History of Alabama
Alabama became a state of the United States of America on December 14, 1819. After, the Indian Wars and removals of the early 19th century forced most Native Americans out of the state, white settlers arrived in large numbers, bringing or importing African-American slaves in the domestic trade.
In antebellum Alabama, wealthy planters created large cotton plantations based in the fertile central Black Belt of the upland region, which depended on the labor of enslaved African Americans. Tens of thousands of slaves were transported to and sold in the state by slave traders who purchased them in the Upper South. Elsewhere in Alabama, poorer whites practiced subsistence farming. By 1860 blacks (nearly all slaves) comprised 45 percent of the state's 964,201 people.
The state's wealthy planters considered slavery essential to their economy. As one of the largest slaveholding states, Alabama was among the first six states to secede. It declared its secession in January 1861 and joined the Confederate States of America in February. During the ensuing American Civil War Alabama had moderate levels of warfare. The population suffered economic losses and hardships as a result of the war. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation freed all enslaved people in Confederate states. The Southern capitulation in 1865 ended the Confederate state government. A decade of Reconstruction began, a controversial time that has a range of interpretation. Its biracial government established the first public schools and welfare institutions in the state.
After the war, planters worked to get their vast cotton plantations back into production. African Americans chose to exert some independence as free tenant farmers and sharecroppers, rather than working in labor gangs. Wherever possible, African-American women left the fields. Small farms, which produced general crops before the war, turned to cotton as a cash crop. The market for cotton was overloaded, and prices dropped 50%.
For 75 years after the Civil War, Alabama was a poor, heavily rural state, with an economy based on cotton and sharecropping. Its legislature failed to invest in infrastructure, so many of its farmers were isolated from more lucrative markets. At Reconstruction's end, whites known as "Redeemer" Democrats regained control of the state legislature by both legal and extralegal means (including violence and harassment) to re-establish political and social dominance over African Americans. In 1901, Democrats passed a state Constitution that effectively disfranchised most African Americans (who in 1900 comprised more than 45 percent of the state's population), as well as tens of thousands of poor whites. By 1941, a total 600,000 poor whites and 520,000 African Americans had been disfranchised. In addition, despite massive population changes in the state that accompanied urbanization and industrialization, the rural-dominated legislature refused to redistrict from 1901 to the 1960s, leading to massive malapportionment in Congressional and state representation. For decades, a rural minority dominated the state, and the needs of urban, middle class and industrial interests were not addressed.
African Americans living in Alabama experienced the inequities of disfranchisement, segregation, violence, and underfunded schools. Tens of thousands of African Americans from Alabama joined the Great Migration out of the South from 1915 to 1930 and moved to better opportunities in industrial cities, mostly in the North and Midwest. The black exodus escalated steadily in the first three decades of the 20th century; 22,100 emigrated from 1900 to 1910; 70,800 between 1910 and 1920; and 80,700 between 1920 and 1930.
As a result of African-American disenfranchisement and rural control, state politics were dominated by the Democratic Party into the 1980s as part of the "Solid South." Alabama produced a number of national leaders.
The New Deal farm programs increased the price of cotton, and World War II finally brought prosperity, as the state developed a manufacturing and service base. Cotton faded in importance and mechanization beginning in the 1930s reduced the need for farm labor. Following years of struggles after passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, segregation was abolished and African Americans could again exercise their constitutional right to vote.
Beginning in the late 20th century, conservative whites began to shift to the Republican Party. The election of Guy Hunt as Governor in 1986 marked the shift of the white majority to becoming a Republican stronghold in Presidential elections; its voters also leaned Republican in statewide elections. The Democratic Party still dominated local and legislative offices, but total Democratic dominance had ended. In terms of organization, the parties are about evenly matched.
- 1 Indigenous peoples, early history
- 2 European colonization
- 3 Early statehood
- 4 Secession and Civil War, 1861-1865
- 5 Losses
- 6 Reconstruction, 1865-1875
- 7 Disfranchisement and origins of New South, 1876-1914
- 8 Alabama in the New South, 1914-1945
- 9 Civil Rights Movement and redistricting, 1945-1975
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 Bibliography
Indigenous peoples, early history
At least 12,000 years ago, Native Americans or Paleo-Indians appeared in what is today referred to as "The South". Paleo-Indians in the Southeast were hunter-gatherers who pursued a wide range of animals, including the megafauna, which became extinct following the end of the Pleistocene age. The Woodland period from 1000 BCE to 1000 CE was marked by the development of pottery and the small-scale horticulture of the Eastern Agricultural Complex.
The Mississippian culture arose as the cultivation of Mesoamerican crops of corn and beans led to crop surpluses and population growth. Increased population density gave rise of urban centers and regional chiefdoms, of which the greatest was the city known as Cahokia, in present-day Illinois near the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. Its population of 20,000 to 30,000 at its peak exceeded any of the later European cities in North America until 1800. Stratified societies developed, with hereditary religious and political elites, and flourished in what is now the Midwestern, Eastern, and Southeastern United States from 800 to 1500 C.E.
Trade with the Northeast indigenous peoples 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 1000 to 1600 AD, with one of its major centers being at the Moundville Archaeological Site in Moundville, Alabama, the second-largest complex of this period in the United States. Some 29 earthwork mounds survive at this site.
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.
The early historic Muscogee are considered likely descendants of the mound builders of the Mississippian culture along the Tennessee River in modern Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. They may have been related to the Utinahica of southern Georgia. At the time the Spanish made their first forays inland from the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, many political centers of the Mississippians were already in decline, or abandoned. The Alabama region is best described as a collection of moderately sized native chiefdoms (such as the Coosa chiefdom on the Coosa River), interspersed with completely autonomous villages and tribal groups. The earliest Spanish explorers encountered settlements of the late Mississippian culture, beginning on April 2, 1513, with Juan Ponce de León's Florida landing and in 1526 with Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón expedition in South Carolina.
Among the historical tribes of Native American people living in the area of present-day Alabama at the time of European contact were the Muskogean-speaking Alabama (Alibamu), Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, Koasati, and Mobile peoples. Also in the region were the Iroquoian-speaking Cherokee, who migrated south from the Great Lakes area, based on their language's similarity to those of the Iroquois League. The history of Alabama's Native American peoples is reflected in many of its place names.
Although a member of Pánfilo de Narváez's expedition of 1528 may have entered southern Alabama, the first fully documented visit was by explorer Hernando de Soto. In 1539 he made an arduous expedition along the Coosa, Alabama and Tombigbee rivers.
The English also laid claims to the region north of the Gulf of Mexico. Charles II of England included the territory of modern Alabama in the Province of Carolina, with land granted to certain of his favorites by the charters of 1663 and 1665. English traders from Carolina frequented the valley of the Alabama River as early as 1687 to trade with its Native American peoples for deerskins.
The French also colonized the region. In 1702 they founded a settlement on the Mobile River near its mouth, constructing Fort Louis. For the next nine years this was the French seat of government of New France, or La Louisiane (Louisiana). In 1711, Fort Louis was abandoned to floods. Settlers rebuilt a fort on higher ground known as Fort Conde. This was the start of what developed as present-day Mobile, the first permanent European settlement in Alabama.
The French and the English contested the region, each attempting to forge strong alliances with Indian tribes. To strengthen their position, defend their Indian allies, and draw other tribes to them, the French established the military posts of Fort Toulouse, near the junction of the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers, and Fort Tombecbe on the Tombigbee River.
The French and the English engaged in competition for Indian trade in what is now the state of Alabama between roughly the 1690s and the 1750s (at which point the French and Indian War broke out. Though the French claimed the territory as their own and attempted to rule it from Fort Toulouse so as to engage in trade with the Indians, English traders based out of the Carolinas were everywhere, engaging in trade right under the French's nose. Particularly frustrating to the French was the fact that the Chickasaw virtually always favored the English in this contest. Overall, during this time the English proved to be the better colonizers and better traders. Their advantage came from the fact that their central government in London largely left them alone to engage in trade as they saw fit and did not hamper their efforts with excessive regulation as the French government did to their colonists. On this note Edmund Burke would later note that English colonists in America would owe their freedom "to it's carelessness than to it's design". This was a policy referred to as "salutary neglect". It reflected the larger fact as well that Englishmen at home were accustomed to a greater degree of freedom than were Frenchman.
The English Crown's grant of Georgia to Oglethorpe and his associates in 1732 included a portion of what is now northern Alabama. In 1739, Oglethorpe visited the Creek Indians west of the Chattahoochee River and made a treaty with them.
The 1763 Treaty of Paris, which ended the Seven Years' War after France's defeat by Britain, resulted in France ceding its territories east of the Mississippi to Britain. Great Britain came into undisputed control of the region between the Chattahoochee and the Mississippi rivers. The portion of Alabama below the 31st parallel became a part of British West Florida. The portion north of this line became a part of the "Illinois Country", set apart by the British Crown for use by Indians. In 1767, the province of West Florida was extended northward to 32°28'N latitude.
More than a decade later, during the American Revolutionary War, the British informally ceded this region to Spain. By the Treaty of Versailles, September 3, 1783, Great Britain ceded West Florida to Spain. By the Treaty of Paris (1783), signed the same day, Britain ceded to the newly established United States all of this province north of the 31°N, thus laying the foundation for a long controversy.
By the Treaty of Madrid, in 1795, Spain ceded to the United States the lands east of the Mississippi between 31°N and 32°28'N. Three years later, in 1798, Congress organized this district as the Mississippi Territory. A strip of land 12 or 14 miles wide near the present northern boundary of Alabama and Mississippi was claimed by South Carolina, as part of the eastern colonies' previous hopeful extensions to the west. In 1787, during constitutional negotiations, South Carolina ceded this claim to the federal government. Georgia likewise claimed all the lands between the 31st and 35th parallels from its present western boundary to the Mississippi River, and did not surrender its claim until 1802. Two years later, the boundaries of Mississippi Territory were extended so as to include all of the Georgia cession.
In 1812, Congress added the Mobile District of West Florida to the Mississippi Territory, claiming that it was included in the Louisiana Purchase. The following year, General James Wilkinson occupied the Mobile District with a military force. The Spanish did not resist. Thus the whole area of the present state of Alabama was taken under the jurisdiction of the United States. Several Native American tribes still occupied most of the land, with some formal ownership recognized by treaty with the United States. Five of the major tribes became known as the Five Civilized Tribes for their adoption of elements of European-American culture.
In 1817, the Mississippi Territory was divided. The western portion, which had attracted population more quickly, became the state of Mississippi. The eastern portion became the Alabama Territory, with St. Stephens on the Tombigbee River as its temporary seat of government.
Conflict between the Indians of Alabama and American settlers increased rapidly in the early 19th century because the Americans kept encroaching on Native American territories. The great Shawnee chief Tecumseh visited the region in 1811, seeking to forge an Indian alliance among these tribes to join his resistance in the Great Lakes area. With the outbreak of the War of 1812, Britain encouraged Tecumseh's resistance movement, in the hope of expelling American settlers from west of the Appalachians. Several tribes were divided in opinion.
The Creek tribe fell to civil war (1813-1814). Violence between Creeks and Americans escalated, culminating in the Fort Mims massacre. Full-scale war between the United States and the "Red Stick" Creeks began; they were the more traditional members of their society who resisted US encroachment. The Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cherokee Nation, and other Creek factions remained neutral to or allied with the United States during the war; some warriors from among the bands served with American troops. Volunteer militias from Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee marched into Alabama, fighting the Red Sticks.
Later, federal troops became the main fighting force for the United States. General Andrew Jackson was the commander of the American forces during the Creek War and in the continuing effort against the British in the War of 1812. His leadership and military success during the wars made him a national hero. The Treaty of Fort Jackson (August 9, 1814) ended the Creek War. By the terms of the treaty the Creek, Red Sticks and neutrals alike, ceded about one-half of the present state of Alabama to the United States. Due to later cessions by the Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Choctaw in 1816, they retained only about one-quarter of their former territories in Alabama.
In 1820, Alabama was admitted as the 22nd state to the Union. Its constitution provided for equal suffrage for white men, a standard it abandoned in its constitution of 1901, which reduced suffrage of poor whites and most blacks.
One of the first problems of the new state was finance. Since the amount of money in circulation was not sufficient to meet the demands of the increasing population, a system of state banks was instituted. State bonds were issued and public lands were sold to secure capital, and the notes of the banks, loaned on security, became a medium of exchange. Prospects of an income from the banks led the legislature of 1836 to abolish all taxation for state purposes. The Panic of 1837 wiped out a large portion of the banks' assets, leaving the state poor. Next came revelations of grossly careless and corrupt management. In 1843 the banks were placed in liquidation. After disposing of all their available assets, the state assumed the remaining liabilities, for which it had pledged its faith and credit.
In 1830 Congress passed the Indian Removal Act under the leadership of President Andrew Jackson, forcing the removal of southeastern tribes, including the Five Civilized Tribes of Creek, Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole. In 1832, the national government provided for the removal of the Creek via the Treaty of Cusseta. Before the removal occurred between 1834 and 1837, the state legislature defined counties from the lands to be ceded, and European-American settlers flocked in before the Native Americans had left.
Until 1832, there was only one party in the state, the Democratic. The question of nullification caused a division that year into the (Jackson) Democratic party and the State's Rights (Calhoun Democratic) party. About the same time the Whig party emerged as an opposition party. It drew support from planters and townsmen, while the Democrats were strongest among poor farmers and Catholic communities (descendants of French and Spanish colonists) in the Mobile area. For some time, the Whigs were almost as numerous as the Democrats, but they never secured control of the state government. The State's Rights faction were in a minority; nevertheless, under their active and persistent leader, William L. Yancey (1814–1863), they prevailed upon the Democrats in 1848 to adopt their most radical views.
During the agitation over the Wilmot Proviso, which would bar slavery from territory acquired from Mexico as a result of the Mexican War (1848), Yancey induced the Democratic State Convention of 1848 to adopt what was known as the "Alabama Platform". It declared that neither Congress nor the government of a territory had the right to interfere with slavery in a territory, that those who held opposite views were not Democrats, and that the Democrats of Alabama would not support a candidate for the presidency if he did not agree with them. This platform was endorsed by conventions in Florida and Virginia and by the legislatures of Georgia and Alabama.
Tensions related to slavery divided many state delegations in Congress, as this body tried to determine the futures of territories beyond the Mississippi River. Following the Congressional passage of the Compromise of 1850, which assigned certain territories as slave or free, in Alabama, people became realigned politically. The State's Rights faction, joined by many Democrats, founded the Southern Rights Party, which demanded the repeal of the Compromise, advocated resistance to future encroachments, and prepared for secession. The Whigs were joined by the remaining Democrats and called themselves the "Unionists". The party unwillingly accepted the Compromise and denied that the Constitution provided for secession.
Since the turn of the 19th century, development of large cotton plantations had taken place across the upland Black Belt after the invention of the cotton gin made short-staple cotton profitable. Cotton had added dramatically to the state's wealth. The owners' wealth depended on the labor of hundreds of thousands of enslaved African Americans, many initially transported in the domestic trade from the Upper South. In other parts of the state, the soil supported only subsistence farming. Most of the yeoman farmers owned few or no slaves. By 1860 the success of cotton production led to planters' holding 435,000 enslaved African Americans, who made up 45% of the state's population.
As reflected in white universal suffrage at the time of statehood, the early Alabama settlers were noted for a spirit of frontier democracy and egalitarianism, and their fierce defense of the republican values of civic virtue and opposition to corruption. J. Mills Thornton (1978) argued that Whigs worked for positive state action to benefit society as a whole, while the Democrats feared any increase of power in government, or in state-sponsored institutions as central banks. Fierce political battles raged in Alabama on issues ranging from banking to the removal of the Creek Indians. Thornton suggested the overarching issue in the state was how to protect liberty and equality for white people. Fears that Northern agitators threatened their value system and slavery as the basis of their wealthy economy made voters ready to secede when Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860 (Thornton 1978).
Secession and Civil War, 1861-1865
The "Unionists" were successful in the elections of 1851 and 1852. Passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill and uncertainty about agitation against slavery led the State Democratic convention of 1856 to revive the "Alabama Platform". When the Democratic National Convention at Charleston, South Carolina, failed to approve the "Alabama Platform" in 1860, the Alabama delegates, followed by those of the other "cotton states", withdrew. Upon the election of Abraham Lincoln, Governor Andrew B. Moore, as previously instructed by the legislature, called a state convention. Many prominent men had opposed secession. In North Alabama, there was an attempt to organize a neutral state to be called Nickajack. With President Lincoln's call to arms in April 1861, most opposition to secession ended.
On January 11, 1861, the State of Alabama adopted the ordinances of secession from the Union (by a vote of 61-39).
Alabama joined the Confederate States of America, which government was first organized at Montgomery on February 4, 1861. the CSA set up its temporary capital in Montgomery and selected Jefferson Davis as president. In May 1861, the Confederate government abandoned Montgomery before the sickly season began, and relocated to Richmond, Virginia, the capital of that state.
Governor Moore energetically supported the Confederate war effort. Even before hostilities began, he seized Federal facilities, sent agents to buy rifles in the Northeast, and scoured the state for weapons. Despite some resistance in the northern part of the state, Alabama joined the Confederate States of America (CSA). Congressman Williamson R. W. Cobb was a Unionist and pleaded for compromise. When he ran for the Confederate congress in 1861, he was defeated. (In 1863, with war-weariness growing in Alabama, he was elected on a wave of antiwar sentiment.)
Some idea of the current transportation patterns, and severe internal logistics problems faced by the Confederacy, can be seen by tracing Jefferson Davis' journey from his plantation Mississippi to Montgomery in the next state. With few roads and railroads, he traveled by steamboat from his plantation on the Mississippi River down to Vicksburg, where he boarded a train to Jackson, Mississippi. He took another train north to Grand Junction, then a third train east to Chattanooga, Tennessee, and a fourth train south to Atlanta, Georgia. He took another train to the Alabama border, and a last one to Montgomery in the center of the state.
As the war proceeded, the Federals seized ports along the Mississippi River, burned trestles and railroad bridges, and tore up track. The frail Confederate railroad system faltered and virtually collapsed for want of repairs and replacement parts.
In the early part of the Civil War, Alabama was not the scene of military operations. The state contributed about 120,000 men to the Confederate service, practically all the white male population capable of bearing arms. Most were recruited locally and served with men they knew, which built esprit and strengthened ties to home. Medical conditions were severe for all soldiers. About 15% of fatalities were from disease, more than the 10% from battle. Alabama had few well-equipped hospitals, but it had many women who volunteered to nurse the sick and wounded. Soldiers were poorly equipped, especially after 1863. Often they pillaged the dead for boots, belts, canteens, blankets, hats, shirts and pants. Uncounted thousands of slaves were impressed to work for Confederate troops; they took care of horses and equipment, cooked and did laundry, hauled supplies, and helped in field hospitals. Other slaves built defensive installations, especially those around Mobile. They graded roads, repaired railroads, drove supply wagons, and labored in iron mines, iron foundries and even in the munitions factories. The service of slaves was involuntary: their unpaid labor was impressed from their unpaid masters. About 10,000 slaves escaped and joined the Union army, along with 2,700 white men.
Thirty-nine Alabamians attained flag rank, most notably Lieutenant General James Longstreet and Admiral Raphael Semmes. Josiah Gorgas, who came to Alabama from Pennsylvania, was the chief of ordnance for the Confederacy. He located new munitions plants in Selma, which employed 10,000 workers until the Union soldiers burned the factories down in 1865. Selma Arsenal made most of the Confederacy's ammunition. The Selma Naval Ordnance Works made artillery, turning out a cannon every five days. The Confederate Naval Yard built ships and was noted for launching the CSS Tennessee in 1863 to defend Mobile Bay. Selma's Confederate Nitre Works procured niter for the Nitre and Mining Bureau, for gunpowder, from limestone caves. When supplies were low, it advertised for housewives to save the contents of their chamber pots—as urine was a rich source of nitrogen.
In 1863, Union forces secured a foothold in northern Alabama in spite of the opposition of General Nathan B. Forrest. From 1861, the Union blockade shut Mobile, and, in 1864, the outer defenses of Mobile were taken by a Union fleet; the city itself held out until April 1865.
Alabama soldiers fought in hundreds of battles; the state's losses at the Battle of Gettysburg were 1,750 dead plus more captured or wounded; the "Alabama Brigade" took 781 casualties. Governor Lewis E. Parsons in July 1865 made a preliminary estimate of losses. Nearly all the white men served, some 122,000 he said, of whom 35,000 died in the war and another 30,000 were seriously disabled. The next year Governor Robert M. Patton estimated that 20,000 veterans had returned home permanently disabled, and there were 20,000 widows and 60,000 orphans. With cotton prices low, the value of farms shrank, from $176 million in 1860 to only $64 million in 1870. The livestock supply shrank too, as the number of horses fell from 127,000 to 80,000, and mules 111,000 to 76,000. The overall population remained the same—the growth that might have been expected was neutralized by death and emigration.
According to the Presidential plan of reorganization, a provisional governor for Alabama was appointed in June 1865. A state convention met in September of the same year, and declared the ordinance of secession null and void and slavery abolished. A legislature and a governor were elected in November, and the legislature was at once recognized by President Andrew Johnson, but not by Congress, which refused to seat the delegation. Johnson ordered the Army to allow the inauguration of the governor after the legislature ratified the Thirteenth Amendment in December, 1865. But the legislature's passage of Black Codes to control the freedmen who were flocking from the plantations to the towns, and its rejection of the Fourteenth Amendment to grant suffrage, intensified Congressional hostility to the Presidential plan.
In 1867, the congressional plan of Reconstruction was completed and Alabama was placed under military government. The freedmen were enrolled as voters. Only whites who could swear the Ironclad oath could be voters; that is they had to swear they had never voluntarily supported the Confederacy. This provision was insisted upon by the whites in the northern hill counties so they could control local government. As a result Republicans controlled 96 of the 100 seats in the state constitutional convention. The new Republican party, made up of freedmen, Union sympathizers (scalawags), and northerners who had settled in the South (carpetbaggers), took control two years after the war ended. The constitutional convention in November 1867 framed a constitution which conferred universal manhood suffrage and imposed the iron-clad oath, so that whites who had supported the Confederacy were temporarily prohibited from holding office. The Reconstruction Acts of Congress required every new constitution to be ratified by a majority of the legal voters of the state. Most whites boycotted the polls and the new constitution fell short. Congress enacted that a majority of the votes cast should be sufficient. Thus the constitution went into effect, the state was readmitted to the Union in June 1868, and a new governor and legislature were elected.
Many whites resisted postwar changes, complaining that the Republican governments were notable for legislative extravagance and corruption. But the Republican biracial coalition created the first system of public education in the state, which would benefit poor white children as well as freedmen. They also created charitable public institutions, such as hospitals and orphanages, to benefit all citizens. The planters had not made public investment but kept their wealth for themselves. As the state tried to improve institutions and infrastructure for the future, the state debt and state taxes rose. The state endorsed railway bonds at the rate of $12,000 and $16,000 a mile until the state debt had increased from eight million to seventeen million dollars. The native whites united, peeled many Scalawags away from the Republican coalition, formed a Conservative party, and elected a governor and a majority of the lower house of the legislature in 1870, in an election characterized by widespread violence and fraud. As the new administration was overall a failure, in 1872, voters re-elected Republicans.
By 1874, however, the power of the Republicans was broken, and conservative Democrats regained power in all state offices. A commission appointed to examine the state debt found it to be $25,503,000; by compromise, it was reduced to $15,000,000. A new constitution was adopted in 1875, which omitted the guarantee of the previous constitution that no one should be denied suffrage on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude. Its provisions forbade the state to engage in internal improvements or to give its credit to any private enterprise, an anti-industrial stance that persisted and that limited the state's progress for decades into the 20th century.
In the South the interpretation of the tumultuous 1860s has differed sharply by race. Americans often interpreted great events in religious terms. Historian Wilson Fallin contrasts the interpretation of Civil War and Reconstruction in white versus black using Baptist sermons in Alabama. Whites preachers expressed the view that:
- God had chastised them and given them a special mission – to maintain orthodoxy, strict biblicism, personal piety, and traditional race relations. Slavery, they insisted, had not been sinful. Rather, emancipation was a historical tragedy and the end of Reconstruction was a clear sign of God's favor.
In sharp contrast, Black preachers interpreted the Civil War, emancipation and Reconstruction as:
- God's gift of freedom. They appreciated opportunities to exercise their independence, to worship in their own way, to affirm their worth and dignity, and to proclaim the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. Most of all, they could form their own churches, associations, and conventions. These institutions offered self-help and racial uplift, and provided places where the gospel of liberation could be proclaimed. As a result, black preachers continued to insist that God would protect and help them: God would be their rock in a stormy land.
Disfranchisement and origins of New South, 1876-1914
After 1874, the Democratic party had constant control of the state administration. The Republican Party by then was chiefly supported by African Americans. Republicans held no local or state offices, but the party did have some federal patronage. It failed to make nominations for office in 1878 and 1880 and endorsed the ticket of the Greenback party in 1882.
The development of mining and manufacturing was accompanied by economic distress among the farming classes, which found expression in the Jeffersonian Democratic party, organized in 1892. The regular Democratic ticket was elected and the new party was merged into the Populist party. In 1894, the Republicans united with the Populists, elected three congressional representatives, and secured control of many of the counties. They did not succeed in carrying the state. They Populist coalition had less success in the next campaigns. Partisanship became intense, and Democratic charges of corruption of the black electorate were matched by Republican and Populist accusations of fraud and violence by Democrats.
Despite opposition by Republicans and Populists, Democrats completed their dominance with passage of a new constitution in 1901 that restricted suffrage and effectively disenfranchised most African Americans and many poor whites, through requirements for voter registration, such as poll taxes, literacy tests and restrictive residency requirements. From 1900 to 1903, the number of white registered voters fell by more than 40,000, from 232,821 to 191,492, despite a growth in population. By 1941 a total of more whites than blacks had been disenfranchised: 600,000 whites to 520,000 blacks. This was due mostly to effects of the cumulative poll tax.
The damage to the African-American community was severe and pervasive, as nearly all its eligible citizens lost the ability to vote. In 1900 45% of Alabama's population were African American: 827,545 citizens. In 1900 fourteen Black Belt counties (which were primarily African American) had more than 79,000 voters on the rolls. By June 1, 1903, the number of registered voters had dropped to 1,081. While Dallas and Lowndes counties were each 75% black, between them only 103 African-American voters managed to register. In 1900 Alabama had more than 181,000 African Americans eligible to vote. By 1903 only 2,980 had managed to "qualify" to register, although at least 74,000 black voters were literate. The shut out was long-lasting. The effects of segregation suffered by African Americans were severe. At the end of WWII, for instance, in the black Collegeville community of Birmingham, only eleven voters in a population of 8,000 African Americans were deemed "eligible" to register to vote. Disfranchisement also meant that blacks and poor whites could not serve on juries, so were subject to a justice system in which they had no part.
Railroads and industry
Birmingham was founded on June 1, 1871 by real estate promoters who sold lots near the planned crossing of the Alabama & Chattanooga and South & North railroads. The site of the railroad crossing was notable for the nearby deposits of iron ore, coal, and limestone-the three principal raw materials used in making steel. Its founders adopted the name of England's principal industrial city to advertise the new city as a center of iron and steel production. Despite outbreaks of cholera, the population of 'Pittsburgh of the South' grew from 38,000 to 132,000 from 1900 to 1910, attracting rural white and black migrants from all over the region. Birmingham 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.
Chemical and structural constraints limited the quality of steel produced from Alabama’s iron and coal. These materials did, however, combine to make ideal foundry iron. Because of low transportation and labor costs, Birmingham quickly became the largest and cheapest foundry iron-producing area. By 1915 twenty-five percent of the nation’s foundry pig iron was produced in Birmingham.
Alabama in the New South, 1914-1945
Despite Birmingham's powerful industrial growth and its contributions to the state economy, its citizens, and those of other newly developing areas, were underrepresented in the state legislature for years. The rural-dominated legislature refused to redistrict state House and Senate seats from 1901 to the 1960s. In addition, the state legislature had a senate based on one for each county. The state legislative delegations controlled counties. This led to a stranglehold on the state by a white rural minority. The contemporary interests of urbanizing, industrial cities and tens of thousands of citizens were not adequately represented in the government. One result was that Jefferson County, home of Birmingham's industrial and economic powerhouse, contributed more than one-third of all tax revenue to the state. It received back only 1/67th of the tax money, as the state legislature ensured taxes were distributed equally to each county regardless of population.
From 1910-1940, tens of thousands of African Americans migrated out of Alabama in the Great Migration to seek jobs, education for their children, and freedom from lynching in northern and midwestern cities, such as St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland. These cities had many industrial jobs, but the migrants also had to compete with new waves of European immigrants. The rate of population growth in Alabama dropped from 20.8% in 1900 and 16.9% in 1910, to 9.8% in 1920, reflecting the impact of the outmigration. Formal disenfranchisement was ended only after the mid-1960s after African Americans led the Civil Rights Movement and gaining Federal legislation to protect their voting and civil rights. But the state devised new ways to reduce their political power. By that time, African Americans comprised a smaller minority than at the turn of the century, and a majority in certain rural counties.
A rapid pace of change across the country, especially in growing cities, combined with new waves of immigration and migration of rural whites and blacks to cities, all contributed to a volatile social environment and the rise of a second Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in the South and Midwest after 1915. In many areas it represented itself as a fraternal group to give aid to a community. Feldman (1999) has shown that the second KKK was not a mere hate group; it showed a genuine desire for political and social reform on behalf of poor whites. For example, Alabama Klansmen such as Hugo Black were among the foremost advocates of better public schools, effective Prohibition enforcement, expanded road construction, and other "progressive" measures to benefit poor whites. By 1925, the Klan was a powerful political force in the state, as urban politicians such as J. Thomas Heflin, David Bibb Graves, and Hugo Black manipulated the KKK membership against the power of the "Big Mule" industrialists and especially the Black Belt planters who had long dominated the state.
In 1926, Bibb Graves, a former chapter head, won the governor's office with KKK members' support. He led one of the most progressive administrations in the state's history, pushing for increased education funding, better public health, new highway construction, and pro-labor legislation. At the same time, KKK vigilantes---thinking they enjoyed governmental protection—launched a wave of physical terror across Alabama in 1927, targeting both blacks and whites. The conservative elite counterattacked. The major newspapers kept up a steady, loud attack on the Klan as violent and unAmerican. Sheriffs cracked down on Klan violence, and a national scandal among Klan leaders in the 1920s turned many members away. The counterattack worked. The state voted for Democratic candidate Al Smith in 1928, although he was Roman Catholic (a target of the KKK), and the Klan's official membership plunged to under six thousand by 1930.
Civil Rights Movement and redistricting, 1945-1975
Following service in World War II, many African-American veterans became activists for civil rights, wanting their rights under the law as citizens. The Montgomery Bus Boycott from 1955 to 1956 was one of the most significant African-American protests against the policy of racial segregation in the state. Although constituting a majority of bus passengers, African Americans were discriminated against in seating policy. The protest nearly brought the city bus system to bankruptcy and changes were negotiated. The legal challenge was settled in Browder v. Gayle (1956), a case in which the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama found the segregation policy to be unconstitutional under Fourteenth Amendment provisions for equal treatment; it ordered that public transit in Alabama be desegregated.
The rural white minority's hold on the legislature continued, however, suppressing attempts by more progressive elements to modernize the state. A study in 1960 concluded 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." Given the legislature's control of the county governments, the rural interests had even more power. Legislators and others filed suit in the 1960s to secure redistricting and reapportionment. It took years and Federal court intervention to achieve the redistricting necessary to establishing "one man, one vote" representation, as a result of Baker v. Carr (1962) and Reynolds v. Sims (1964). The court ruled that, in addition to the states having to redistrict to reflect decennial censuses in congressional districts, both houses of state governments had to be based on representation by population districts, rather than by geographic county as the state senate had been, as the senate's make-up prevented equal representation. These court decisions caused redistricting in many northern and western states as well as the South, where often rural interests had long dominated state legislatures and prevented reform.
In 1960 on the eve of important civil rights battles, 30% of Alabama's population was African American or 980,000.
As Birmingham was the center of industry and population in Alabama, in 1963 civil rights leaders chose to mount a campaign there for desegregation. Schools, restaurants and department stores were segregated; no African Americans were hired to work in the stores where they shopped or in the city government supported in part by their taxes. There were no African-American members of the police force. Despite segregation, African Americans had been advancing economically. But from 1947 to 1965, Birmingham suffered "about 50 racially motivated bomb attacks." Independent groups affiliated with the KKK bombed transitional residential neighborhoods to discourage blacks' moving into them; in 19 cases, they bombed black churches with congregations active in civil rights, and the homes of their ministers.)
To help with the campaign and secure national attention, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth invited members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to Birmingham to help change its leadership's policies. Non-violent action had produced good results in some other cities. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker, his executive director; and other leaders came to Birmingham to help.
In the spring and summer of 1963, national attention became riveted on Birmingham. The media covered the series of peaceful marches that the Birmingham police, headed by Police Commissioner Bull Connor, attempted to divert and control. He invited high school students to join the marches, as King intended to fill the jails with nonviolent protesters to make a moral argument to the United States. Dramatic images of Birmingham police using police dogs and powerful streams of water against children protesters filled newspapers and television coverage, arousing national outrage. The 16th Street Baptist Church bombing during a Sunday service, which killed four Africa-American girls, caused a national outcry and gained support for the civil rights cause in the state. 16th Street Baptist Church had been a rallying point and staging area for civil rights activities in Birmingham prior to the bombing. Finally, Birmingham leaders King and Shuttlesworth agreed to end the marches when the businessmen's group committed to end segregation in stores and public facilities.
Before his November 1963 assassination, President John F. Kennedy had supported civil rights legislation. In 1964 when President Lyndon Johnson helped secure its passage and signed the Civil Rights Act. The Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965 attracted national and international press and TV coverage. The nation was horrified to see peaceful protesters beaten as they entered the county. That year, Johnson helped achieve passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act to gain federal oversight and enforcement to ensure the ability of all citizens to vote.
Court challenges related to "one man, one vote" and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 finally provided the groundwork for Federal court rulings. In 1972 the federal court required the legislature to create a statewide redistricting plan in order to correct the imbalances in representation in the legislature related to population patterns. Redistricting, together with federal oversight of voter registration and election practices, enabled hundreds of thousands of Alabama citizens, both white and black, to vote and participate for the first time in the political system.
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