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Alabama became a state of the United States of America on December 14, 1819. After, the Indian Wars and removals of the early 19th century forced most Native Americans out of the state, white settlers arrived in large numbers.
In antebellum Alabama, wealthy planters created large cotton plantations based in the fertile central Black Belt, which depended on the labor of enslaved African Americans. Tens of thousands of slaves were transported to and sold in the state by slave traders who purchased them in the Upper South. Elsewhere in Alabama, poorer whites practiced subsistence farming. By 1860 blacks (nearly all slaves) comprised 45 percent of the state's 964,201 people.
The state wished to continue and expand slavery. Feeling pressured by the Northern states, Alabama declared its secession in January 1861 and joined the Confederate States of America in February. The ensuing American Civil War saw moderate levels of action in Alabama, and the population suffered economic losses and hardships as a result of the war. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation freed all enslaved people in confederate states. The Southern capitulation in 1865 ended the Confederate state government and began a controversial and difficult decade of Reconstruction.
After the war, the vast cotton plantations resumed production. Tenant farmers and sharecroppers, motivated by profit, added to the market. Small farms, which produced general crops before the war, turned to cotton as a cash crop. As a result the market for cotton was overloaded, and prices dropped 50%.
For 75 years after the Civil War, Alabama was a poor, heavily rural state, with an economy based on cotton and sharecropping. At Reconstruction's end, whites known as "Redeemer" Democrats regained control of the state legislature by both legal and extralegal means (including violence and harassment) to re-establish political and social dominance over African Americans. In 1901, Democrats passed a state Constitution that effectively disfranchised most African Americans (who in 1900 comprised more than 45 percent of the state's population) as well as tens of thousands of poor whites. By 1941, 600,000 poor whites and 520,000 African Americans had been disfranchised. In addition, despite massive population changes in the state, the rural-dominated legislature refused to redistrict from 1901 to the 1960s, leading to massive malapportionment. For decades, a rural minority dominated the state, and the needs of urban, middle class and industrial interests were not addressed.
African Americans living in Alabama experienced the inequities of disfranchisement, segregation, violence, and underfunded schools. Tens of thousands of African Americans from Alabama joined the Great Migration out of the South from 1915 to 1930 and moved to better opportunities in industrial cities, mostly in the North and Midwest. The black exodus escalated steadily in the first three decades of the 20th century; 22,100 emigrated from 1900 to 1910; 70,800 between 1910 and 1920; and 80,700 between 1920 and 1930.
The New Deal farm programs increased the price of cotton, and World War II finally brought prosperity, as the state developed a manufacturing and service base. Cotton faded in importance as mechanical pickers replaced scores of farm workers. With the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1965, African Americans could again exercise their constitutional right to vote.
With the election of Guy Hunt as Governor in 1986, the state became a Republican stronghold in Presidential elections, and leaned Republican in statewide elections. The Democratic Party still dominated local and legislative offices, but Democratic dominance had ended; in terms of organization, the parties are about evenly matched.
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 1000 to 1600 AD, 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.
At least 12,000 years ago, Native Americans or Paleo-Indians appeared in what is today referred to as "The South". Paleo-Indians in the Southeast were hunter-gatherers who pursued a wide range of animals, including the megafauna, which became extinct following the end of the Pleistocene age. The Woodland period from 1000 BCE to 1000 CE was marked by the development of pottery and the small-scale horticulture of the Eastern Agricultural Complex.
The Mississippian culture arose as the cultivation of Mesoamerican crops of corn and beans led to population growth. Increased population density gave rise of urban centers and regional chiefdoms, of which the greatest was the settlement known as Cahokia, in present-day Illinois. Stratified societies developed, with hereditary religious and political elites, and flourished in what is now the Midwestern, Eastern, and Southeastern United States from 800 to 1500 C.E.
The early historic Muscogee were probably descendants of the mound builders of the Mississippian culture along the Tennessee River in modern Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. They may have been related to the Utinahica of southern Georgia. At the time the Spanish made their first forays inland from the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, many political centers of the Mississippians were already in decline, or abandoned. The region is best described as a collection of moderately sized native chiefdoms (such as the Coosa chiefdom on the Coosa River), interspersed with completely autonomous villages and tribal groups. The late Mississippian culture is what the earliest Spanish explorers encountered, beginning on April 2, 1513, with Juan Ponce de León's Florida landing and the 1526 Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón expedition in South Carolina.
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, Koasati, and Mobile. Reminders of Alabama's Native American population can be found in many of its place names.
Although a member of Pánfilo de Narváez's expedition of 1528 may have entered southern Alabama, the first fully documented visit was by explorer Hernando de Soto. He made an arduous expedition along the Coosa, Alabama and Tombigbee rivers in 1539.
The English also laid claims to the region north of the Gulf of Mexico. Charles II of England included the territory of modern Alabama in the Province of Carolina, with land granted to certain of his favorites by the charters of 1663 and 1665. English traders from Carolina frequented the valley of the Alabama River as early as 1687.
The French also colonized the region. In 1702 they founded a settlement on the Mobile River, constructing Fort Louis there. For the next nine years this was the French seat of government of New France, or Louisiane (Louisiana). In 1711, Fort Louis was abandoned to floods. Settlers rebuilt a fort on higher ground known as Fort Conde. This was the start of present-day Mobile, the first permanent European settlement in Alabama.
The French and the English contested the region, each attempting to forge strong alliances with Indian tribes. To strengthen their position, defend their Indian allies, and draw other tribes to them, the French established the military posts of Fort Toulouse, near the junction of the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers, and Fort Tombecbe on the Tombigbee River.
The English Crown's grant of Georgia to Oglethorpe and his associates in 1732 included a portion of what is now northern Alabama. In 1739, Oglethorpe visited the Creek Indians west of the Chattahoochee River and made a treaty with them.
The 1763 Treaty of Paris, which ended the French and Indian War, terminated the French occupation of Alabama. Great Britain came into undisputed control of the region between the Chattahoochee and the Mississippi Rivers. The portion of Alabama below the 31st parallel then became a part of West Florida. The portion north of this line became a part of the "Illinois Country", set apart by royal proclamation for use by Indians. In 1767, the province of West Florida was extended northward to 32°28'N latitude.
A few years later, during the American Revolutionary War, the British ceded this region to Spain. By the Treaty of Versailles, September 3, 1783, Great Britain ceded West Florida to Spain. By the Treaty of Paris (1783), signed the same day, Britain ceded to the newly established United States all of this province north of the 31°N, thus laying the foundation for a long controversy.
By the Treaty of Madrid, in 1795, Spain ceded to the United States the lands east of the Mississippi between 31°N and 32°28'N. Three years later, in 1798, Congress organized this district as the Mississippi Territory. A strip of land 12 or 14 miles wide near the present northern boundary of Alabama and Mississippi was claimed by South Carolina, but in 1787 that state ceded this claim to the federal government. Georgia likewise claimed all the lands between the 31st and 35th parallels from its present western boundary to the Mississippi River, and did not surrender its claim until 1802. Two years later, the boundaries of Mississippi Territory were extended so as to include all of the Georgia cession.
In 1812, Congress added the Mobile District of West Florida to the Mississippi Territory, claiming that it was included in the Louisiana Purchase. The following year, General James Wilkinson occupied the Mobile District with a military force. The Spanish did not resist. Thus the whole area of the present state of Alabama was then under the jurisdiction of the United States. Native Americans still occupied most of the land, with some formal ownership recognized by treaty.
In 1817, the Mississippi Territory was divided. The western portion became the state of Mississippi, and the eastern portion became the Alabama Territory, with St. Stephens, on the Tombigbee River, as the temporary seat of government.
Conflict between the Indians of Alabama and American settlers increased rapidly in the early 19th century. The great Shawnee chief Tecumseh visited the region in 1811, seeking to forge an Indian alliance of resistance from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes. With the outbreak of the War of 1812, Britain encouraged Tecumseh's resistance movement. Several tribes were divided in opinion.
The Creek tribe fell to civil war. Violence between Creeks and Americans escalated, culminating in the Fort Mims massacre. Full-scale war between the United States and the "Red Stick" Creeks began, known as the Creek War. The Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cherokee Nation, and other Creek factions remained neutral to or allied with the United States, some serving with American troops. Volunteer militias from Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee marched into Alabama, fighting the Red Sticks.
Later, federal troops became the main fighting force for the United States. General Andrew Jackson was the commander of the American forces during the Creek War and later against the British in the War of 1812. His leadership and military success during the wars made him a national hero. The Treaty of Fort Jackson (August 9, 1814) ended the Creek War. By the terms of the treaty the Creeks, Red Sticks and neutrals alike, ceded about one-half of the present state of Alabama to the United States. Later cessions by the Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Choctaw in 1816 left only about a quarter of Alabama to the Indians.
In 1819, Alabama was admitted as the 22nd state to the Union. Its constitution provided for equal suffrage for white men.
One of the first problems of the new commonwealth was that of finance. Since the amount of money in circulation was not sufficient to meet the demands of the increasing population, a system of state banks was instituted. State bonds were issued and public lands were sold to secure capital, and the notes of the banks, loaned on security, became a medium of exchange. Prospects of an income from the banks led the legislature of 1836 to abolish all taxation for state purposes. This was hardly done, however, before the Panic of 1837 wiped out a large portion of the banks' assets. Next came revelations of grossly careless and even of corrupt management. In 1843 the banks were placed in liquidation. After disposing of all their available assets, the state assumed the remaining liabilities, for which it had pledged its faith and credit.
In 1830 the Indian Removal Act set in motion the process that resulted in the Indian removal of southeastern tribes, including the Creek, Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole. In 1832, the national government provided for the removal of the Creeks via the Treaty of Cusseta. Before the actual removal occurred between 1834 and 1837, the state legislature defined counties from Indian lands, and settlers flocked in.
Until 1832, there was only one party in the state, the Democratic. The question of nullification caused a division that year into the (Jackson) Democratic party and the State's Rights (Calhoun Democratic) party. About the same time the Whig party emerged as an opposition party. It drew support from plantation owners and townsmen, while the Democrats were strongest among poor farmers and Catholic communities (descendants of French and Spanish colonists) in the Mobile area. For some time, the Whigs were almost as numerous as the Democrats, but they never secured control of the state government. The State's Rights faction were in a minority; nevertheless, under their active and persistent leader, William L. Yancey (1814–1863), they prevailed upon the Democrats in 1848 to adopt their most radical views.
During the agitation over the Wilmot Proviso, which would bar slavery from territory acquired from Mexico as a result of the Mexican War, Yancey induced the Democratic State Convention of 1848 to adopt what was known as the "Alabama Platform". It declared that neither Congress nor the government of a territory had the right to interfere with slavery in a territory, that those who held opposite views were not Democrats, and that the Democrats of Alabama would not support a candidate for the presidency if he did not agree with them. This platform was endorsed by conventions in Florida and Virginia and by the legislatures of Georgia and Alabama.
The Compromise of 1850 split people from their old party lines. The State's Rights faction, joined by many Democrats, founded the Southern Rights Party, which demanded the repeal of the Compromise, advocated resistance to future encroachments and prepared for secession. The Whigs were joined by the remaining Democrats and called themselves the "Unionists". The party unwillingly accepted the Compromise and denied that the Constitution provided for secession.
Development of large cotton plantations in the Black Belt after the invention of the cotton gin had added dramatically to the state's wealth. The owners' wealth depended on the labor of numerous enslaved African Americans. In other parts of the state, the soil supported only subsistence farming. Most of the yeoman farmers owned few or no slaves. By 1860 the success of cotton production led to planters' holding 435,000 enslaved African Americans, 45% of the state's population.
Early Alabama settlers were noted for their spirit of frontier democracy and egalitarianism, and their fierce defense of the republican values of civic virtue and opposition to corruption. J. Mills Thornton (1978) argued that Whigs worked for positive state action to benefit society as a whole, while the Democrats feared any increase of power in government, or in state-sponsored institutions as central banks. Fierce political battles raged in Alabama on issues ranging from banking to the removal of the Creek Indians. Thornton suggested the overarching issue in the state was how to protect liberty and equality for white people. Fears that Northern agitators threatened their value system angered the voters and made them ready to secede when Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860 (Thornton 1978).
The "Unionists" were successful in the elections of 1851 and 1852. Passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill and uncertainty about agitation against slavery led the State Democratic convention of 1856 to revive the "Alabama Platform". When the Democratic National Convention at Charleston, South Carolina, failed to approve the "Alabama Platform" in 1860, the Alabama delegates, followed by those of the other "cotton states", withdrew. Upon the election of Abraham Lincoln, Governor Andrew B. Moore, as previously instructed by the legislature, called a state convention. Many prominent men had opposed secession. In North Alabama, there was an attempt to organize a neutral state to be called Nickajack. With President Lincoln's call to arms in April 1861, most opposition to secession ended.
On January 11, 1861, the State of Alabama adopted the ordinances of secession from the Union (by a vote of 61-39). Until February 18, 1861, Alabama was informally called the Alabama Republic. It never changed its formal name which always has been "State of Alabama".
Governor Moore energetically supported the Confederate war effort. Even before hostilities began, he seized Federal facilities, sent agents to buy rifles in the Northeast, and scoured the state for weapons. Despite some resistance in the northern part of the state, Alabama joined the Confederate States of America (CSA). Congressman Williamson R. W. Cobb was a Unionist and pleaded for compromise. When he ran for the Confederate congress in 1861, he was defeated. (In 1863, with war-weariness growing in Alabama, he was elected on a wave of antiwar sentiment.) Secessionists brushed Cobb aside, and the CSA set up its temporary capital in Montgomery and selected Jefferson Davis as president. In May, the Confederate government abandoned Montgomery before the sickly season began, and relocated in Richmond. Virginia.
Some idea of the severe internal logistics problems the Confederacy faced can be seen by tracing Davis's journey from Mississippi, the next state over. From his plantation on the river, he took a steamboat down the Mississippi to Vicksburg, boarded a train to Jackson, where he took another train north to Grand Junction, then a third train east to Chattanooga, Tennessee, and a fourth train to Atlanta, Georgia. Yet another train took Davis to the Alabama border, where a final train took him to Montgomery. As the war proceeded, the Federals seized the Mississippi River, burned trestles and railroad bridges, and tore up track. The frail Confederate railroad system faltered and virtually collapsed for want of repairs and replacement parts.
In the early part of the Civil War, Alabama was not the scene of military operations, yet the state contributed about 120,000 men to the Confederate service, practically all the white population capable of bearing arms. Most were recruited locally and served with men they knew, which built esprit and strengthened ties to home. Medical conditions were severe. About 15% of fatalities were from disease, more than the 10% from battle. Alabama had few well-equipped hospitals, but it had many women who volunteered to nurse the sick and wounded. Soldiers were poorly equipped, especially after 1863. Often they pillaged the dead for boots, belts, canteens, blankets, hats, shirts and pants. Uncounted thousands of slaves worked with Confederate troops; they took care of horses and equipment, cooked and did laundry, hauled supplies, and helped in field hospitals. Other slaves built defensive installations, especially those around Mobile. They graded roads, repaired railroads, drove supply wagons, and labored in iron mines, iron foundries and even in the munitions factories. The service of slaves was involuntary: their unpaid labor was impressed from their unpaid masters. About 10,000 slaves escaped and joined the Union army, along with 2,700 white men.
Thirty-nine Alabamians attained flag rank, most notably Lieutenant General James Longstreet and Admiral Raphael Semmes. Josiah Gorgas, who came to Alabama from Pennsylvania, was the chief of ordnance for the Confederacy. He located new munitions plants in Selma, which employed 10,000 workers until the Union soldiers burned the factories down in 1865. Selma Arsenal made most of the Confederacy's ammunition. The Selma Naval Ordnance Works made artillery, turning out a cannon every five days. The Confederate Naval Yard built ships and was noted for launching the CSS Tennessee in 1863 to defend Mobile Bay. Selma's Confederate Nitre Works procured niter, for gunpowder, from limestone caves. When supplies were low, it advertised for housewives to save the contents of their chamber pots—urine, a rich source of nitrogen.
In 1863, Union forces secured a foothold in northern Alabama in spite of the opposition of General Nathan B. Forrest. From 1861, the Union blockade shut Mobile, and, in 1864, the outer defenses of Mobile were taken by a Union fleet; the city itself held out until April 1865.
Alabama soldiers fought in hundreds of battles; the state's losses at the Battle of Gettysburg were 1,750 dead plus even more captured or wounded; the famed[clarification needed] "Alabama Brigade" took 781 casualties. Governor Lewis E. Parsons in July 1865 made a preliminary estimate of losses. Nealy all the white men served, some 122,000 he said, of whom 35,000 died in the war and another 30,000 were seriously disabled. The next year Governor Robert M. Patton estimated that 20,000 veterans had returned home permanently disabled, and there were 20,000 widows and 60,000 orphans. With cotton prices low, the value of farms shrank, from $176 million in 1860 to only $64 million in 1870. The livestock supply shrank too, as the number of horses fell from 127,000 to 80,000, and mules 111,000 to 76,000. The overall population remained the same—the growth that might have been expected was neutralized by death and emigration.
According to the Presidential plan of reorganization, a provisional governor for Alabama was appointed in June 1865. A state convention met in September of the same year, and declared the ordinance of secession null and void and slavery abolished. A legislature and a governor were elected in November, and the legislature was at once recognized by President Andrew Johnson, but not by Congress, which refused to seat the delegation. Johnson ordered the Army to allow the inauguration of the governor after the legislature ratified the Thirteenth Amendment in December, 1865. But the legislature's passage of Black Codes to control the freedmen who were flocking from the plantations to the towns, and its rejection of the Fourteenth Amendment, intensified Congressional hostility to the Presidential plan.
In 1867, the congressional plan of Reconstruction was completed and Alabama was placed under military government. The freedmen were enrolled as voters. Only whites who could swear the Ironclad oath could be voters; that is they had to swear they had never voluntarily supported the Confederacy. This provision was insisted upon by the whites in the northern hill counties so they could control local government. As a result Republicans controlled 96 of the 100 seats in the state constitutional convention. The new Republican party, made up of freedmen, Union sympathizers (scalawags), and northerners who had settled in the South (carpetbaggers), took control two years after the war ended. The constitutional convention in November 1867 framed a constitution which conferred universal manhood suffrage and imposed the iron-clad oath, so that whites who had supported the Confederacy were not allowed to hold office. The Reconstruction Acts of Congress required every new constitution to be ratified by a majority of the legal voters of the state. Most whites boycotted the polls and the new constitution fell short. Congress then enacted that a majority of the votes cast should be sufficient. Thus the constitution went into effect, the state was readmitted to the Union in June 1868, and a new governor and legislature were elected.
Many whites resisted postwar changes, complaining that the Republican governments were notable for legislative extravagance and corruption. The Republican biracial coalition created the first system of public education in the state, which would benefit poor white children as well as freedmen. They also created charitable public institutions, such as hospitals and orphanages, to benefit all citizens. The state debt and state taxes rose. The state endorsed railway bonds at the rate of $12,000 and $16,000 a mile until the state debt had increased from eight million to seventeen million dollars. Similar corruption characterized local government. The native whites united, peeled many Scalawags away from the Republican coalition, formed a Conservative party and elected a governor and a majority of the lower house of the legislature in 1870. As the new administration was overall a failure, in 1872, voters reacted in favor of the Republicans.
By 1874, however, the power of the Republicans was broken, and conservative Democrats regained power in all state offices. A commission appointed to examine the state debt found it to be $25,503,000; by compromise, it was reduced to $15,000,000. A new constitution was adopted in 1875, which omitted the guarantee of the previous constitution that no one should be denied suffrage on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude. Its provisions forbade the state to engage in internal improvements or to give its credit to any private enterprise, an anti-industrial stance that limited the state's progress for decades.
After 1874, the Democratic party had constant control of the state administration. The Republican Party by then was chiefly supported by African Americans. Republicans held no local or state offices, but the party did have some federal patronage. It failed to make nominations for office in 1878 and 1880 and endorsed the ticket of the Greenback party in 1882.
The development of mining and manufacturing was accompanied by economic distress among the farming classes, which found expression in the Jeffersonian Democratic party, organized in 1892. The regular Democratic ticket was elected and the new party was then merged into the Populist party. In 1894, the Republicans united with the Populists, elected three congressional representatives, secured control of many of the counties, but failed to carry the state. They continued their opposition with less success in the next campaigns. Partisanship became intense, and Democratic charges of corruption of the black electorate were matched by Republican and Populist accusations of fraud and violence by Democrats.
Despite opposition by Republicans and Populists, Democrats completed their dominance with passage of a new constitution in 1901 that restricted suffrage and effectively disfranchised African Americans. Its voter registration requirements also rapidly disfranchised tens of thousands of poor whites, an outcome the latter were not suspecting. From 1900 to 1903, the number of white registered voters fell by more than 40,000, from 232,821 to 191,492, despite a growth in population. By 1941 a total of more whites than blacks had been disfranchised: 600,000 whites to 520,000 blacks. This was due mostly to effects of the cumulative poll tax.
The damage to the African-American community was severe and pervasive, as nearly all its eligible citizens lost the ability to vote. In 1900 45% of Alabama's population were African American: 827,545 citizens. In 1900 fourteen Black Belt counties (which were primarily African American) had more than 79,000 voters on the rolls. By June 1, 1903, the number of registered voters had dropped to 1,081. While Dallas and Lowndes counties were each 75% black, between them only 103 African-American voters managed to register. In 1900 Alabama had more than 181,000 African Americans eligible to vote. By 1903 only 2,980 had managed to "qualify" to register, although at least 74,000 black voters were literate. The shut out was longlasting. It meant the effects of segregation suffered by African Americans were severe. At the end of WWII, for instance, in the black Collegeville community of Birmingham, only eleven voters in a population of 8,000 African Americans were deemed "eligible" to register to vote. Disfranchisement also meant that blacks and poor whites could not serve on juries, so were subject to a justice system in which they had no part.
Birmingham was founded on June 1, 1871 by real estate promoters who sold lots near the planned crossing of the Alabama & Chattanooga and South & North railroads. The site of the railroad crossing was notable for the nearby deposits of iron ore, coal, and limestone-the three principal raw materials used in making steel. Its founders adopted the name of England's principal industrial city to advertise the new city as a center of iron and steel production. Despite outbreaks of cholera, the population of 'Pittsburgh of the South' grew from 38,000 to 132,000 from 1900 to 1910, attracting rural white and black migrants from all over the region. Birmingham 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.
Chemical and structural constraints limited the quality of steel produced from Alabama’s iron and coal. These materials did, however, combine to make ideal foundry iron. Because of low transportation and labor costs, Birmingham quickly became the largest and cheapest foundry iron-producing area. By 1915 twenty-five percent of the nation’s foundry pig iron was produced in Birmingham.
Despite Birmingham's powerful industrial growth and its contributions to the state economy, its citizens, and those of other newly developing areas, were underrepresented in the state legislature for years. The rural-dominated legislature refused to redistrict state House and Senate seats from 1901 to the 1960s. This led to a stranglehold on the state by a white rural minority. The contemporary interests of urbanizing, industrial cities and tens of thousands of citizens were not adequately represented in the government. One result was that Jefferson County, home of Birmingham's industrial and economic powerhouse, contributed more than one-third of all tax revenue to the state. It received back only 1/67th of the tax money, as the state legislature ensured taxes were distributed equally to each county regardless of population.
From 1910-1940, tens of thousands of African Americans migrated north from Alabama in the Great Migration to seek jobs, education for their children, and freedom from lynching in northern cities, such as St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland. The rate of population growth in Alabama dropped from 20.8% in 1900 and 16.9% in 1910, to 9.8% in 1920, reflecting the impact of the outmigration. Disfranchisement was ended only in the mid-1960s by African Americans' leading the Civil Rights Movement and gaining Federal legislation to protect their voting and civil rights.
A rapid pace of change across the country, especially in growing cities, combined with new waves of immigration and migration of rural whites and blacks to cities, all contributed to a volatile social environment and the rise of a second Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in the South and Midwest after 1915. In many areas it represented itself as another fraternal group to give aid to a community. Feldman (1999) has shown that the second KKK was not a mere hate group; it showed a genuine desire for political and social reform. For example, Alabama Klansmen like Hugo Black were among the foremost advocates of better public schools, effective Prohibition enforcement, expanded road construction, and other "progressive" measures to benefit poor whites. By 1925, the Klan was a powerful political force in the state, as urban politicians such as J. Thomas Heflin, David Bibb Graves, and Hugo Black manipulated the KKK membership against the power of the "Big Mule" industrialists and especially the Black Belt planters who had long dominated the state.
In 1926, Bibb Graves, a former chapter head, won the governor's office with KKK members' support. He led one of the most progressive administrations in the state's history, pushing for increased education funding, better public health, new highway construction, and pro-labor legislation. At the same time, KKK vigilantes---thinking they enjoyed governmental protection—launched a wave of physical terror across Alabama in 1927, targeting both blacks and whites. The conservative elite counterattacked. The major newspapers kept up a steady, loud attack on the Klan as violent and unAmerican. Sheriffs cracked down on Klan violence. The counterattack worked. The state voted for Al Smith in 1928, and the Klan's official membership plunged to under six thousand by 1930.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott from 1955 to 1956 was one of the most significant early protests against the policy of racial segregation in the state. It led to Browder v. Gayle, a case in which the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama found the segregation policy to be unconstitutional and ordered that public transit in Alabama be desegregated.
The rural white minority's hold on the legislature continued, however, suppressing attempts by more progressive elements to modernize the state. A study in 1960 concluded 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." Legislators and others mounted challenges in the 1960s. It took years and Federal court intervention to achieve the redistricting necessary to establishing "one man, one vote" representation.
In 1960 on the eve of important civil rights battles, 30% of Alabama's population was African American or 980,000.
As Birmingham was the center of industry and population in Alabama, in 1963 civil rights leaders chose to mount a campaign there for desegregation. Schools, restaurants and department stores were segregated; no African Americans were hired to work in the stores where they shopped or in the city government supported in part by their taxes. There were no African-American members of the police force. Despite segregation, African Americans had been advancing economically. In response, independent groups affiliated with the KKK bombed transitional residential neighborhoods to discourage blacks' moving into them.
To help with the campaign and secure national attention, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth invited members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to Birmingham to help change its leadership's policies. Non-violent action had produced good results in some other cities. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker, his executive director; and other leaders came to Birmingham to help.
In the spring and summer of 1963, national attention became riveted on Birmingham. The media covered the series of peaceful marches that the Birmingham police, headed by Police Commissioner Bull Connor, attempted to divert and control. King intended to fill the jails with nonviolent protesters to make a moral argument to the United States. Dramatic images of Birmingham police using dogs and powerful streams of water against children protesters filled newspapers and television coverage, arousing national outrage. The 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, which killed four Africa-American girls, caused a national outcry and gained support for the civil rights cause in the state. 16th Street Baptist Church had been a rallying point for civil rights activities in Birmingham prior to the bombing. Finally, Birmingham leaders King and Shuttlesworth agreed to end the marches when the businessmen's group committed to end segregation.
The Selma to Montgomery marches and other calls for African-American equality in the state contributed to the Kennedy Administration's preparing civil rights legislation. It was finally entered into law in 1964 when President Lyndon Johnson helped secure its passage and signed the Civil Rights Act. The following year, Congressional passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act gained federal enforcement of the constitutional right to vote for all citizens.
Court challenges related to "one man, one vote" and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 finally provided the groundwork for Federal court rulings. In 1972 it required the legislature to create a statewide redistricting plan in order to correct the imbalances in representation in the legislature related to population patterns. Redistricting, together with federal oversight of voter registration and election practices, enabled hundreds of thousands of Alabama citizens, both black and white, to vote and participate for the first time in the political system.