Alabama (AL) State, History and Facts

Alabama is a state located in the southeastern region of the United States. It is bordered by Tennessee to the north, Georgia to the east, Florida and the Gulf of Mexico to the south, and Mississippi to the west. Alabama is the 30th-most extensive and the 23rd-most populous of the 50 United States. At 1,300 miles (2,100 km), Alabama has one of the longest navigable inland waterways in the nation.

From the American Civil War until World War II, Alabama, like many Southern states, suffered economic hardship, in part because of continued dependence on agriculture. Despite the growth of major industries and urban centers, white rural interests dominated the state legislature until the 1960s, while urban interests and African Americans were under-represented.

Following World War II, Alabama experienced growth as the economy of the state transitioned from one primarily based on agriculture to one with diversified interests. The establishment or expansion of multiple United States Armed Forces installations added to the state economy and helped bridge the gap between an agricultural and industrial economy during the mid-20th century. The state economy in the 21st century is dependent on management, finance, manufacturing, aerospace, mineral extraction, healthcare, education, retail, and technology.

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 largest city by population is Birmingham. The largest city by total land area is Huntsville. The oldest city is Mobile, founded by French colonists.

Quick Facts about Alabama

  1. Alabama introduced the Mardi Gras to the western world. This pagan celebration is held on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Holy Lent begins.

  2. Alabama workers built rockets that put humans in space.

  3. The world's first Electric Trolley System was introduced in Montgomery in 1886.

  4. Alabama is the only state with all major natural resources needed to make iron and steel. It is also the largest supplier of cast-iron and steel pipe products.

  5. Montgomery is the capital and the birthplace of the Confederate States of America.

  6. The Confederate flag was designed and first flown in Alabama in 1861.

  7. Alabama became the 22nd state on December 14, 1819.

  8. The town of Enterprise houses the Boll Weevil Monument to acknowledge the role this destructive insect played in encouraging farmers to grow crops other than cotton.

  9. "Alabama" is the official state song.

  10. A skeleton of one of the first humans was found in Russell Cave.

  11. At 2,405 feet Cheaha Mountain is Alabama's highest point above sea level.

  12. Huntsville is known as the rocket capital of the World.

  13. The Alabama Department of Archives is the oldest state-funded archival agency in the nation.

  14. In 1902 Dr. Luther Leonidas Hill performed the first open heart surgery in the Western Hemisphere by suturing a stab wound in a young boy's heart. The surgery occurred in Montgomery.

  15. To help fund education Alabama instituted its state sales tax in 1937.

  16. Schools established in Mobile include Washington Academy (founded in 1811) and Huntsville Green Academy (founded in 1812).

  17. Between 1817 and 1819 Old Saint Stephens was the first territorial capital of Alabama.

  18. In 1956 the Army Ballistic Missile Agency was established at Huntsville's Redstone Arsenal.

  19. Governor George C. Wallace served four terms in office.

  20. In 1995 Heather Whitestone serves as first Miss America chosen with a disability.

  21. Alabama's geographic center is located in Chilton a community located 12 miles southwest of Clanton.

  22. The word Alabama means tribal town in the Creek Indian language.

  23. The United States Army Chemical Corps Museum in Fort McClellan contains over 4000 chemical warfare artifacts.

  24. Hitler's typewriter survived from his mountain retreat and is exhibited at the Hall of History in Bessemer.

  25. Blount County was created on February 7, 1818 and is older than the state.

  26. Winston County is often called the Free State of Winston. It gained the name during the Civil War.

  27. Mobile is named after the Mauvilla Indians.

  28. The Alabama State Flag was authorized by the Alabama legislature on February 16, 1895.

  29. Hematite is Alabama's official state mineral and is known as oxide of iron (Fe2O3).

  30. The Monarch butterfly (Danaus pleipuss) is the state's official insect.

  31. The star blue quartz is the state's official gemstone.

  32. The Florence Renaissance Faire is the Alabama's official fair.

  33. The pecan is the Alabama's official nut.

  34. People from Alabama are called Alabamians.

  35. On January 11, 1861 Alabama becomes the fourth state to secede from the Union.

  36. On January 28, 1846 Montgomery was selected as capital of Alabama.

  37. Alabama resident Sequoyah devised the phonetic, written alphabet of the Cherokee language.

  38. The Birmingham Airport opened in 1931. At the time of the opening a Birmingham to Los Angeles flight took 19 hours.

  39. Alabama's mean elevation is 500 feet at its lowest elevation point.

  40. Audemus jura nostra defendere is the official state motto. Translated it means "we dare defend our rights."

  41. Washington County is the oldest county in Alabama.

  42. General Andrew Jackson defeated the Creek Indians in 1814. Following the event the Native Americans ceded nearly half the present state land to the United States.

  43. At the Battle of Mobile Bay Admiral David Farragut issued his famous command, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead." The event occurred on August 5, 1864.

History of Alabama

Spanish explorers are believed to have arrived at Mobile Bay in 1519, and the territory was visited in 1540 by the explorer Hernando de Soto. The first permanent European settlement in Alabama was founded by the French at Fort Louis de la Mobile in 1702. The British gained control of the area in 1763 by the Treaty of Paris but had to cede almost all the Alabama region to the U.S. and Spain after the American Revolution. The Confederacy was founded at Montgomery in Feb. 1861, and, for a time, the city was the Confederate capital.

During the later 19th century, the economy of the state slowly improved with industrialization. At Tuskegee Institute, founded in 1881 by Booker T. Washington, Dr. George Washington Carver carried out his famous agricultural research.

In the 1950s and '60s, Alabama was the site of such landmark civil-rights actions as the bus boycott in Montgomery (1955–56) and the "Freedom March" from Selma to Montgomery (1965).

Today paper, chemicals, rubber and plastics, apparel and textiles, primary metals, and automobile manufacturing constitute the leading industries of Alabama. Continuing as a major manufacturer of coal, iron, and steel, Birmingham is also noted for its world-renowned medical center. The state ranks high in the production of poultry, soybeans, milk, vegetables, livestock, wheat, cattle, cotton, peanuts, fruits, hogs, and corn.

Famous places include the Helen Keller birthplace at Tuscumbia, the Space and Rocket Center at Huntsville, the White House of the Confederacy, the restored state Capitol, the Civil Rights Memorial, the Rosa Parks Museum & Library, and the Shakespeare Festival Theater Complex in Montgomery; the Civil Rights Institute and the McWane Center in Birmingham; the Russell Cave near Bridgeport; the Bellingrath Gardens at Theodore; the USS Alabama at Mobile; Mound State Monument near Tuscaloosa; and the Gulf Coast area.

Alabama, which joined the union as the 22nd state in 1819, is located in the southern United States and nicknamed the "Heart of Dixie." The region that became Alabama was occupied by American Indians as early as some 5,000 years ago. Europeans reached the area in the 16th century. During the first half of the 19th century, cotton and slave labor were central to Alabama's economy. The state played a key role in the American Civil War; its capital, Montgomery, was the Confederacy's first capital. Following the war, segregation of blacks and whites prevailed throughout much of the South. In the mid-20th century, Alabama was at the center of the American Civil Rights Movement and home to such pivotal events as the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In the early 21st century, the state's economy was fueled in part by jobs in aerospace, agriculture, auto production and the service sector.

  • Date of Statehood: December 14, 1819

  • Capital: Montgomery

  • Population: 4,779,736 (2010)

  • Size: 52,420 square miles

  • Nickname(s): The Yellowhammer State; The Heart of Dixie; The Cotton State

  • Motto: Audemus jura nostra defendere ("We dare maintain our rights")

  • Tree: Southern Longleaf Pine

  • Flower: Camellia

  • Bird: Yellowhammer Woodpecker (Northern Flicker)

Interesting Facts

In 1919, the city of Enterprise erected a monument to the boll weevil in recognition of the destructive insect's role in saving the county's economy by encouraging farmers to grow more lucrative crops such as peanuts instead of traditional cotton.

The DeSoto Caverns near the city of Birmingham, which contain a 2,000-year-old Native American burial site, served as a clandestine speakeasy with dancing and gambling during Prohibition.

Alabama was the first state to declare Christmas a legal holiday, in 1836.

The Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-American flying unit in the U.S. military, were trained in Alabama. Their accomplished combat record, including the accumulation of more than 850 medals, was an important factor in President Truman's decision to desegregate armed forces in 1948.

In 1965, five months before President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act prohibiting discriminatory voting practices, thousands of non-violent protesters joined a 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery to bring attention to the injustice African Americans faced when attempting to register to vote.

The Saturn V rocket that was designed in Huntsville, Alabama.


The Alabama people, a Muskogean-speaking tribe whose members lived just below the confluence of the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers on the upper reaches of the Alabama River, served as the etymological 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. The spelling of the word varies significantly between sources. The first usage appears in three accounts of the Hernando de Soto expedition of 1540 with Garcilasso de la Vega using Alibamo, while the Knight of Elvas and Rodrigo Ranjel wrote Alibamu and Limamu, respectively. As early as 1702, the tribe was known to the French as Alibamon with French maps identifying the river as Rivière des Alibamons. Other spellings of the appellation have included Alibamu, Alabamo, Albama, Alebamon, Alibama, Alibamou, Alabamu, and Allibamou.

Although the origin of Alabama could be discerned, sources disagree on its meaning. An 1842 article in the Jacksonville Republican originated the idea that the meaning was "Here We Rest." This notion was popularized in the 1850s through the writings of Alexander Beaufort Meek. Experts in the Muskogean languages have been unable to find any evidence to support such a translation. Scholars believe the word comes from the Choctaw alba (meaning "plants" or "weeds") and amo (meaning "to cut", "to trim", or "to gather"). The meaning may have been "clearers of the thicket" or "herb gatherers" which may refer to clearing of land for cultivation or to collecting medicinal plants. Alabama is but one of many place names in the state of Native American origin.

Pre-European settlement

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. Analysis of artifacts recovered from archaeological excavations at Moundville were the basis of scholars' formulating the characteristics of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex (SECC). Contrary to popular belief, the SECC appears to have no direct links to Mesoamerican culture, but developed independently. The Ceremonial Complex represents a major component of the religion of the Mississippian peoples; it is one of the primary means by which their religion is understood.

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.

European settlement

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. Thomas Bassett, a loyalist to the British monarchy, was the one of the earliest white settlers in the state outside of the Mobile area. He settled in the Tombigbee settlements, in what is now Washington County, during the early 1770s. 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. The area making up today's northern and central Alabama and Mississippi, then known as the Yazoo lands, had been claimed by the Province of Georgia after 1767. Following the Revolutionary War, it remained a part of Georgia, although heavily disputed.

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, following the Yazoo land scandal. Spain had kept a governmental presence in Mobile after 1812. When Andrew Jackson's forces occupied Mobile in 1814 he demonstrated the United States' de facto authority over the region, which effectively ended Spanish influence, although not its claim, while gaining an unencumbered passage to the Gulf of Mexico from the hinterlands of the territory. Prior to the admission of Mississippi as a state on December 10, 1817, the more sparsely settled eastern half of the territory was separated and named the Alabama Territory. 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.

Early statehood

Alabama was admitted to the Union in 1819 as the 22nd state. Cahaba, also now a ghost town, was the first permanent state capital, from 1820 to 1825. Alabama Fever was already underway when the state was admitted to the Union, with settlers and land speculators pouring 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 of the central Black Belt (named for its dark, productive soil) 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. Alabama had a population estimated at under 10,000 people in 1810, but it had increased to more than 300,000 people by 1830. 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.

From 1826 to 1846, Tuscaloosa served as the capital of Alabama. On January 30, 1846, the Alabama legislature announced that it had voted to remove the capital city from Tuscaloosa to Montgomery. The first legislative session in the new capital met in December 1847. A new capitol building was erected under the direction of Stephen Decatur Button of Philadelphia. The first structure burned down in 1849, but was rebuilt on the same site in 1851. This second capitol building in Montgomery remains to the present day. It was designed by Barachias Holt of Exeter, Maine. By 1860 the population had increased to a total of 964,201 people, of which 435,080 were enslaved African Americans and 2,690 were free people of color.

Civil War and Reconstruction

On January 11, 1861, Alabama declared its secession from the Union and joined the Confederate States of America. While few battles were fought in the state, Alabama contributed about 120,000 soldiers to the American Civil War. Alabama's slaves were freed by the 13th Amendment in 1865. 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.

Following the war, the state was still chiefly agricultural, with an economy tied to cotton. During Reconstruction, 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, although these were plagued with allegations of fraud and misappropriation. 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. Also in 1875, the legislature 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. While the planter class had persuaded poor whites to support these legislative efforts, the new restrictions resulted in their disfranchisement as well, due mostly to the imposition of a cumulative poll tax. In 1900, Alabama had more than 181,000 African Americans eligible to vote. By 1903, only 2,980 had qualified to register, although at least 74,000 black voters were literate. By 1941, a total of more whites than blacks had been disfranchised: 600,000 whites to 520,000 blacks. 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: jails in 1911; hospitals in 1915; toilets, hotels, and restaurants in 1928; and bus stop waiting rooms in 1945.

The rural-dominated Alabama legislature consistently underfunded schools and services for the disfranchised African Americans in the segregated state, but did not relieve them of paying taxes. Partially as a response to chronic underfunding of education for African Americans in the South, the Rosenwald Fund began funding the building of what came to be known as Rosenwald Schools. In Alabama these schools were designed and the construction partially financed with Rosenwald funds. The fund provided one-third of the construction money, with the community and state splitting the remainder. Beginning in 1913, the first 80 Rosenwald Schools were built in Alabama. A total of 387 schools, 7 teacher's houses, and several vocational buildings had been completed within the state by 1937. Several of the surviving school buildings in the state are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Continued racial discrimination, agricultural depression, and the failure of the cotton crops due to boll weevil infestation led tens of thousands of African Americans to seek opportunities in northern cities. They left Alabama in the early 20th century as part of the Great Migration to industrial jobs and better futures in northern industrial cities. The population growth rate in Alabama dropped by nearly half from 1910 to 1920, reflecting the effect of emigration.

At the same time, many rural whites and blacks migrated to the city of Birmingham for work in new industrial jobs. It experienced such rapid growth that it was nicknamed "The Magic City". By the 1920s, Birmingham was the 19th largest city in the U.S. and held more than 30% of the population of the state. 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. Rural workers poured into the largest cities in the state for better jobs and a higher standard of living. One example of this massive influx of workers can be shown by what happened in Mobile. Between 1940 and 1943, more than 89,000 people moved into the city to work for war effort industries. Cotton and other cash crops faded in importance as the state developed a manufacturing and service base.


Despite massive population changes in the state from 1901 to 1961, the rural-dominated legislature refused to reapportion House and Senate seats based on population. They held on to old representation to maintain political and economic power in agricultural areas. In addition, the state legislature gerrymandered the few Birmingham legislative seats to ensure election by persons living outside Birmingham.

One result was that Jefferson County, containing Birmingham's industrial and economic powerhouse, contributed more than one-third of all tax revenue to the state, but did not receive a proportional amount in services. Urban interests were consistently underrepresented in the legislature. A 1960 study noted that because of rural domination, "A minority of about 25 per cent of the total state population is in majority control of the Alabama legislature."

African Americans were presumed partial to Republicans for historical reasons, but they were disfranchised. White Alabamans felt bitter towards the Republican Party in the aftermath of the Civil War and Reconstruction. These factors created a longstanding tradition that any candidate who wanted to be viable with white voters had to run as a Democrat regardless of political beliefs.

Although efforts had already started decades earlier, African Americans began to more actively attempt to end the disfranchisement and segregation in the state during the 1950s and 1960s with the Civil Rights Movement. These efforts directly led to the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 by the United States Congress. During the 1960s, under Governor George Wallace, failed attempts were made at the state level to resist federally-sanctioned desegregation efforts.

During the Civil Rights Movement, African Americans achieved a protection of voting and other civil rights through the passage of the national Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Legal segregation ended in the states as Jim Crow laws were invalidated or repealed.

Under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, cases were filed in Federal courts to force Alabama to redistrict by population both the House and Senate of the state legislature. 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.
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