History of Birmingham, Alabama

The city of Birmingham, Alabama goes all the way back to 1871, the year it was founded. The town was formed when three farm towns merged into one during the Reconstruction period. Birmingham continued to grow, accumulating neighboring towns and becoming a powerful industrial center. Birmingham specialized in the industries of mining, iron, and steel, as well as railroads.

Birmingham was settled by people who were largely of English ancestry. Likewise, Birmingham, Alabama drew its name from the original Birmingham of England, which happened to be one of England’s largest industrial cities. Some say that the city was so successful due to its ability to employ cheap labor from the more rural parts of the state and put laborers to work in the industry, which certainly gave it an edge over the industries in New England and the Midwest. Regardless, Birmingham continued to grow and thrive. It experienced a prolific growth from 1881-1920 that prompted the nickname ‘The Magic City’ and ‘The Pittsburgh of the South’, due to its large population and focus on iron, steel, and railroading. By the 1960s, it had become one of the largest industrial centers in the South.

Notable Events In The History of Birmingham, Alabama

Birmingham eventually became the center of much of struggle for African-Americans’ civil rights in the fifties and sixties. Fred Shuttlesworth, a preacher, was one of Birmingham’s strongest proponents of the movement. Birmingham experienced several bombings related to the civil rights issue, some even calling Birmingham “Bombingham” as a result. Shuttlesworth believed in being fearless in the face of violence. Shuttlesworth co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and invited Martin Luther King, Jr. to come to Birmingham in 1863, where King had once been a pastor. They launched “Project C” (the “c” for Confrontation”), and held daily sit ins and mass marches, met with attack, arrests, and police repression. These events eventually led to desegregation and the famous Civil Rights Act of 1964.

King also wrote the famous Letter from Birmingham Jail in Birmingham, and the city experienced another bombing that killed four African-American girls at the 16th Street Baptist Church. The bombing inspired Dudley Randall’s poem, “The Ballad of Birmingham”, and the song “Alabama” by jazz musician John Coltrane. Birmingham also was the site of the Birmingham Pledge in 1998, a community commitment against prejudice and racism, which attorney James Rotch introduced at the Martin Luther King Unity Breakfast and has been adapted in every state in the U.S. and over 20 countries abroad.

Birmingham Today

Today, Birmingham is actually the largest city in Alabama. From humble beginnings, the city has risen to a healthy population of over 200,000 people, with the Birmingham-Hoover Metropolitan area being home to well over a million people as well. Birmingham’s economy also continued to diversify as it moved into the twentieth century. Today, Birmingham has a thriving manufacturing industry, as well as electric, medical care, college, banking, telecommunications, and insurance industries, among others. It is a large center of business and is home to six companies in the Fortune 1000. It is home to a mix of suburbs and city, with an impressive skyline. It is also a thriving home to culture, boasting dance, theater, museums, art, festivals and more. From humble industrial beginnings, Birmingham has evolved into a diverse and lively city, home to industry and Alabamians alike.