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, 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
The United States 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.
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.
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.
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 (see "Historical Populations" table below) 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.
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.
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.