Alabama (state, United States)

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Alabama (state, United States)

Alabama (ăləbăm´ə), state in the southeastern United States. It is bordered by Tennessee (N), Georgia (E), Florida and the Gulf of Mexico (S), and Mississippi (W).

Facts and Figures

Area, 51,609 sq mi (133,677 sq km). Pop. (2000) 4,447,100, a 10.1% increase since the 1990 census. Capital, Montgomery. Largest city, Birmingham. Statehood, Dec. 14, 1819 (22d state). Highest pt., Cheaha Mt., 2,407 ft (734 m); lowest pt., sea level. Nickname, Heart of Dixie. Motto, We Dare Defend Our Rights. State bird, yellowhammer. State flower, camellia. State tree, Southern (longleaf) pine. Abbr., Ala.; AL

Geography

Except for the mountainous section in the northeast (the southern end of the Cumberland Plateau) Alabama is a rolling plain with an average elevation of c.500 ft (150 m) in two geologic regions—the Appalachian Piedmont above the fall line and the coastal plain below. These plains, drained by the Alabama and the Tombigbee rivers and their tributaries, are primarily devoted to agriculture. Montgomery is the capital and Birmingham the largest city of Alabama. Mobile is the state's major seaport. Places of interest in Alabama include Russell Cave National Monument, near Bridgeport, the site of caves that were inhabited almost continuously from 6000 BC to AD 1650, and Mound State Monument, near Tuscaloosa, the site of numerous early Native American mounds.

Economy

The central Black Belt, formerly a principal cotton-growing area, is now employed largely for raising poultry (the state ranks third in U.S. broiler chicken production) and cattle, Alabama's most valuable agricultural products. Cotton is still the chief crop; greenhouse plants, peanuts, and vegetables are also important.

Although about half of Alabama's area is devoted to agriculture, manufacturing accounts for a larger share of the state's income. Where the Tennessee River loops across the north, hydroelectric power from the Tennessee Valley Authority has converted much agricultural land to industrial uses. Alabama has the second most extensive (after Georgia) forests in the contiguous United States, and pulp and paper products lead manufactures. Other major industries produce chemicals, electronics, textiles, processed foods, and automobiles. Oil and gas, cement, and stone lead mineral production; the state's once-prominent coal industry is gradually declining. The Marshall NASA Space Flight Center, Redstone Arsenal, Maxwell Air Force Base, and Forts Rucker and McClellan contribute significantly to the economy.

Government, Politics, and Higher Education

Alabama's constitution, adopted in 1901, provides for an elected governor and a bicameral legislature that is made up of a 35-member senate and a 105-member house of representatives. The state elects two senators and seven representatives to the U.S. Congress and has nine electoral votes.

Alabama politics was dominated by the Democratic party from Reconstruction until the 1980s, when Harold Guy Hunt became (1986) the first Republican to be elected governor in over a century. Since then, the two parties have tended to alternate control of the governorship. In 1998, Democrat Don Siegelman was elected governor, but he narrowly lost the office to Republican Bob Riley in 2002. Riley was reelected in 2006, and in 2010 Robert Bentley, a Republican, was elected to succeed Riley.

Among Alabama's educational institutions are the Univ. of Alabama, at Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, and Huntsville; Auburn Univ., at Auburn; Birmingham-Southern College and Howard College, at Birmingham; Huntingdon College, at Montgomery; the Univ. of Montevallo, at Montevallo; and Tuskegee Univ., at Tuskegee.

History

Early History to Statehood

Agriculture was practiced by groups such as the Creeks and Cherokee in the east, and the Choctaws and Chickasaws in the west when Spanish explorers arrived. Cabeza de Vaca (and possibly Pánfilo de Narvaez) visited Alabama in 1528, and Hernando De Soto spent some time in the region in 1540. European settlement was begun, however, not by the Spanish but by the French in the Mobile area in 1702. The French and British contended for the furs gathered by Native Americans. In 1763 the region passed to the British, who were victorious over France and Spain in the French and Indian Wars.

At the close of the American Revolution, Great Britain ceded (1783) to the United States all lands east of the Mississippi except the Floridas (see West Florida Controversy). The Territory of Mississippi, which included parts of present-day Alabama, was set up in 1798, but the land was still largely a wilderness with a considerable fur trade, centered at Saint Stephens, and with only the beginnings of cotton cultivation.

Both the fur trade and cotton production were interrupted during the War of 1812, when part of the Creek Confederacy began attacking under William Weatherford. Andrew Jackson defeated a group of Native Americans at Horseshoe Bend on Mar. 27, 1814. That victory, coupled with the British demand for cotton, ushered in a period of heavy settlement. New settlers poured into the Alabama region, especially from Georgia and Tennessee. The wealthy newcomers settled in the fertile bottomlands and established large plantations based on slave labor, which helped to produce cotton for the markets of Southern ports. Poorer newcomers took over less fertile uplands, where they eked out a living. The population grew to such an extent that the Territory of Alabama, taking Saint Stephens as its capital, was set up in 1817 with William W. Bibb as governor; two years later it became a state.

Civil War and Reconstruction

In Alabama the slave-owning planters were dominant because of the prosperous cotton crop, and as the Civil War loomed closer, the support of Southern rights and secession sentiment grew under the urging of "fire-eaters" such as William L. Yancey. Alabama broke away from the Union on Jan. 11, 1861, when its second constitutional convention passed the ordinance of secession. The government of the Confederacy was organized at Montgomery on Feb. 4, 1861. Union troops held the Tennessee valley after 1862. One of the principal naval battles of the war was won by Admiral D. G. Farragut in Mobile Bay in 1864, but most of the state was not occupied in force until 1865. Alabama ratified the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1865, but in 1867 it refused to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment and was placed under military rule. That rule ended the following year when a new state legislature operating under a new constitution approved the Fourteenth Amendment. However, federal troops did not leave Alabama until 1876, and African Americans continued to suffer enormous oppression for decades.

In the Reconstruction era Alabama's government was dominated by the so-called carpetbaggers and scalawags, and corruption was widespread. Few reforms emerged during the period; but the mining of coal and iron was expanded by Daniel Pratt and his successor, H. F. De Bardeleben, marking the rise of industry in Alabama.

Industrialization

The railroads built during Reconstruction were a major impetus to the industrialization of Alabama's economy. Birmingham was founded in 1870, and its first blast furnace began operations in 1880. The cotton textile industry developed in the 1880s. At that time farming was still dominant, and the fortunes of the state rose and fell with the market price of cotton. Constant use and erosion, however, began to exhaust the land.

Diversification of crops, much advocated in the 20th cent., was accelerated in 1915 when the boll weevil invaded the cotton fields and the demand during World War I brought high prices for food crops. The Great Depression and the agricultural program of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal caused more farmers to produce subsistence crops and took more land away from the wasting cotton culture. Beginning in the 1920s, there was a large migration of African Americans out of the state to northern manufacturing centers.

Industrialization was greatly increased during World War II with the appearance of factories producing machines, munitions, powder, and other war supplies. Huntsville became a center for rocket research, and its population more than quadrupled between 1950 and 1960. Industrialization and commerce increased throughout the state. Adding impetus to that growth was an ambitious development program of Alabama's inland waterways to provide cheap water transportation, more hydroelectric power, and flood-control measures.

The Integration Years to the Present

In 1954 the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision ruling racial segregation in public elementary and secondary schools unconstitutional, and the decision was followed by an intensification of racial tension (see integration). Alabama has witnessed many civil-rights protests, including a year-long black boycott of public buses in Montgomery in 1955–56 to protest segregated seating and a Freedom March from Montgomery to Selma led by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965.

George C. Wallace, a Democrat elected governor in 1962, fought the federally ordered integration of schools in Alabama. He was reelected three times: 1970, 1974, and 1982, the final time with substantial African-American support. In 1968 he entered the U.S. presidential race as the candidate of the American Independent party. He ran for the presidency twice more—in 1972 and 1976.

Since the late 1970s, public attention has largely shifted to economic issues, and major efforts have been made to achieve growth by encouraging further diversification of manufacturing industries. A notable success in this campaign was the building by Mercedes-Benz of auto assembly plant in Alabama. The Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, connecting the port of Mobile with the industries that have developed in N Alabama and elsewhere along the Tennessee, opened in 1985. In 1995 Hurricane Opal caused extensive damage in Alabama as far north as Montgomery, and parts of the state suffered again in 2004 from Hurricane Ivan and in 2005 from Katrina.

Bibliography

See C. P. Denman, The Secession Movement in Alabama (1933, repr. 1971); L. Griffith, Alabama: A Documentary History to 1900 (rev. ed. 1972); Federal Writers' Project, Alabama: A Guide to the Deep South (1941, repr. 1973); N. G. Lineback and C. T. Traylor, ed., Atlas of Alabama (1973); R. A. Thigpen, Alabama Government Manual (7th ed. 1986); S. W. Wiggins, ed., From Civil War to Civil Rights, 1860–1960 (1987).

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