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Alabama’s History

Early Alabama

People have been living in Alabama for thousands of years. One location in Alabama has proof that prehistoric Native Americans existed there 10,000 years ago. Today, this location is preserved as the Russell Cave National Monument. The cave provided shelter for these people, while the surrounding forest provided them with food and fuel. The artifacts from the cave indicate that the site was inhabited almost continuously from that time.

Alabama was populated by many Native American groups when Europeans arrived in the 1500s. These Native Americans were mostly unaffected until the French established a permanent settlement in 1699. In the 1700s many more Europeans moved into the area. Eventually these new residents would clash with various Native American groups, many of whom were organized as the Creek Confederacy.

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Alabama Becomes a State

Alabama became the twenty-second state of the Union on December 14, 1819. Previous to this date, however, American settlers had been living in Alabama for many years. The Alabama Territory was created in 1817 when Congress divided the Mississippi Territory. It took two years for the territorial government to reach statehood.

In July of 1819, the Constitutional Convention met in Huntsville and adopted the state constitution. In September, Alabama held its first general election for its governor and legislators. In October, the General Assembly, Alabama’s state legislative body, met for the first time in Huntsville. At this time a capitol building was being constructed in Cahaba. All of these events were steps required for Alabama to become a state. On December 14, 1819, statehood was officially declared.

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Growth and Development

The history of Alabama shows that its economy, like most Southern states, was largely based on agriculture until the mid-1900s. The famous “Black Belt” in the center of the state was known for its cotton plantations. The term “Black Belt” is used to describe the southern cotton-growing regions, defined by the color of the soil and for the enslaved workers who worked the fields. The Civil War caused much destruction throughout Alabama, and the state was slow to recover afterwards. The farming practice of sharecropping kept many residents in poverty for decades. The Depression hurt the cotton industry further.

However, Alabama grew stronger during the twentieth century. Two world wars contributed to increased industrialization across the state. The federal and state governments built many roads, canals, and electric lines that helped bring Alabama into the modern era. Organizations like the Tennessee Valley Authority brought electricity into millions of homes throughout Alabama.

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Modern Alabama

During the twentieth century, coal mines and steel mills began to contribute to Alabama’s economy. The increasing industrialization of Alabama has made the state’s economy depend more on manufacturing and other modern industries. Alabama now exports billions of dollars of non-agricultural goods. To accompany the state’s economic successes, the state has also enjoyed population growth above the national average.

Today, Alabama enjoys a rich reputation, celebrated for everything from the civil rights movement to the Talladega Motor Speedway. The Marshall Space Flight Center is known for its pioneering research into space travel. The coast of Alabama is known for its recreational opportunities. Alabama’s temperate climate continues to draw new residents and industries.

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Economic and Political Change

While many new industries are thriving in urban areas, smaller towns are experiencing economic problems. The change from agriculture to manufacturing has caused many small farming towns to become even smaller or to die. People have moved to cities in order to find jobs. The governments of the United States and Alabama have joined to try to aid smaller communities. There are tax incentives for businesses that open manufacturing facilities in rural communities. The opening of a new highway through central Alabama also promises to bring new economic opportunities. The automotive industry, including companies from overseas, has already shown interest in opening plants in rural areas, giving new hope to residents for a boost in their economy.

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Timeline of Alabama History

A.D. 1519 Alonso Alvarez de Pineda, a Spanish explorer, sails into Mobile Bay.  
1540 Hernando de Soto leads an expedition through the interior of Alabama.  
ca. 1600 Beginning of the rise of the historic native groups of Alabama  
1699 First permanent European settlement established by the French near Mobile.  
1763 Great Britain takes most of the French colony of Louisiana in war.  
1812 United States seizes the Mobile region from Spain.  
1819 Alabama becomes 22nd State.  
1861 Alabama secedes from the Union, declaring the Republic of Alabama.  
1880 Alabama’s first blast furnace begins operating in Birmingham.  
1909 Wright Brothers establish flying school near Montgomery.  
1917 During World War I, shipbuilding becomes important in Mobile.  
1933 Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) created by the federal government.  
1935 Kudzu planted in Alabama to reduce soil erosion.  
1955-1956 Martin Luther King, Jr., directs the Montgomery bus boycott.  
1960 George C. Marshall Space Flight Center at Huntsville established.  
1965 King leads a protest march from Selma to Montgomery.  
2002 Bob Riley elected governor of Alabama.  

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