaxed with the French and Indian War (1754-1763). Great Britain was the decisive winner and concluded a peace treaty that removed the French from the North American continent. Mobile was incorporated into West Florida, a colony that Spain ceded to Great Britain in 1763. All of Alabama north of West Florida became part of the Lands Reserved for the Indians, administered by a British superintendent for Native American affairs. White settlement in this reservation without the permission of the Native Americans was forbidden by the king’s order. British colonists who lived on the frontier resented the ban on settlement. They felt this was an arbitrary infringement on the original colonial grants, most of which had vague or unlimited western boundaries. During the American Revolution (1775-1783), the Cherokee and Creek supported the British against the Americans. The Spanish, who supported the Americans, captured Mobile in 1780 over British and Native American resistance. At the end of the revolution, West Florida was returned to Spain and interior Alabama was turned over to the United States. Georgia claimed most of Alabama as part of its original grant. Settlers from Georgia encroached on the lands of the Native Americans, who sought Spain’s help to keep them out. Spain, however, was reluctant to support them against the growing power of the United States. For several years the United States and Spain disputed the southern boundary of the United States. Finally, in 1795, the two countries agreed on a boundary at latitude 31° North. That line still forms most of the border between Alabama and Florida. Three years later, the Congress of the United States created Mississippi Territory, comprising most of present-day Mississippi and Alabama. The Mobile area remained Spanish. In 1800 nearly all of Alabama north of 31° north latitude was still controlled by Native Americans, but that soon changed. After the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, the federal government built the Federal Road to connect the new territory with the national capital at Washington, D.C. The road ran through Creek territory from Athens, Georgia, to Fort Stoddert, north of Mobile. For the first time, access from the east was relatively easy. Settlers came to Alabama by the thousands, further crowding the Native Americans. On June 18, 1812, the War of 1812 broke out between the United States and Britain. Spain let the British Navy operate from Florida, and as a retaliation, U.S. General James Wilkinson occupied Mobile area in 1813. The Upper or Northern Creek, angered at the Americans intruding on their land, took the British side. On August 30, 1813, an Upper Creek war party attacked and overran Fort Mims, the stockaded home of Sam Mims, where frontier settlers and mixed-blood families had gathered for protection from Upper Creek marauders. About 250 people were killed at Fort Mims, although rumor and newspaper reports doubled the figure. American militias along the frontier rallied, and the Tennessee Volunteers under General Andrew Jackson moved south and destroyed Creek villages. On March 27, 1814, Jackson’s forces decisively defeated the Upper Creek at the battle of Horseshoe Bend on the Tallapoosa. They were forced to sign a treaty with Jackson surrendering part of their land. Over the next five years the Creek and their allies were forced to cede much more land in central and southern Alabama. By 1817 so many white settlers had migrated into the eastern part of Mississippi Territory (present-day Alabama) that they seemed likely to get political control of the whole territory. Citizens living along the Mississippi River, who had dominated the territorial government until then, were eager to separate from the Alabama portion. Thus, when Mississippi became a state in 1817, Alabama became a separate territory with its capital at Saint Stephens. On December 14, 1819, it was admitted to the federal Union as the 22nd state. Territorial Governor William Wyatt Bibb became the first governor of the state. Almost immediately, rivalry between north and south Alabama began to flavor Alabama politics and complicate the location of a capital. Huntsville was the temporary capital until Cahawba (Cahaba), more or less centrally located in Dallas County, was built in 1820. In 1826, however, the capital was moved to Tuscaloosa, and again, in 1846, to Montgomery, where it remained. In the 1850s many Alabamians came to believe that secession was the only way to protect what they believed were Southern rights, including the right to own slaves. They were in the minority, however, until 1860. That year, Abraham Lincoln was elected president as the candidate of the Republican Party, which opposed the spread of slavery. The Southern state of South Carolina had threatened to secede if the Republicans won the presidency, and in December 1860 it did so. Other Southern states began to follow. In Alabama, a convention was called in Montgomery to consider the question. Despite strong Unionist sentiment in north Alabama and the Wiregrass, the convention voted for secession on January 11. Alabama was the fourth state, after South Carolina, Mississippi, and Florida, to leave the Union. Alabama invited six other seceding states to a meeting in Montgomery in February 1861 to consider forming a Southern nation. At that meeting they established a confederacy, the Confederate States of America, and elected as their president Jefferson Davis, a Mississippi planter, U.S. Military Academy graduate, and former U.S. senator and secretary of war. Davis took the oath of office on the main portico of the Alabama state capitol. Montgomery became the first capital of the Confederacy, but in May, for political, military, and economic reasons, the capital was moved to Richmond, Virginia. Although Union support remained strong in the north hill country and mountains, most Alabamians supported the Confederacy in the American Civil War (1861-1865) that followed. Union forces invaded several times and occupied parts of north Alabama, but the most important military action of the war in Alabama was the naval Battle of Mobile Bay in 1864. Union Admiral David G. Farragut easily defeated the outgunned Confederate navy that defended the bay. However, the city of Mobile itself was not captured until April 1865. Union cavalry raids swept through the state late in the war and caused devastation, although not on the same scale as was inflicted on Georgia. The Confederacy surrendered in 1865, and Union troops were stationed in the Southern states. Alabama attempted to reestablish state government under the lenient terms that President Andrew Johnson offered for restoration, or Reconstruction, of the union. However, Congress imposed harsher terms: among other requirements, each state had to ratify the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which extended citizenship and civil rights to blacks. The Alabama legislature refused, and in 1867 Alabama was placed under military rule, as were nine other Southern states. A new voter registration excluded many former Confederates. Northerners and pro-Union Southerners, called respectively carpetbaggers and scalawags by their enemies, joined with blacks to form the state Republican Party and take control of the government. The new government adopted a new state constitution, and Alabama was readmitted to the Union in 1868. Many whites opposed military occupation and rule by carpetbaggers and scalawags based on black votes. The Ku Klux Klan and similar violent groups were organized to intimidate blacks and Republicans. Because of the violence, which drove both black and white Republicans from the polls, but also because of the high taxes imposed by the ambitious Reconstruction government, the Democrats regained control of state government in 1874. This ended Reconstruction in Alabama. The Democrats, called Bourbons, who took over in 1874 inherited a large state debt, much of it fraudulent, that the Reconstruction government had incurred to finance expansion of railroads, industry, and public education. To cut back on the debt, they adopted a program of low taxes and limited spending. Education was underfunded, and school terms were little more than three months in rural areas. Black men continued to cast election ballots (no women of any race were allowed to vote) although the black vote was usually manipulated by whites through intimidation or economic pressure. With slavery abolished, blacks and whites had to adjust to wage labor. Most blacks and many poor whites had no land of their own. They had to work for large landowners, who had little cash to pay them. Under these conditions, a system of sharecropping and tenant farming evolved. A sharecropper raised part of the landlord’s crop and was paid a share of the profit after deductions for living expenses and the cost of tools and supplies. A tenant farmer sold what he raised and paid rent to the landlord out of the profit. If the profit was low, the landlord got his share first. The sharecropper or tenant took what was left or, if none was left, got an advance to keep going for another year. The lenders who advanced credit usually demanded that the debtor farmers plant cotton, the South’s most dependable cash crop. Unfortunately, the price of cotton fell soon after the Civil War and stayed down for decades. Thus the tenant farmers and sharecroppers fell into an endless cycle of debt. Cotton became even more dominant, and Alabama’s agriculture and economic activity failed to diversify. Laws were passed limiting the freedom of sharecroppers and tenant farmers and restricting their economic opportunities. For instance, they forfeited any share in crops they abandoned, and their personal property could be seized by the landlord for unpaid debts. Not until World War II (1939-1945), when widespread mechanization of cotton production made sharecropping and tenant farming unprofitable for the landlords, did the system begin to disappear. The agricultural slump was not limited to cotton. As elsewhere in the nation, small farmers suffered as wealth created by commerce and manufacturing was concentrated in the hands of a few business leaders. Among the causes of unrest were the declining prices of farm products, the growing indebtedness of farmers to merchants and banks, and the discriminatory freight rates imposed on farmers by the railroads. In the 1870s and 1880s American farmers under midwestern leadership formed self-help groups such as the Grange and Farmers’ Alliance. When these organizations decided that agricultural grievances had to be addressed with political action, the dominance of the Bourbons in Alabama was threatened. This threat was complicated by the fact that the Bourbons stood for white power, while the farmers’ groups were willing to attract black farmers to their cause. The movement nationwide was called populism. Alabama populists tried first to gain control of the Democratic Party, and, when that failed, formed a splinter group, the Jeffersonian Democrats. The coalition of black and white farmers fell apart after 1896 as a result of intimidation and white susceptibility to racist Democratic appeals. Segregation of the races, through separate public facilities for whites and blacks, became a basic rule in Southern society in the last two decades of the 19th century. A black educator, Booker T. Washington of Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama, reacted to this erosion of black rights by advocating a policy of racial accommodation. He urged blacks not to emphasize the goals of social integration and political rights but instead to acquire the occupational skills that would lead to economic advancement. Other black leaders disagreed, but Washington’s prestige and white support of his position caused him to be accepted as the blacks’ chief spokesperson. By 1900 iron and steel were the most important industries in the state. United States Steel Corporation moved into the Birmingham district in 1907, indicating its national significance. Lumbering and turpentine production also became important. Industrial growth was due in large part to the building of railroads. The value of the state’s few rail lines had come to be fully appreciated in the Civil War, when starvation was widespread because food produced in the Black Belt could not be transported into the hill country and other areas not served by navigable rivers. After the war, the Reconstruction government was determined to construct railroads, especially through the mineral district. The South also had come to appreciate an industrial economy. The coal, iron ore, and limestone deposits in Jefferson County, which had long been known but ignored, were now exploited. As railroads opened up the hill country, new towns based on industry—Birmingham, Anniston, Gadsden, and Fort Payne—grew into cities. During World War I (1914-1918) industrial and agricultural production in Alabama expanded to meet wartime needs. Mobile for a while became an important shipbuilding city despite the shallowness of Mobile Bay. The federal government spent millions of dollars clearing and keeping open the 58-km (36.5-mi) ship channel from Mobile to the Gulf of Mexico. Economic expansion continued through the 1920s but was temporarily halted by the Great Depression of the 1930s. Alabama’s delegation in Congress, which had much seniority and legislative experience, provided leadership for the economic recovery programs of the New Deal of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945). These federal programs helped ease poverty in Alabama and diversify the state’s economy. One of the most important was the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which provided agricultural research (especially in improvement of fertilizers), reforestation, flood control, dam building, and hydroelectric power. South Alabama’s mild climate and flat, gently rolling countryside made it attractive for military bases and airfields. Military expenditures during World War II stimulated economic expansion and provided civilian jobs. Mobile again became an important shipbuilding center, and the Birmingham steel plants geared up for war production. Alabama’s economic base continued to diversify after World War II. Beginning in the 1950s, the U.S. spaceflight program at Redstone Arsenal and George C. Marshall Space Flight Center made Huntsville a leading aerospace center. Birmingham’s economy, which had depended heavily on the iron and steel industries and blue-collar labor, saw growth in medical services, insurance, manufacturing, and engineering. Labor unions became less important, but not before wages increased. Alabama farmers turned to cattle, timber, soybeans, peanuts, and chickens, while cotton production fell. Through the 1970s, the rural population and the number of farms decreased as people moved to urban areas. The remaining farms were mostly large agribusinesses. Populism, with its potential to combine poor-white and black interests, threatened Bourbon control of Southern state governments. The Bourbons’ response was to disfranchise blacks—that is, prevent them from voting. Mississippi was the first state to disfranchise black voters. Alabama achieved it through its 1901 constitution, using methods like a property ownership requirement, a literacy test, and a poll tax (a tax levied on individuals as a prerequisite for voting). In one-party Alabama, the Democratic nomination was equivalent to election, so early in the 20th century, nominating conventions were replaced by direct primary elections. This gave the people greater power in selecting candidates. In the years preceding World War I, several reforms and new laws were enacted. Governor Braxton Bragg Comer (1907-1911) achieved regulation of child labor in factories, better funding of education, and stronger regulation of railroads. After World War I, a state budgetary system was introduced, and the tax structure was revised to provide more revenue. State highway construction was expanded as automobile traffic increased. Bibb Graves was elected governor in 1927 with the support of the Ku Klux Klan, which was then politically powerful in Alabama. Graves brought many progressive reforms, including abolition of the corrupt and inhumane convict lease system. This system amounted to slavery: convicts were put to work in chain gangs for private entrepreneurs who had contracted with the state for their labor in fields, mines, or road repair. They were never paid for their labor, thus leaving large profits for the business owners and the state. Graves also improved mental hospitals and provided capital improvement funds for schools and colleges. The onset of the Great Depression forced Graves to deal with relief for Alabama citizens who were suffering from the hard times. He campaigned on promises to provide jobs in state government when he ran for governor again in 1935 (at that time the constitution did not allow governors to succeed themselves). In his second term, New Deal programs such as the TVA helped ease the Depression in Alabama. In 1939, after Governor Frank M. Dixon took office, a state civil service was established to provide a fair, rational basis for filling state government jobs. This was a reaction to Graves’s use of state jobs as a campaign ploy and his granting of jobs for political purposes. Later Dixon reorganized the state government and streamlined its cumbersome system of expenditure. James E. (“Big Jim”) Folsom, who was governor from 1947 to 1951 and from 1955 to 1959, was very popular and was noted for his colorful campaigning style. He campaigned in small towns and crossroads hamlets from a wagon filled with hay, and his speeches were preceded by music from his “Strawberry Pickers” country music band. As he talked, he swirled a mop in a bucket of suds, saying he would use the mop to clean up state government. Folsom was more liberal on racial questions than other Alabama politicians of his time. He opposed oppressive segregation policies and refused to tolerate terrorism by the Ku Klux Klan. One of Folsom’s supporters was a Barber County state legislator, George C. Wallace, who tried to succeed him in 1959. Race was a main issue in the campaign, and Wallace’s opponent, John Patterson, used it to win votes (most blacks were still unable to vote). Wallace, following Folsom’s example, did not use race as an issue, and it cost him the election. In 1962, however, Wallace ran on a platform of support for segregation and made race the cornerstone of his campaign. This time he won easily. In 1966 he supported the election of his wife, Lurleen, to carry on his policies until he was eligible for another term. Two years into office, however, she died of cancer. In 1968 Wallace ran for president of the United States as the candidate of the American Independent Party. Campaigning on a platform of states’ rights and “law and order,” he carried Alabama and four other Southern states. In 1970 Wallace was again elected as governor, and in 1972 he campaigned for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party. During a speech in Laurel, Maryland, he was shot and partially paralyzed by a would-be assassin. In 1974 he became governor again after the law was changed to let him succeed himself. He thus became the first Alabama governor to serve three terms. After Reconstruction, Alabama maintained separate schools and other public facilities for whites and blacks. During the 1950s and 1960s, civil rights activities in the state focused on integration of these facilities and equal political rights for blacks. The federal government encouraged these efforts, but most white Alabamians supported the state’s segregation policies and state officials continued to enforce them. The intransigence of Alabama officials encouraged civil rights groups to challenge state authority, and Alabama witnessed a number of major events of the period. In 1955 a black woman named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus to a white passenger as the law of segregation required. She was arrested and, as a result, blacks boycotted buses in Montgomery in 1955 and 1956. Civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr., led the successful boycott; his efforts brought the technique of passive resistance to national prominence. The boycott ended in 1956 with a mandate from the Supreme Court of the United States outlawing all segregated public transportation in the city. The Montgomery boycott was a clear victory for passive resistance, and King emerged as a highly respected leader. Mindful of this, black clergymen from across the South organized the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), with King as its president. The organization was devoted to King’s principle, adopted from the nationalist movement in India, that no violence was to be done to opponents of civil rights, even in retaliation or self-defense. In 1963 King led a massive civil rights campaign in Birmingham and organized drives for black voter registration, desegregation, and better education and housing throughout the South. He was arrested during demonstrations in Birmingham and put in solitary confinement for nine days, during which he wrote one of his most famous essays, “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” The next month, Birmingham City Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor ordered fire hoses and police dogs used against civil rights demonstrators, many of them children. A few months later, Ku Klux Klan members planted dynamite in a black Birmingham church, the 16th Street Baptist Church. The explosion killed four young girls. Desegregation of restaurants, one of the goals of the Birmingham demonstrations, was accomplished by the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 that outlawed discrimination in public accommodations. In 1965 King led the Freedom March from Selma to Montgomery to protest restrictions on black voters. This demonstration furthered the passage of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. Widespread registration of black voters under that act led to the election of blacks to a number of local offices and their appointment to many boards and commissions. In 1979 Richard Arrington was elected the first black mayor of Birmingham. Integrated schooling came late to Alabama. Although the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that mandatory segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, Governor George Wallace tried twice in 1963 to prevent integration, first in June at the University of Alabama and then in September at several elementary and secondary schools. Both times, President John F. Kennedy activated the National Guard to facilitate integration. Following the admission of two blacks to the University of Alabama and another to Florence State College in 1963, there was a rapid increase in the number of black students attending formerly all-white Alabama colleges and universities. The increase accelerated after Auburn University and the University of Alabama began recruiting black athletes, first for football and then for basketball scholarships. In 1969 less than 15 percent of the state’s black students attended integrated schools. However, by 1970 this had surged to 80 percent. In 1982 George Wallace was again elected governor, this time by appealing to black voters. In 1986 a controversy within the Democratic nomination process allowed Republican Guy Hunt to become the third Republican governor in Alabama history and the first since Reconstruction. Hunt was reelected in 1990 but was removed from office in 1993 after conviction for misusing state funds for personal expenditures. Hunt fulfilled the terms of his sentence, but was pardoned in March 1998 by the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles. His successor as governor was Democratic Lieutenant Governor Jim Folsom, son of “Big Jim” Folsom. Forrest “Fob” James, who had been elected as a Democratic governor in 1978, ran again and won as a Republican in 1994.
Largest city: Birmingham
State Nickname: Heart of Dixie
State bird: Yellowhammer
State flower: Camellia
State tree: Southern Longleaf Pine
State mammal: American Black Bear
State Freshwater Fish: Largemouth bass
State insect: Monarch butterfly
State Seal (Coat of arms)
Alabama became 22nd state on
Median Household Income (2015 est.)
Governor: Robert J. Bentley (Republican)
Current Alabama time
Area of Alabama
Highest point: Mount Cheaha