Alabama- America from A-Z

Alabama, America’s twenty-second state was admitted into the Union on December 14, 1819. Early explorers first visited the area in the early sixteenth century, and their interactions with the residing Native Americans were tolerated if not exceedingly friendly. Greeted by what is now called the Mobile River Delta, fifty-three miles of coastline, and moving inland toward beautiful rolling plains, plentiful forests, and mountains, the original explorers would not have been able to resist sharing the news of such an inviting territory. Already home to the Cherokee, Seminole, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Creek tribes, the eventual and inevitable arrival of white settlers was met with hostility, particularly by the Creeks. Native Americans did not appreciate the customs of the white settlers, nor did they embrace giving up the free range of their land.

Division of the Creek Tribe accompanied the consistent arrival of the white settlers. What became the Lower Creeks was the portion of the tribe that assimilated to the ways of the white settlers, accustomed themselves to the settlements being constructed around them, and most importantly desired peace in the area. The Upper Creeks, however, held onto their traditions and wanted nothing to do with the strange customs of the white men. Additionally, they resented the settler’s presence, and their attempts to take more and more land from the tribes who lived there.

The disagreement between the Upper and Lower Creeks could not be resolved. Even the great Tecumseh, the leader of the Shawnee from the Great Lakes area failed to unite the two groups when he made a special visit specifically for that purpose. Tecumseh’s attempt at reuniting the native tribes was a rallying cry to war against the expansion of European settlements. Many Native Americans did use violence in opposition to the settlers, but it is said that a lack of organization and fighting between the tribes made it possible for U.S. troops to easily take over the region in 1814. The Creek, who been fighting against each other since 1813, found themselves at insurmountable odds with each other. Fifty years prior, the Native Americans had joined together in opposition to the settlers while the French and the British fought for control of the vast territories around them. The territories were then divided between the two. It seems those who made the decisions also compiled the treaties.

General Andrew Jackson’s successful foray against the Creek warriors led by William Weatherford (Red Eagle) resulted in the seizure of Creek lands after the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. Three years later, Congress would divide and organize the territory for further settlement. The native Americans were forced to make room. Less than 15 years later, Native American’s would find themselves relocated by the government to the state now known as Oklahoma.

At the onset of the Civil War, the state of Alabama seceded from the Union. Montgomery, Alabama even served as the Confederacy’s capital for three months before being relocated in Richmond, Virginia. Alabama’s pride at housing their new government and sorrow at its loss was soon replaced with relief as it became evident that had Montgomery continued to act as the Confederacy’s capital, both Montgomery and central Alabama would have been prime targets for battles between the North and the South.

There were few major battles in Alabama, the most important being the Battle of Mobile Bay. Union interest in the state was focused on gaining control of the Tennessee River, blocking Mobile’s port, destruction of the iron works, and cutting access to railroad lines. In essence, the North did not need to do battle in the state, but they did need to control it, and they did succeed. The people of Alabama experienced shortages of both food and supplies as they were essentially cut off from the world. Goods could not get in, and they could not get out. Prices soared.

It is estimated that as many as 100,000 white Alabamians fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War and that as many as 70,000 were either killed or disabled. Alabama’s state bird, the Yellowhammer, is a woodpecker. It was given the name yellowhammer in honor of the Alabama soldiers who “hammered” the Union during the Civil War and wore uniforms with yellow trim. The numbers above do not include the 2,700 white or 10,000 black Alabamians who fought for the North.

Alabama’s years of Reconstruction were long and labored. The years of Civil War had left the state in dire straits both economically and socially. Fields had been destroyed by troops, and crops that hadn’t been destroyed lacked the laborers to harvest them as the slaves were freed at the end of the war. Tension between the white Alabamians who’d fought against the emancipation of the slaves and the newly freed African Americans was constant. Not-to-mention, the destruction of the relationships between neighbors who had taken opposing sides during the war. Healing would be a long process for everyone.

Other problems facing the state were political, causing even more problems for the residents of a state that only wished to move on with their lives and rebuild. National and state politicians engaged in a struggle for power. Three state constitutions were written, rejected, and rewritten. Violence was common, election fraud a given, and yet Alabama moved on. The state seal became a bone of contention, as the congress replaced the original territorial seal that had been in use and unchanged for fifty years. A simple map of the territory that had been chosen at the state’s induction was replaced by an eagle perched on the United States seal. In its beak, a banner reading “Here We Rest,” encircled by the words Alabama Great Seal. The change in seals lasted 71 years before in 1939, a bill was presented to restore the original. The bill passed unanimously, and the past became the present.

Alabama’s coat of arms, designed in 1923 and introduced to the state legislature in 1939 is a history lesson in itself. The coat of arms pictures the United States shield and flag, surrounded by the emblems of the five different governments that have had control over the state at one time or another. Spain, France, and Great Britain are represented by flags, as is its time as a Confederate state. Although Spain was responsible for the region’s earliest explorations, colonization is marked by the model of a French ship in honor of the colonists who settled near what is now Mobile. The French were the first to establish European settlements in the area. Eagles support the shield and symbolize the courage of all Alabamians, and their motto, “Audemus jura nostra defendere,” is written across a yellow ribbon. “We dare defend our rights,” I dare to say that I believe them.

The Alabama state flag is a basic field of white, emblazoned by the crimson cross of St. Andrew the Apostle. Accepted by the legislature of Alabama on February 16, 1895, the flag is embraced and proudly flown by the state’s citizens. By law, all departments or agencies supported by state funds are required to display the state on appropriate poles near the main entrances of their buildings. The Alabama state flag and the flag of the United States of America are required to be flown at all public schools, courthouses, state offices, and municipal building throughout the state.

Once known as the “cotton state,” Alabama was the twenty-second state admitted to the Union on December 14, 1819. For years, farmers planted cotton almost exclusively, and then came a small, invasive insect called the boll weevil. Multiplying quickly, the boll weevil killed off the cotton crop in a short period of time; cotton production halted, and what was initially seen as an agricultural catastrophe changed the state forever. The boll weevil, originally detested for its extensive destruction later became immortalized in the city of Enterprise’s town square, where a large statue was erected in honor of the bug’s contributions to the state. Because of the boll weevil, farmers expanded their horizons, began planting different crops (peanuts, corn, soybeans) and started raising livestock.

Travelers in Alabama are exposed to a wealth of opportunities. The Gulf Shores is known for its sugar-white beaches, outdoor recreational activities, and scrumptious seafood. Orange Beach (on the Gulf of Mexico) is the gateway to the bayous and inner bays of Perdido Pass and home to the Orange Beach Indian and Sea Museum, the Orange Beach Art Center, and the ever popular Adventure Island. Dauphin Island, also located on the Gulf of Mexico, is a birdwatcher’s haven. Set on 160 acres, the Audubon Bird Sanctuary boasts many trails and diverse habitations in which you can observe 445 documented bird species.

If you prefer a major city to be your destination of choice, Alabama has no shortage. History buffs can peruse the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute or the Vulcan Park & Museum (home to the biggest cast iron statue in the world) [1]. Whereas, budding scientists might enjoy the four floors of hands on activities at the McWane Science Center. Birmingham also claims fame to having the largest zoo in the state and numerous golf courses.

Huntsville, Alabama, the state’s fourth largest city, is the esteemed birthplace of the United States Space Program. While there, you can also visit the North Alabama Railroad Museum, journey back through time at the Alabama Constitution Village, or experience 19th Century farm life by making a day trip to Burritt on the Mountain.

The city seal of Montgomery, the state’s capital, describes the city’s history in only a few words. The seal, a simple six-pointed star, contains the words; “Cradle of the Confederacy,” “Birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement,” and “City of Montgomery.” As the birthplace of America’s Confederate States, the Confederate flag made its debut in 1861. While strolling through the Capitol building, you might just find yourself in the footsteps of those who have preceded you. Places of interest nearby include, the First White House of the Confederacy, the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, the Freedom Rides Museum and the Rosa Parks Museum.

Thus, I will end the first state in our series “America From A-Z.” I hope you have enjoyed the journey. Next up…… Alaska.


[1] Top 5 Sites in Birmingham – Naady Travel, (accessed May 9, 2014).