Tuscaloosa is a city in and the seat of Tuscaloosa County in west central Alabama (in the southeastern United States). Located on the Black Warrior River, it is the fifth-largest city in Alabama, with a population of 91,605 in 2011. It is the principal city of the Tuscaloosa Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes Tuscaloosa, Greene, and Hale counties, and whose estimated metro population in 2012 was 221,553. A former capital of Alabama, Tuscaloosa is named after Tuskaloosa, the chieftain of a Muskogean-speaking people, who battled and was defeated by Hernando de Soto in 1540 in the Battle of Mabila.
Tuscaloosa is the regional center of industry, commerce, healthcare, and education for the area of west-central Alabama known as West Alabama. Tuscaloosa is also the home of the University of Alabama, Stillman College and Shelton State Community College. While the city attracted international attention when Mercedes-Benz announced it would build its first automotive assembly plant in North America in Tuscaloosa County, the University of Alabama remains the dominant economic and cultural engine in the city.
The city has received many quality-of-life accolades. It was named one of the "50 Best Places to Launch a Small Business" in 2009 by Fortune Small Business, and one of the "100 Best Communities for Young People" by America’s Promise Alliance. It was named "The Most Liveable City in America" in 2011 by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Tuscaloosa has been traditionally known as the "Druid City" because of the numerous water oaks planted in its downtown streets since the 1840s. City leaders adopted the moniker "The City of Champions" after the Alabama Crimson Tide football team won the BCS National Championship game in 2010, 2012, and again in 2013. In 2008, the City of Tuscaloosa hosted the USA Olympic Triathlon trials for the Beijing Games.
Nearly 12,000 years ago, Native Americans or Paleo-Indians arrived in what today is referred to as the Deep South. Paleo-Indians in the South were hunter-gatherers who pursued the megafauna that became extinct following the end of the Pleistocene age. After thousands of years, the Paleo-Indians developed a rich and complex agricultural society. Archaeologists called these people the Mississippians of the Mississippian culture; they were Mound Builders. Their large earthworks, built for political and religious rituals and expressing their cosmology, still stand throughout the valleys of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, as well as their tributaries in the Southeast.
Descendant Native American tribes include the Creek. Also among the historical tribes living in the area of present-day Alabama at the time of European contact were the Iroquoian-speaking Cherokee, and the Muskogean-speaking Alabama (Alibamu), Chickasaw, Choctaw, Koasati, and Mobile.
In 1828, Andrew Jackson was elected president of the United States. He had gained popularity when he defeated the Creek at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814, following victories in the War of 1812. He long proposed Indian removal to the Indian Territory west of the Mississippi, to make land available for European-American settlement. Jackson abandoned the policy of his predecessors of treating different Indian groups as separate nations. Instead, he aggressively pursued plans to move all Indian tribes living east of the Mississippi River. Following the Indian Removal Act, in 1832 the Creek National Council signed the Treaty of Cusseta, ceding their remaining lands east of the Mississippi to the U.S., and accepting relocation to the Indian Territory. Most Muscogee-speaking peoples were removed to Indian Territory during the Trail of Tears in 1834, although some remained behind. Some Muscogee in Alabama live near Poarch Creek Reservation in Atmore (northeast of Mobile).
The pace of white settlement in the Southeast increased greatly after the War of 1812. A small assortment of log cabins soon arose near the large Creek village at the fall line of the river, which the new settlers named in honor of the legendary Chief Tuskaloosa of a Muskogean-speaking tribe. In 1817, Alabama became a territory, and on December 13, 1819, the territorial legislature incorporated the town of Tuscaloosa, one day before Congress admitted Alabama to the Union as a state.
From 1826 to 1846, Tuscaloosa was the capital of Alabama. During this period, in 1831, the University of Alabama was established. The town's population and economy grew rapidly until the departure of the capital to Montgomery caused a rapid decline in population. Establishment of the Bryce State Hospital for the Insane in Tuscaloosa in the 1850s helped restore the city's fortunes.
During the Civil War following Alabama's secession from the Union, several thousand men from Tuscaloosa fought in the Confederate armies. During the last weeks of the War, a brigade of Union troops raiding the city burned the campus of the university. The larger town was also damaged in the battle and shared fully in the South's economic sufferings which followed the defeat.
In the 1890s the construction of a system of locks and dams on the Black Warrior River by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened up an inexpensive link to the Gulf seaport of Mobile, stimulating especially the mining and metallurgical industries of the region. By the advent of the 20th century, the growth of the University of Alabama and the mental health-care facilities in the city, along with a strong national economy fueled a steady growth in Tuscaloosa which continued unabated for 100 years.
Civil rights era
On June 11, 1963, George Wallace, the governor of Alabama, stood in front of the Foster Auditorium entrance at The University of Alabama in what became known as the Stand in the Schoolhouse Door in an attempt to stop desegregation of that institution by the enrollment of two African-American students, Vivian Malone and James Hood; when confronted by US Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach and federal marshals sent in by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, Wallace stepped aside. President John F. Kennedy had called for the integration of the University of Alabama as well.
Although Hood dropped out of school after two months, he subsequently returned and, in 1997, received his Ph.D. in philosophy. Malone persisted in her studies and became the first African American to graduate from the university. In 2000, the university granted her a doctorate of humane letters. Autherine Lucy's expulsion was rescinded in 1980, and she successfully re-enrolled and graduated with a master's degree in 1992. Later in his life, Wallace apologized for his opposition at that time to racial integration.
In 2010, the university formally honored Lucy, Hood and Malone by rechristening the plaza in front of Foster Auditorium as Malone-Hood Plaza and erecting a clock tower – Autherine Lucy Clock Tower – in the plaza.
Manufacturing plants of large firms such as Michelin and JVC located in town during the latter half of the 20th century. However, it was the announcement of the addition of the Mercedes facility in 1993 that best personified the new era of economic prosperity for Tuscaloosa.
On April 27, 2011, Tuscaloosa was hit by a wide EF4 tornado that resulted in 64 deaths, over 1500 injuries, and massive devastation. 44 of the fatalities were in Tuscaloosa alone, with the rest being in Birmingham and surrounding suburbs. Its top winds were estimated by the US National Weather Service at . Officials at DCH Regional Medical alone reported treating more than 1000 injured people in the tornado aftermath. Officials reported dozens of unaccompanied minors being admitted for treatment at the hospital, raising questions about the possible loss of their parents. Several were taken to pediatric trauma wards, indicating serious injuries. Referring to the extent and severity of the damage, Mayor Walter Maddox stated that "we have neighborhoods that have been basically removed from the map." The same tornado later went on to cause major damage in the Birmingham area.
The tornado was part of the larger April 25–28, 2011 tornado outbreak which affected large parts of the eastern United States.
In the immediate aftermath of the tornado, thousands of rescue workers dug through the wreckage looking for survivors and recovering bodies. More than 450 were originally listed as missing in the post-disaster chaos, leading to fears that the death toll could skyrocket to the hundreds and skepticism about the relatively slow fatality figures with respect to the number of casualties. Rumors abounded about refrigerated trucks being brought to store unidentified remains and countless bodies at the bottom of area bodies of water. However, the fatality figure did not increase (in fact, it decreased) and most missing persons were later found to have survived. During this period, The Tuscaloosa News posted an on-line people finder to aid loved ones and friends in finding one another and to determine who was still missing.
Two days after the storm, US president Barack Obama and Alabama governor Robert Bentley, and their spouses, Michelle Obama and Diane Bentley, respectively, accompanied Mayor Maddox on a tour of the damage and the recovery efforts, along with FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate and several Congressional dignitaries. Remarking about the scale and severity of the damage, Obama stated, "I've never seen devastation like this, it's heartbreaking" after touring the damaged areas. Obama pledged the full resources of the federal government toward aiding the recovery efforts Bentley—himself a Tuscaloosa native—pledged additional national guard troops.
Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox announced that he was requesting 500 additional National Guard troops as well as calling for more volunteer aid workers and cadaver teams for the recovery of bodies in order to prevent the spread of disease.
The New York Yankees organization contributed $500,000 to the American Red Cross and Salvation Army to aid in recovery efforts, and the Atlanta Braves organization donated $100,000. Actor Charlie Sheen visited the city to pay his respects on May 2 and donated supplies for relief efforts, along with several other actors, musicians and athletes.
Due to the disaster, on August 6, 2011, the University of Alabama held a delayed graduation ceremony for the class of 2011 and awarded six students who died in the tornado posthumous degrees. The cable channel ESPN has also filmed a tribute in memory of the devastation.