Alabama was made famous around the world by Skynyrd’s 1974 hit song “Sweet Home Alabama”. It was allegedly written to emphasize the lovelier side of Alabama – its blue skies and idyllic charms – given the notoriety the state had gained for its segregation laws during the Civil Rights movement. Like other southern states, Alabama’s past has been marked by a long struggle with civil rights, from its Confederate days when it opposed the abolition of slavery, to the 1960s when it opposed desegregation. Today, however, the stench of racial division is much less than in former days, and this “Heart of Dixie” offers visitors the warmth of southern hospitality, the tropical allure of Gulf Coast beaches, and the historic attractions of Civil War trails and Civil Rights museums.
Alabama was once dominated by Native American tribes such as the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Creek who lived in the area since at least 1000 BC. The French were the first Europeans to establish a settlement in Alabama in 1702 when they set up a village in present-day Mobile. The British took control of the French claim in 1763 after defeating them in the Seven Years War. But Alabama became part of the United States after the Revolutionary War. In 1819, it was admitted as a state.
During the 19th century, the state’s rich farmlands of its central region, known as the “Black Belt”, were turned into cotton plantations worked by African American slaves. Towns along the Tennessee River like Selma, Montgomery, and the state’s only Gulf Coast port at the time, Mobile, grew significantly to support the transport of cotton. During the Civil War, Alabama joined the Confederacy and contributed hundreds of thousands of troops. After the war, Alabama became a poor rural state. It was briefly run by “Carpetbaggers” (freed slaves and northern unionists) but was soon taken over by Conservative Democrats who denied suffrage to freed slaves and began instituting Jim Crow (segregation) laws.
During the Civil Rights movement, Alabama was famous for the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which took place in 1955. It was customary at the time for Blacks to sit at the back of the bus, and for a Black person to give up his or her seat to a White passenger if the seats were all full. Rosa Parks was arrested for her refusal to relinquish her seat, which led Martin Luther King, Jr. and his cohorts organizing a successful boycott of the Montgomery Bus. The event triggered the American Civil Rights Movement, which ultimately led to an end of racial segregation laws.
Alabama’s most popular tourist region is its Gulf Coast, highlighted by the port city of Mobile. This narrow strip sits between New Orleans and Florida and features lovely weather and Caribbean-like beaches. The city of Mobile itself is famous for its colorful gardens, blooming azaleas, Victorian homes, and colonial architecture along its Church Street Historic District where you’ll find a mix of British, Spanish, and French styles.
Alabama is also rich with historic attractions. Civil War sites include Fort Morgan in Mobile, Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island which is the site of the Battle of Mobile Bay, and the First White House of the Confederacy in Montgomery which was the original capital of the Confederate States of America. There are also Civil Rights sites like the Memorial Baptist Church in Montgomery along Dexter Avenue where Martin Luther King, Jr. used to preach. The church has been designated a national historic landmark and today commemorates the struggle of African Americans in Alabama to achieve equality. Also notable is the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, located on the site of her arrest for refusing to move to the back of the bus.
Golf lovers will also enjoy visiting Alabama, which is home to the famous Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. This circuit encompasses 18 championship golf courses scattered among seven locations around the state: Mobile, Birmingham, Anniston, Opelika, Dothan, Huntsville, and Greenville.