Treaty of Fort Jackson Whereas some historians have considered the land-hungry migrants from neighboring southern states such as Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, and the Carolinas as "settlers," other historians view the settlement of Alabama differently. They perceive the migration phenomenon commonly referred to as "catching Alabama fever " as a second wave of in-migration that built upon roughly two centuries of European encroachment.
Fueling this influx during the early s was the idea commonly held among white migrants that this new territory represented a frontier filled with opportunity. In the Old Southwest, the possibility of a new beginning enticed migrants whose opportunities for land ownership had narrowed in older southern states.
In addition to the poorer whites looking for cheap land came the sons of Virginia and South Carolina planters as well as those who had settled briefly in Georgia, such as members of the Broad River Group. These men carried with them the capital to establish themselves as the frontier's social and political elites. Emerging conflicts between these two classes of new migrants manifested themselves in land sales and the creation of the state's first constitution.
Men from various social classes, including experienced statesmen like John W. Walker as well as frontiersmen like Samuel Dale, gathered in July at a constitutional convention held in the temporary capital city of Huntsville. In the subsequent constitution, delegates combined elements of self-interest and republican idealism in measures that included legalizing slavery and designating public lands for educational institutions. The document rejected the restrictive nature of other emerging southern legal systems, such as those of Mississippi and Louisiana, where limitations on suffrage and imprisonment for debts were quite common.
Under this new constitution, Alabama was granted statehood on December 14, and William Wyatt Bibb was elected the state's first governor. William Wyatt Bibb In frontier Alabama, and throughout its formative period, political ideologies clashed and co-mingled as politicians attempted to form a state government that all members of the body politic could support.
Alabama's early governors and party stalwarts embraced these ideological debates as interest-group politics emerged. The majority of elite Alabamians concentrated in the Black Belt and in Huntsville supported the "Georgia faction," led by the state's first governor, William Wyatt Bibb , and his brother and successor Governor Thomas Bibb ; individuals from the middling and lower classes sided with governors Israel Pickens and John Murphy as they championed the interests of the "common man" versus those of the landed and monied elite.
Early Alabama possessed an active journalistic culture that offered a venue for many of these early political debates to take place. Various newspapers like the Cahawba Press and Alabama Intelligencer and Huntsville's Alabama Republican and Huntsville Democrat demonstrated the regional splits that expanded during Alabama's early decades.
This conflict for consensus seems to be most clearly expressed during the negotiations for the permanent seat of the state's capital. Nevertheless, early Alabamians could act collectively when the opportunity to fashion themselves as frontier yet civilized and cultured Americans presented itself. Alabamians long delighted in retelling how they entertained the hero the American and French Revolutions even as the experience left the young state facing an exorbitant debt.
Slavery emerged as the dominant labor system in Alabama, driven by the state's rapidly developing cotton economy, and it had a significant impact on Alabamians in the Tennessee River Valley and those of the Tombigbee and Alabama River Valleys alike. By , Alabama's population had swelled to more than , persons, with slaves making up 31 percent of the total, or nearly 40, individuals.
State politics in the s centered on debates about the proposed creation of a state bank engineered by Gov. Israel Pickens. The banking institutions within the state were directly linked to the plight of fledgling planters and frontier yeomen who seemingly divided in the s as the Black-Belt region grew in economic and political importance.
But the voices of Mobile are familiar.
The states and the nations series, of which this volume is a part, is designed to assist the American people in a serious look at the ideals they have espoused. Once the home of aboriginal inhabitants, Alabama was claimed and occupied by European nations, later to become a permanent part of the United States.
They drawl like we do. And there is the selfsame, self-conscious elegance. States have identities despite the arbitrariness of their borders. Perhaps that is part of what led Zora Neale Hurston to turn away from Alabama and claim only Florida. She also did not think about Southern Black folks the way Murray did. Murray was insistent on our distinctively American identity. Hurston was always tracing the African. Although Hurston was interested in the traces of Africa in the Americas, she did see a significant difference between the Africatown Africans and African Americans.
The Africans never lost their homesickness. Implicitly she showed that Africans in Alabama, who built their own world—Africatown—were, if not literally like the rest of us, exactly who we were. The echoing horror of slavery cuts both ways. We are often afraid to say what we know is true. The South is disaster and it is also miracle. Death and birth and rebirth and haunting ghosts at once. A new people out of old ones. There is no better metaphor for this than what happens sometimes in baby-foot Mobile Bay in the summer.
Before dawn, crustaceans, eels, sea crabs, and fish, a mess of them, swarm close to shore, wriggling and near-naked. This is called a jubilee. And people joyfully come and scoop up the bounty. Feasts follow. There is a horrifying poetry.
In the gospel music tradition, Jubilee is the victorious day when the saints gather. In Mobile Bay, it is a day when the fish are slaughtered by the hundreds. If you drive from Mobile to Birmingham, you can take the interstate, 65, which would bring you through Montgomery, the capital, the home of Rosa Parks, the site of the bus boycott and Martin Luther King Jr.
Or you can take local Alabama roads.
The roads less taken are instructive. On another route, about an hour west, is a little-known place called Uniontown. It is in the Black Belt of Alabama, a region of double meaning: named for rich soil and the poorest people, slaves and later the barely emancipated Black sharecroppers and convicts leased out to do the hellish work of clearing land.
The Black Belt is drier than the rest of Alabama. Yet thick forests remain even this many years after the wreckage that was king cotton. There are legions of cypress, oak, and loblolly trees, purple blazing star flowers, and all sorts of animals, especially the massive bucks that hunters pridefully kill. Nearly two centuries ago, statesmen carved Alabama out of Mississippi, and then pushed out the indigenous—Cherokee and Creek—at the edge of bayonets.
In swarmed the slavers hungry for cotton wealth in the nineteenth century. And that sensibility, although with some labor, still breathes. The Black towns in the Black Belt are now dumping grounds—of fantasies and waste.
In random assortment through the woods there are abandoned cars rusted to the color of dried blood, and stacks of old unwanted papers. But worst is what comes from out of state. Matter of fact, our nation has turned Uniontown, Alabama, into one of its trash cans, burying it in the refuse of thirty-three states. The town is showered in shit.
All artifacts fade in favor of what grows wild. The next lowest density state, Wyoming, has a density of 5. Moore is affectionate for slavery as well as for Jim Crow and young girls, and grins goofily at his own hateful evangelical mysticism. Print Page. It is bordered by Tennessee to the north, Georgia to the east, and Mississippi to the west. The Outer Banks, home to America's first colony and where the first manned flight took off, are a tourist mecca because of their beaches, state parks, and shipwreck diving sites.
A fact of modern living is that the least valued carry the heaviest burden. And the dead are killed once again. The graveyard of generations of Black Uniontown residents, since before the Civil War, stands right outside the landfill gates, where descendants worry about the graves being disturbed, despite the corporate promise to treat the departed with respect.
It has become harder to honor them. And, in truth, we are all probably somewhat ashamed to face them. In preparation for a lynching museum in Montgomery, helmed by the civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson, jars of Alabama earth have been collected from the sites of lynchings all over the state. Lined up, they are a hauntingly beautiful array of colors, from jet black to rust and copper. The red clay soil of Alabama, a form of ultisol, is produced by intense weathering, season after season with no new soil. Change the joke, slip the yoke, then they find a new yoke.
Propose strangulation by trash and shit when the ropes will no longer do, and everyone, even the holier-than-thou North, will pitch in with their leavings. That is what the nation does to my state. Except for on the King holiday weekend in January. And then the ossified sculpture of Alabama is brought out, shiny, stoic, and noble, and broadcast nationally. The candidates theatrically walk over the Edmund Pettus Bridge during a celebration called the Jubilee, in remembrance of the Selma-to-Montgomery march.
Alabama organizers have literally never stopped fighting. Sometimes I have traveled by train, sometimes by bus. But mostly by air. As time went on and I grew older, I traveled in jeans and then in yoga pants. Instead of me being in tow, my own children are now in tow. Still, every time I step off the plane I am disoriented. My eyes are not prepared. The airport looks brand spanking new.
It is at odds with my personal memory and the public memorial both. For the nation, as Montgomery lives in , Selma is frozen in , and Birmingham is stuck in —the hoses, the children, the singing—right there just like that forever. I know because I have been going home and leaving home almost all my life. History haunts. But Alabama changes. Almost everything looks different.