Valdosta is the principal city of the Valdosta Metropolitan Statistical Area, which in 2010, had a population of 139,588.
Valdosta is the home of Valdosta State University, a regional university in the University System of Georgia with over 13,000 students, and Valdosta High School, home to the winningest football program in the United States.
It is called the Azalea City as the plant grows in profusion there; the city hosts an annual Azalea Festival in March.
Valdosta was incorporated on December 7, 1860, at which time the county government was moved from nearby Troupville. Citizens of Troupville relocated when the Gulf and Atlantic Railroad was built four miles (about 6 km) away. On July 4, 1860, the engine known as Satilla Number Three pulled the first train into Valdosta on the Gulf and Atlantic Railway.
Troupville, now virtually abandoned, had been named after Governor George Troup, for whom Troup County, Georgia, was also named. Valdosta was named after Troup's estate, Val d'Osta, which itself was named after the Valle d'Aosta in Italy. The name Aosta (Latin: Augusta), refers to Emperor Augustus. Thus, the name Valdosta can be interpreted literally as meaning "Valley of Augustus' City". Originally, a long-standing rumor held that the city's name meant "vale of beauty." The land around Valdosta is flat.
After the American Civil War, over one hundred African Americans, families of farmers, craftsmen, and laborers, emigrated from Lowndes County to Arithington, Liberia, Africa, in 1871 and 1872, looking for a better life. This was made possible with the support of the American Colonization Society. The first group, which left in 1871, was led by Jefferson Bracewell, and the second group was led by Aaron Miller.
A major incident of racial unrest in Lowndes County occurred May of 1918. Sidney Johnson, a black man and farm worker who felt that he had been mistreated repeatedly by his white farmer boss Hampton Smith, murdered Smith by gun shot and injured his wife. Subsequently, this sparked a lynch mob to be formed in Valdosta, which lasted from May 17 to May 24. It resulted in the lynchings of a least 13 African Americans, including pregnant twenty-one year old Mary Turner. Sidney Johnson was apprehended during a shoot out on 22 May 1918 in a house on South Troupe Street in Valdosta. Following his death, a crowd of over 700, castrated him and then dragged his body down Patterson Street and taken all the way to Morven, Georgia. Following the violence over 500 African Americans fled from Lowndes County and Brooks County in fear. The lynching spree of May 1918 in Lowndes County was part of a large trend of organized violence towards African Americans after War World One that culminated in Red Summer (1919). By 1922 local chapters of the Ku Klux Klan were holding rallies openly in Valdosta.
The local economy received an important boost when Interstate 75 was routed and built through the area. Many vacationers on their way to Florida found Valdosta a convenient "last stop" on their way to Walt Disney World and the Orlando area, especially those coming from the Midwest and Ontario, Canada.
Valdosta was named one of 2003's "Top 100 U.S. Small Towns" by Site Selection magazine. In 2010 Valdosta was named one of the "Best Small Places For Business And Careers" by Forbes. In 1910, Fortune magazine named Valdosta the richest city in America by per capita income.