Alabama's 7th Congressional District was first defined in 1843; it has continued since then with the exception of the years 1867-1873 during the Reconstruction era. The geographic area represented by this district has changed over time, depending upon the number of U.S. Representatives apportioned to Alabama. Around the turn of the 20th century, the district included the city of Gadsden. Over time, the district was redefined to include the area around Tuscaloosa. The last two representatives for the district before its reconfiguration as a majority-minority area were Richard Shelby (now Alabama's senior senator) and Claude Harris, both Tuscaloosa residents.
The shape of the current district was largely established in 1992, when it was reconstituted as a majority-minority district under provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended in 1982 to encourage greater representation for minorities in Congress. Half of the western Alabama portion of the district was moved to the 4th district, and a large portion of Tuscaloosa County was moved into the 6th district, which had primarily been based around Birmingham. To counter the loss in population and to create the majority minority, many counties from the Black Belt region, a rural expanse in Alabama with a high proportion of African-American residents descended from workers on cotton plantations, were added to the district, as was as an arm extending from Tuscaloosa roughly along the Interstate Highway 20/59 corridor into Jefferson County to inner-city Birmingham. Two districts draw from Birmingham's population (the 6th and the 7th). The three representatives elected from the district following reconfiguration — Earl F. Hilliard, Artur Davis and Terri Sewell — have all been residents of Birmingham.
Mostly minor changes in the following two redistrictings have not substantially changed the shape of the district. But, western portions of Montgomery County have been restored to this district, including large swaths of inner-city Montgomery in the redistricting following the 2010 census. This area had earlier been removed after the 2000 census. The district contains urbanized areas of Birmingham, Montgomery and Tuscaloosa, and ten of the fourteen rural counties in the Black Belt. Three of the state's largest colleges are located in the district: Alabama State University in Montgomery, the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.