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 , 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, automotive, 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, and 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.
Indigenous peoples of varying cultures lived in the area for thousands of years before European colonization. Trade with the northeastern tribes 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 built at what is now 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 the Cherokee, an Iroquoian language people; and the Muskogean-speaking Alabama (Alibamu), Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Koasati. While part of the same large language family, the Muskogee tribes developed distinct cultures and languages.
With exploration in the 16th century, the Spanish were the first Europeans to reach Alabama. The expedition of Hernando de Soto passed through Mabila and other parts of the state in 1540. More than 160 years later, 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 claimed by the French from 1702 to 1763 as part of La Louisiane.
After the French lost to the British in the Seven Years War, it became part of British West Florida from 1763 to 1783. After the United States victory in the American Revolutionary War, the territory was divided between the United States and Spain. The latter retained control of this western territory from 1783 until the surrender of the Spanish garrison at Mobile to U.S. forces on April 13, 1813.
Thomas Bassett, a loyalist to the British monarchy during the Revolutionary era, was one of the earliest White settlers in the state outside of Mobile. He settled in the Tombigbee District during the early 1770s. The boundaries of the district were roughly limited to the area within a few miles of the Tombigbee River and included portions of what is today southern Clarke County, northernmost Mobile County, and most of Washington County.
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. Most of what is now the northern two-thirds of Alabama was known as the Yazoo lands beginning during the British colonial period. It was claimed by the Province of Georgia from 1767 onwards. 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 the lower one-third Alabama was made part of the Mississippi Territory when it was organized in 1798. The Yazoo lands were added to the territory in 1804, following the Yazoo land scandal. Spain kept a claim on its former Spanish West Florida territory in what would become the coastal counties until the Adams–Onís Treaty officially ceded it to the United States in 1819.
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 abandoned, served as the territorial capital from 1817 to 1819.
The U.S. Congress selected Huntsville as the site for the first Constitutional Convention of Alabama after it was approved to become the 22nd state. From July 5 to August 2, 1819, delegates met to prepare the new state constitution. Huntsville served as the temporary capital of Alabama from 1819 to 1820, when the seat of state government was moved to Cahaba in Dallas County.
Cahaba, 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 Congress in 1830.
On January 11, 1861, Alabama declared its secession from the Union. After remaining an independent republic for a few days, it joined the Confederate States of America. The Confederacy's capital was initially located at Montgomery. Alabama was heavily involved in the American Civil War. Although comparatively few battles were fought in the state, Alabama contributed about 120,000 soldiers to the war effort.
Alabama's slaves were freed by the 13th Amendment in 1865. Alabama was under military rule from the end of the war in May 1865 until its official restoration to the Union in 1868. From 1867 to 1874, with most White citizens barred from voting, many African Americans emerged as political leaders in the state. Alabama 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 remained 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. Organized resistance groups also tried to suppress the freedmen and Republicans. Besides the short-lived original Ku Klux Klan, these included the Pale Faces, Knights of the White Camellia, Red Shirts, and the White League.
Reconstruction in Alabama ended in 1874, when the Democrats regained control of the legislature and governor's office. They wrote another constitution in 1875, and the legislature passed the Blaine Amendment, prohibiting public money from being used to finance religious affiliated schools. The same year, legislation was approved that called for racially segregated schools. Railroad passenger cars were segregated in 1891. More Jim Crow laws were passed at the beginning of the 20th century to enforce segregation in everyday life.
The new 1901 Constitution of Alabama included electoral laws that effectively disfranchised African Americans, Native 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 were qualified to register, although at least 74,000 African-American voters were literate. By 1941, more White Alabamians than African-American residents had been disfranchised: a total of 600,000 Whites to 520,000 African Americans. Nearly all African Americans had lost the ability to vote, a situation that persisted until after passage of federal civil rights legislation in the 1960s to enforce their constitutional rights as citizens.
The 1901 constitution reiterated that schools be racially segregated. It also restated that interracial marriage was illegal, although such marriages had been made illegal in 1867. Further racial segregation laws were passed related to public facilities into the 1950s: jails were segregated 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, but it 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 construction of what came to be known as Rosenwald Schools. In Alabama these schools were designed and the construction partially financed with Rosenwald funds, which paid one-third of the construction costs. The local community and state raised matching funds to pay the rest. Black residents effectively taxed themselves twice, by raising additional monies to supply matching funds for such schools, which were built in many rural areas.
Beginning in 1913, the first 80 Rosenwald Schools were built in Alabama for African-American children. A total of 387 schools, seven teacher's houses, and several vocational buildings had been completed in 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 and midwestern industrial cities. Reflecting this emigration, the population growth rate in Alabama (see "Historical Populations" table below) dropped by nearly half from 1910 to 1920.
At the same time, many rural people, both White and African American, moved to the city of Birmingham to work in new industrial jobs. Birmingham experienced such rapid growth that it was called "The Magic City". By the 1920s, Birmingham was the 19th-largest city in the United States and had more than 30% of the Alabama's population. Heavy industry and mining were the basis of its economy. Its residents were under-represented for decades in the state legislature, which refused to redistrict to recognize demographic changes, such as urbanization.
Industrial development related to the demands of World War II brought a level of prosperity to the state 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.
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 press to end disfranchisement and segregation in the state during the 1950s and 1960s with the Civil Rights Movement. In 1954 the US Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that public schools had to be desegregated, but Alabama was slow to comply. The civil rights movement raised national awareness of the issues, leading to the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 by the U.S. 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 enforcement of voting and other civil constitutional 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.
Note: Most of present-day Alabama was part of Georgia until the south-central part was included in Mississippi Territory, whose establishment was authorized by Congress in 1798 and agreed to by Georgia in 1802. In 1804, Mississippi Territory was expanded to include the rest of Alabama except for the Gulf Coast portion, which was added in 1812 although still in dispute with Spain until 1819. Alabama became a territory on the 03 March 1817 (, and was admitted as a State on December 14, 1819 with substantially its present boundaries. Census coverage of Alabama began in 1800, included much of the State by 1820, and added the rest by 1840. The totals for 1800 and 1810 are for areas then in Mississippi Territory. In 1820 the official State total (127,901) did not include the population (16,416) of three counties whose census returns only arrived in Washington in 1822.. Populations for 1800 and 1810 are totals of those counties of Mississippi Territory entirely or mostly within present-day Alabama. Population for 1820 excludes three counties, Lawrence (8,652), Perry (4,118), and Washington (3,646), whose returns were received too late for inclusion in the official State total.
Births, Marriages, and Deaths
Ancestry.com has a few collections of marriage records available to subscribers including:
FamilySearch.org has a few collections available online for free to the public including:
Outstanding guide to Alabama family history and genealogy (FamilySearch Research Wiki). Birth, marriage, and death records, wills, deeds, county records, archives, Bible records, cemeteries, churches, censuses, directories, immigration lists, naturalizations, maps, history, newspapers, and societies.
For information on obscure/defunct Alabama communities/towns, see the Ghost Town USA's Guide to the Ghost Towns of Alabama, hosted on RootsWeb.