Alabama – The Yellowhammer State


Alabama is a state in the southeastern region of the United States.  It is bordered by Tennessee to the north, Georgia to the east, Florida and the Gulf of Mexico to the south, and Mississippi to the west.

Alabama in the United States

Alabama is the 30th largest by area and the 24th-most populous of the U.S. states. Alabama’s capital is Montgomery.

State Capitol Montgomery

The largest city by population is Birmingham, which has long been the most industrialized city. The oldest city is Mobile, founded by French colonists in 1702 as the capital of French Louisiana.


From the American Civil War until World War II, Alabama, like many states in the southern U.S., suffered economic hardship, in part because of its continued dependence on agriculture.  Following World War II, Alabama grew as the state’s economy changed from one primarily based on agriculture to one with diversified interests. The state’s economy in the 21st century is based on management, automotive, finance, manufacturing, aerospace, mineral extraction, healthcare, education, retail, and technology.

Origins of the State Name:

The European-American naming of the Alabama River and state was derived from the Alabama people, a Muskogean-speaking tribe whose members lived just below the confluence of the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers on the upper reaches of the river.  In the Alabama language, the word for a person of Alabama lineage is Albaamo.  The first usage appears in three accounts of the Hernando de Soto expedition of 1540.  As early as 1702, the French called the tribe the Alibamon, with French maps identifying the river as Rivière des Alibamons.


Pre-European Contact:

Indigenous peoples of varying cultures lived in the area for thousands of years before the advent of European colonization.

Russell Cave Features Evidence of Humans from 6550 BCE

Trade with the northeastern tribes by 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 built at what is now the Moundville Archaeological Site in Moundville, Alabama.  This is the second-largest complex of the classic Middle Mississippian era, after Cahokia in present-day Illinois, which was the center of the culture.

Moundville Site

Among the historical tribes of Native American people living in present-day Alabama at the time of European contact were the Cherokee, an Iroquoian language people; and the Muskogean-speaking Alabama (Alibamu), Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Koasati.  While part of the same large language family, the Muskogee tribes developed distinct cultures and languages.

European settlement:

With exploration in the 16th century, the Spanish were the first Europeans to reach Alabama.  The expedition of Hernando de Soto passed through Mabila and other parts of the state in 1540.  More than 160 years later, the French founded the region’s first European settlement at Old Mobile in 1702.  The city was moved to the current site of Mobile in 1711. This area was claimed by the French from 1702 to 1763 as part of La Louisiane.

After the French lost to the British in the Seven Years’ War, it became part of British West Florida from 1763 to 1783.

British West Florida

After the United States victory in the American Revolutionary War, the territory was divided between the United States and Spain.  The latter retained control of this western territory from 1783 until the surrender of the Spanish garrison at Mobile to U.S. forces on April 13, 1813.

What are now the counties of Baldwin and Mobile became part of Spanish West Florida in 1783, part of the independent Republic of West Florida in 1810, and was finally added to the Mississippi Territory in 1812.

Spanish West Florida

Most of what is now the northern two-thirds of Alabama was known as the Yazoo lands beginning during the British colonial period. It was claimed by the Province of Georgia from 1767 onwards. Following the Revolutionary War, it remained a part of Georgia, although heavily disputed.

With the exception of the area around Mobile and the Yazoo lands, what is now the lower one-third Alabama was made part of the Mississippi Territory when it was organized in 1798.  The Yazoo lands were added to the territory in 1804.  Spain kept a claim on its former Spanish West Florida territory in what would become the coastal counties until the Adams–Onís Treaty officially ceded it to the United States in 1819.

Adams Onis Treaty

Early 19th Century:

Before Mississippi’s admission to statehood on December 10, 1817, the more sparsely settled eastern half of the territory was separated and named the Alabama Territory.  The United States Congress created the Alabama Territory on March 3, 1817.

Mississippi and Alabama Territories

Alabama was admitted as the 22nd state on December 14, 1819.

Alabama Fever was underway when the state was admitted to the Union, with settlers and land speculators pouring into the state to take advantage of fertile land suitable for cotton cultivation.  Alabama had an estimated population of under 10,000 people in 1810, but it increased to more than 300,000 people by 1830.  Most Native American tribes were completely removed from the state within a few years of the passage of the Indian Removal Act by Congress in 1830.

Civil War and Reconstruction:

On January 11, 1861, Alabama declared its secession from the Union.  After remaining an independent republic for a few days, it joined the Confederate States of America.  The Confederacy’s capital was initially at Montgomery.


Alabama was heavily involved in the American Civil War.  Although comparatively few battles were fought in the state, Alabama contributed about 120,000 soldiers to the war effort.

Union Troops in Huntsville 1864

Following the war, the state remained chiefly agricultural, with an economy tied to cotton.

Alabama Cotton Fields

Reconstruction in Alabama ended in 1874, when the Democrats regained control of the legislature and governor’s office through an election dominated by fraud and violence.  In 1875 legislation was approved that called for racially segregated schools.  Railroad passenger cars were segregated in 1891.  After disfranchising most African Americans and many poor whites in the 1901 constitution, the Alabama legislature passed more Jim Crow laws at the beginning of the 20th century to impose segregation in everyday life.

20th Century:

While the planter class had persuaded poor whites to vote for this legislative effort to suppress black voting, the new restrictions resulted in their disenfranchisement as well, due mostly to the imposition of a cumulative poll tax.  By 1941, whites constituted a slight majority of those disenfranchised by these laws.  Despite numerous legal challenges that succeeded in overturning certain provisions, the state legislature would create new ones to maintain disenfranchisement. The exclusion of blacks from the political system persisted until after passage of federal civil rights legislation in 1965 to enforce their constitutional rights as citizens.

Continued racial discrimination and lynching, agricultural depression, and the failure of the cotton crops due to boll weevil infestation led tens of thousands of African Americans from rural Alabama and other states to seek opportunities in northern and Midwestern cities during the early decades of the 20th century as part of the Great Migration out of the South.

Second Great Migration Map

At the same time, many rural people migrated to the city of Birmingham to work in new industrial jobs. Birmingham experienced such rapid growth that it was called the “Magic City”.  Heavy industry and mining were the basis of its economy.

Birmingham in 1915

Industrial development related to the demands of World War II brought a level of prosperity to the state not seen since before the civil war.  Rural workers poured into the largest cities in the state for better jobs and a higher standard of living.  This economic trend continues into the 21st century.


Alabama is the thirtieth-largest state in the United States with 52,419 square miles of total area.  About three-fifths of the land area is a gentle plain with a general descent towards the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.  The North Alabama region is mostly mountainous, with the Tennessee River cutting a large valley and creating numerous creeks, streams, rivers, mountains, and lakes.

The state ranges in elevation from sea level at Mobile Bay to over 1,800 feet in the Appalachian Mountains in the northeast.

The highest point is Mount Cheaha, at a height of 2,413 ft.

Mount Cheaha


The state has invested in aerospace, education, health care, banking, and various heavy industries, including automobile manufacturing, mineral extraction, steel production and fabrication.  By 2006, crop and animal production in Alabama was valued at $1.5 billion.  In contrast to the primarily agricultural economy of the previous century, this was only about 1% of the state’s gross domestic product.  The number of private farms has declined at a steady rate since the 1960s, as land has been sold to developers, timber companies, and large farming conglomerates.

Birmingham Financial District

The five employers that employed the most employees in Alabama in April 2011 were: Redstone Arsenal, University of Alabama at Birmingham (includes UAB Hospital), Maxwell Air Force Base, State of Alabama, and Mobile County Public School System.


Alabama’s agricultural outputs include poultry and eggs, cattle, fish, plant nursery items, peanuts, cotton, grains such as corn and sorghum, vegetables, milk, soybeans, and peaches. Although known as “The Cotton State”, Alabama ranks between eighth and tenth in national cotton production, according to various reports.


Alabama’s industrial outputs include iron and steel products (including cast-iron and steel pipe); paper, lumber, and wood products; mining (mostly coal); plastic products; cars and trucks; and apparel.  In addition, Alabama produces aerospace and electronic products, mostly in the Huntsville area, the location of NASA’s George C. Marshall Space Flight Center and the U.S. Army Materiel Command, headquartered at Redstone Arsenal.

Marshall Space Flight Center

Mercedes-Benz U.S. International in Tuscaloosa County was the first automotive facility to locate within the state.

Mercedes Benz in Alabama

A great deal of Alabama’s economic growth since the 1990s has been due to the state’s expanding automotive manufacturing industry.  Located in the state are Honda Manufacturing of Alabama, Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama, Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, and Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama, as well as their various suppliers.  Since 1993, the automobile industry has generated more than 67,800 new jobs in the state. Alabama currently ranks 4th in the nation for vehicle exports.

Hyundai Motors in Alabama

Construction of an Airbus A320 family aircraft assembly plant in Mobile was formally announced by Airbus CEO Fabrice Brégier from the Mobile Convention Center on July 2, 2012. The plans include a $600 million factory at the Brookley Aeroplex for the assembly of the A319, A320 and A321 aircraft. Construction began in 2013, with plans for it to become operable by 2015 and produce up to 50 aircraft per year by 2017. The assembly plant is the company’s first factory to be built within the United States.

Airbus in Alabama


Alabama’s beaches are one of the state’s major tourist destinations.

Alabama Beaches

An estimated 20 million tourists visit the state each year. Over 100,000 of these are from other countries, including from Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany and Japan.  In 2006, 22.3 million travelers spent $8.3 billion providing an estimated 162,000 jobs in the state.  Some of the most popular areas include the Rocket City of Huntsville, the beaches along the Gulf, and the state’s capitol in Montgomery.


UAB Hospital is the only Level I trauma center in Alabama.  UAB is the largest state government employer in Alabama, with a workforce of about 18,000.

UAB Hospital



Major airports with sustained commercial operations in Alabama include Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport (BHM), Huntsville International Airport (HSV), Dothan Regional Airport (DHN), Mobile Regional Airport (MOB), Montgomery Regional Airport (MGM), and Muscle Shoals – Northwest Alabama Regional Airport (MSL).

Birmingham Airport


For rail transport, Amtrak schedules the Crescent, a daily passenger train, running from New York to New Orleans with station stops at Anniston, Birmingham, and Tuscaloosa.


Alabama has six major interstate roads that cross the state: Interstate 65 (I-65) I-20, I-59, I-85, I-10, I-22.


The Port of Mobile, Alabama’s only saltwater port, is a large seaport on the Gulf of Mexico with inland waterway access to the Midwest by way of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.

Flag of Alabama:

The current flag of the state of Alabama, the second in Alabama state history, was adopted by Act 383 of the Alabama state legislature on February 16, 1895:

The flag of the State of Alabama shall be a crimson cross of St. Andrew on a field of white.  The bars forming the cross shall be not less than six inches broad, and must extend diagonally across the flag from side to side.”

Flag of Alabama

The cross of St. Andrew referred to in the law is a diagonal cross, known in vexillology as a saltire.

On January 11, 1861, the Alabama Secession Convention passed a resolution designating an official flag. Designed by several women from Montgomery, final touches were made by Francis Corra of that city.  One side of the flag displayed the Goddess of Liberty holding an unsheathed sword in her right hand; in her left she held a small blue flag with one gold star.  Above the gold star appears the text “Alabama” in all capital letters.  In an arch above this figure were the words “Independent Now and Forever”.

First Flag of Alabama Obverse

The reverse side of the flag had a cotton plant with a coiled rattlesnake.  The text “Noli Me Tangere”, (“Touch Me Not” in Latin), was placed below the cotton plant.

First Flag of Alabama Reverse

This flag was flown until February 10, 1861, when it was removed to the Governor’s Office after it was damaged by severe weather. It was never flown again.

Alabama’s current flag was adopted in 1895.  The legislation was introduced by Representative John W. A. Sanford Jr.  Sanford’s father, John W. A. Sanford, had commanded the 60th Alabama Infantry Regiment during the U.S. Civil War and he modeled his design on the battle flag used by that regiment.  The design of that regimental flag was a white saltire over a blue field with a circle of white stars surrounding the crossing.

The saltire of Alabama’s flag most closely resembles the saltire of the flag of Florida, which has its heritage in the Spanish Cross of Burgundy.

Spanish Cross of Burgundy

Southern Alabama was originally part of Spanish Florida and subsequently West Florida.

Origins of the State Nickname:

Alabama has not designated an official nickname, but it has been called “The Yellowhammer State” since the Civil War, when a company of Alabama soldiers wore uniforms trimmed with yellow cloth and were nicknamed “Yellowhammers.”  “Yellowhammer” is the common name for the northern flicker, because of the bright yellow feathers that flash beneath this bird’s wings and tail woodpecker, which is also the state bird of Alabama.

Northern Flicker

It is open to debate whether the origins of the state nickname rest in the Civil War uniforms or in the plumage of the official state bird.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top