Yellowhammer State; Heart of Dixie; Cotton State
Alabama is located in the southeastern region of the United States. Alabama is unofficially nicknamed the Yellowhammer State, after the state bird. Alabama is also known as the “Heart of Dixie.” The state tree is the Longleaf Pine, the state flower is the Camellia. The capital of Alabama is Montgomery.
The Alabama people, a Muskogean-speaking tribe, served as the source of the names of the river and state. In the Alabama language, the word for an Alabama person is Albaamo (or variously Albaama or Albàamo in different dialects; the plural form “Alabama persons” is Albaamaha). The word Alabama is believed to have originated from the Choctaw language and was later adopted by the Alabama tribe as their name.
Indigenous peoples of varying cultures lived in the area for thousands of years before European colonization. Trade with the Northeast via the Ohio River began during the Burial Mound Period (1000 BC–AD 700) and continued until European contact. The agrarian Mississippian culture covered most of the state from AD 1000 to 1600, with one of its major centers being at the Moundville Archaeological Site in Moundville, Alabama.
Among the historical tribes of Native American people living in the area of present-day Alabama at the time of European contact were Iroquoian-speaking Cherokee, and the Muskogean-speaking Alabama (Alibamu), Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Koasati. The Alabama people, a Muskogean-speaking tribe, lived just below the confluence of the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers on the upper reaches of the Alabama River. As early as 1702, the tribe was known to the French as Alibamon with French maps identifying the river as Rivière des Alibamons.
The French founded the first European settlement in the region at Old Mobile, in 1702. The city was moved to the current site of Mobile in 1711. This area was French from 1702 to 1763, part of British West Florida from 1763 to 1783, and split between the United States and Spain from 1783 to 1821. What is now the counties of Baldwin and Mobile became part of Spanish West Florida in 1783, part of the independent Republic of West Florida in 1810, and was finally added to the Mississippi Territory in 1812.
With the exception of the immediate area around Mobile and the Yazoo lands, what is now central Alabama was made part of the Mississippi Territory upon its creation in 1798. The Yazoo lands were added to the territory in 1804.
Although Spain kept a governmental presence in Mobile after 1812, the United States’ de facto authority over the region became apparent when Andrew Jackson’s forces occupied Mobile in 1814. This effectively ended Spanish influence, although not its claim, while gaining an unencumbered passage to the Gulf of Mexico.
The more sparsely settled eastern half of the territory was separated and named the Alabama Territory before the admission of Mississippi as a state in 1817. The Alabama Territory was created by the United States Congress on March 3, 1817. St. Stephens, now a ghost town, served as the territorial capital from 1817 to 1819. Alabama was admitted to the Union in 1819 as the 22nd state. Cahaba, now a ghost town, was the first permanent state capital, from 1820 to 1825.
Known as Alabama Fever, settlers and land speculators poured into the state to take advantage of fertile land suitable for cotton cultivation. Part of the frontier in the 1820s and 1830s, its constitution provided for universal suffrage for white men. Southeastern planters and traders from the Upper South brought slaves with them as the cotton plantations in Alabama expanded. The economy was built around large cotton plantations whose owners’ wealth grew largely from slave labor. The area also drew many poor, disfranchised people who became subsistence farmers. Most Native American tribes were completely removed from the state within a few years of the passage of the Indian Removal Act by the United States Congress in 1830.
Tuscaloosa served as the capital of Alabama from 1826 to 1846. On January 30, 1846, the Alabama legislature voted to move the capital city to Montgomery. The first legislative session in the new capital met in December 1847. A new capitol building was erected but burned down in 1849 and was rebuilt on the same site in 1851. This second capitol building in Montgomery remains to the present day. By 1860 the population was 964,201 people, of which 435,080 were enslaved African Americans and 2,690 were free people of color.
On January 11, 1861, Alabama declared its secession from the Union and joined the Confederate States of America. Few battles were fought in the state although Alabama contributed about 120,000 soldiers to the American Civil War. A company of cavalry soldiers from Huntsville, Alabama joined Gen. Forrest’s troops in Kentucky. The Huntsville company wore fine, new uniforms with yellow cloth on the sleeves, collars and coat tails. This led to them being greeted with “Yellowhammer” and later all Alabama troops in the Confederate Army were nicknamed “Yellowhammers”.
Alabama was under military rule from the end of the war until official restoration to the Union in 1868. From 1867 to 1874 many African Americans emerged as political leaders in the state. The state was represented in Congress during this period by three African American congressmen: Jeremiah Haralson, Benjamin S. Turner, and James T. Rapier.
The state was still chiefly agricultural after the war with an economy tied to cotton. State legislators ratified a new state constitution in 1868 that created a public school system for the first time and expanded women’s rights. Legislators funded numerous public road and railroad projects. During this time, organized resistance groups acted to suppress freedmen and Republicans. Although the Ku Klux Klan is the most well known, also among these groups were the Pale Faces, Knights of the White Camellia, Red Shirts, and White League.
Reconstruction in Alabama ended in 1874, when Democrats took control of the legislature and governor’s office. They wrote a new constitution in 1875 and passed the Blaine Amendment, to prohibit public money from being used to finance religious affiliated schools. In that same year, legislation was approved that called for racially segregated schools. Railroad passenger cars were segregated in 1891. Additional Jim Crow laws were passed after the start of the 20th century.
The new 1901 Constitution of Alabama included electoral laws that effectively disfranchised African Americans and most poor whites through voting restrictions, including poll taxes and literacy requirements. African Americans eligible to vote went from more than 181,000 in 1900 to only 2,980 by 1903. By 1941 more whites than blacks had been disfranchised: and nearly all African Americans lost the ability to vote.
The 1901 constitution reiterated that schools be racially segregated. It also restated that interracial marriage was illegal, although it had already been against the law since 1867. Further racial segregation laws were passed into the 1950s including jails in 1911; hospitals in 1915; toilets, hotels, and restaurants in 1928; and bus stop waiting rooms in 1945.
Due to underfunded schools and services for African Americans the Rosenwald Fund began funding the building of what came to be known as Rosenwald Schools. In Alabama, the fund provided one-third of the construction money, with the community and state splitting the remainder. A total of 387 schools, 7 teacher’s houses, and several vocational buildings had been completed within the state between 1913 and 1937. Several of the surviving school buildings in the state are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The population growth rate in Alabama dropped by nearly half from 1910 to 1920 as African Americans sought opportunities in northern cities due to continued racial discrimination, agricultural depression, and the failure of the cotton crops due to boll weevil infestation
At the same time, many rural whites and blacks migrated to the city of Birmingham for work in new industrial jobs. Heavy industry and mining were the basis of the economy. Industrial development related to the demands of World War II brought a level of prosperity not seen since before the Civil War. Cotton and other cash crops faded in importance as the state developed a manufacturing and service base.
Despite massive population changes from 1901 to 1961, the rural-dominated legislature refused to reapportion House and Senate seats based on population. The state legislature gerrymandered the few Birmingham legislative seats to ensure election by persons living outside Birmingham. Even though Jefferson County contributed more than one-third of all tax revenue to the state, it did not receive a proportional amount in services.
Under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, cases were filed in Federal courts to force Alabama to redistrict by population. In 1972, for the first time since 1901, the legislature implemented the Alabama constitution’s provision for periodic redistricting based on population. This benefited the urban areas that had developed, as well as all in the population who had been underrepresented for more than 60 years.
Other places and informational links for Alabama:
The North Alabama region is mostly mountainous while the rest of the area is a gentle plain with a general descent towards the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.
National Parks in Alabama include Horseshoe Bend National Military Park near Alexander City; Little River Canyon National Preserve near Fort Payne; Russell Cave National Monument in Bridgeport; Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site in Tuskegee; and Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site which is near Tuskegee.
Alabama has four National Forests: Conecuh, Talladega, Tuskegee, and William B. Bankhead. Alabama also contains the Natchez Trace Parkway, Selma To Montgomery National Historic Trail, and the Trail Of Tears National Historic Trail.
Other interests are “Natural Bridge” rock, the longest natural bridge east of the Rockies, located just south of Haleyville and the Wetumpka crater, a 5-mile (8 km)-wide meteorite impact crater located in Elmore County, just north of Montgomery.
Major airports in Alabama include Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport (BHM), Huntsville International Airport (HSV), Dothan Regional Airport (DHN), Mobile Regional Airport (MOB), Montgomery Regional Airport (MGM), Muscle Shoals – Northwest Alabama Regional Airport (MSL), Tuscaloosa Regional Airport (TCL), and Pryor Field Regional Airport (DCU).
For rail transport, Amtrak schedules the Crescent, a daily passenger train, running from New York to New Orleans with stops at Anniston, Birmingham, and Tuscaloosa.
There are five major interstate roads that cross the state: I-65 runs north–south roughly through the middle of the state; I-59/I-20 travels from the central west border to Birmingham, where I-59 continues to the north-east corner of the state and I-20 continues east towards Atlanta; I-85 originates in Montgomery and runs east-northeast to the Georgia border, providing a main thoroughfare to Atlanta; and I-10 traverses the southernmost portion of the state, running from west to east through Mobile.
The Port of Mobile, Alabama’s only saltwater port, is a busy seaport on the Gulf of Mexico with inland waterway access to the Midwest by way of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.
Other ports listed below are on rivers with access to the Gulf;
Port of Florence, Port of Decatur, Port of Guntersville, Port of Birmingham, Port of Tuscaloosa, Port of Montgomery, and Port of Mobile.
Alabama currently has sixty-seven counties. The oldest county, Washington, was created on June 4, 1800, when what is now Alabama was then part of the Mississippi Territory. The newest county is Houston, created on February 9, 1903.