Alabama: The History of a Deep South State

By William Warren Rogers; Robert David Ward et al. | Go to book overview

Alabama: A Prospect

ALABAMA has played an important part in American history. It attracts attention and invites study. The state has in great abundance the perplexing paradoxes of the South and a number of its own idiosyncrasies. Anyone interested in Alabama's history can see at once the influence of geography. Resembling a rectangle that let itself get out of shape, Alabama is a north-south state. It stretches the better part of 415 miles from Ardmore on the Tennessee border to Bayou La Batre on the Gulf of Mexico. Going from east to west, a traveler would cross about 170 miles from Phenix City, anchored beside the Chattahoochee River, before reaching Isney, a matter of yards from Mississippi. Alabama is divided by nature into distinct sections that, overshading and overlapping at their edges, developed historically as separate political, economic, and cultural units. It is divided by law into sixty-seven counties (the first was Washington, organized June 4, 1800, and the last was Houston, established February 9, 1903).

By the 1840s a white yeoman farmer from Henry County in southeast Alabama's Wiregrass region (named for the tough original cover of grass) had much in common with his north Florida neighbors. He shared fewer mutual interests with the landed slaveholders of Marengo County in the Black Belt of south-central Alabama. There were similarities, of course, but the contrasts were prominent. That was true of other sections: the Tennessee Valley in the north, and below there the mountain and hill counties, then the piedmont and the Piney Woods to the southwest. Even at the county level, provincial pockets evolved--especially in the Appalachian regions where valleys, ridges, and plateaus separated communities, limiting communication and transportation.

A cursory glance at a map reveals a river system scarcely rivaled by any other state. The Tennessee River enters at the northeast corner and leaves by a northwest exit. In transit through Alabama it nourishes a valley well suited for agriculture, and its current has been harnessed for conservation and industrial production. The Coosa and the Tallapoosa rivers flow southeast through hills that suddenly change to flatlands

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