Tag Archives: History

A Little Alabama History (Around the Civil War) Summarized

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Although Alabamians knew that a civil war would be expensive, it was inevitable as the South was reluctant to bend on the slavery situation. Alabamians seceded from the North in hopes that they could come to a peaceful solution. After all, Alabama’s economy and much of its population’s livelihood depended on slavery. Cotton was Alabama’s main agricultural crop, and the production of and exportation of cotton depended largely on slavery. Because agriculture depended more on manual labor, Alabamians did not see the need for immense industrial growth, and they continued to rely on slave labor. Alabama joined the forces of the Confederate States on January 11, 1861 under Governor Andrew B. Moore. William Cobb was a Unionist from Northern Alabama who wanted the Southern states to compromise, but Alabama did not budge. The Confederates made Montgomery their first capital and elected Jefferson Davis the president. The Northern part of Alabama contained more people who were resistant to the war, but the Southern Alabamians were ready to fight. Many Alabama men became leaders during the war such as John H. Forney, Henry D. Clayton, Jones M. Withers, and General Kirby Smith. Unfortunately, the war caused Alabama’s economy to suffer more than they anticipated. Men had to leave their families, and women had to work and pick up the slack. Alabama did not have the firearms and manpower that the North did because of their industrial production. They also did not have the transportation of the railroad that the North had. The slaves saw the Unionists as ways to freedom, so they tried to join the fighting against the Confederates. Alabama did provide shelter and supplies to soldiers. Many of the men were familiar with each other, and they fought side by side with their neighbors. The Selma Arsenal made most of the Confederate army’s ammunition. Many Alabamians became generals and lieutenants. Overall, Alabama played a big role in the Civil War despite the loss of the Confederacy.

Alabama’s economy was not exactly booming before the Civil War. Many farms had just begun to see a profit. Reconstruction took many years and a lot of hard work. Alabama’s reliance on agricultural crops, especially cotton had made the state weak when the war broke out. Men had to leave their farms to fight, and production was weakened or stopped without the manpower. Homes and property were destroyed in fighting. Farms had been neglected and needed much work to rebuild and start functioning at a profitable rate again. The war also affected the class structure as it brought industrial growth and weakened the old planter class. After emancipation, there was an abundance of freed slaves that were in need of work and property. Farmers had invested in the slaves and had invested in houses and property for the slaves. Farmers had to split their land and rent their property. Former overseers became tenant farmers, and tenant farming proved to be less profitable than the farmers had anticipated. Many whites feared the freed blacks, which caused a lot of controversy, especially economically. Many of the conditions had not even changed for the African Americans after the war. Republicans actually helped Congress to consider black rights. Alabama Unionists responded to President Johnson’s plan of Reconstruction that would allow the white conservatives to return to power. Basically the war brought on radical changes, and Alabama practically had to start from scratch.

Women’s lives were very difficult during the first half of the twentieth century. Prior to the women’s suffrage movement, women had practically no rights except for those afforded to them by their husbands. They lived in a very patriarchal driven society. Any money that they earned went back to their husbands. Any property that they held went in their husbands’ names. They did all of the work for no pay. They were expected to be nurturers and enjoy their domestic place in the home. Even after the suffrage movement gained women the right to vote, it would still be a long road for them to find their place in society. During the first half of the twentieth century, they were adjusting to their new rights. However, men reacted to women gaining rights much in the same way that they reacted to slaves earning their rights. The work of women was often compared to the work of slaves as they tended to the house and got nothing in return. So, women had to push through and earn their new found autonomy. They started joining the workforce despite being paid pennies on the dollars in comparison to men. Class determined the status of women more than race did. Many wives of farmers worked in the house and in the fields. In the nineteenth century, women began to take charge of their situations and break down the male patriarchal society. Middle and upper class women in urban areas of Alabama began affecting change in the women’s movement by creating reform newspapers such as The Progressive People. Education began to rise for women, especially after Reconstruction, and this allowed women to earn more professional positions. Tallulah Bankhead was a pioneer for professional women. She was a well-known actress. She was very professional, and despite her often wild antics, she was very respected. Alabama women in the early half of the nineteenth century were paving the way for women’s place in a modern society.

Alabama women were thwarted in the suffrage movement by the image of the southern belle. Men saw southern women as these frail domestic ideal pictures rather than professional voting members of society. So, women had to free themselves of this image in order to gain their places in society. White women had previously joined with the movement for civil rights for slaves and freed slaves, but after emancipation, they separated from that cause and took on a more independent path to suffrage. They pointed out that uneducated black men could vote while educated white women could not. Black women in Alabama also joined the fight seeing that the right to vote would benefit them as well. The women first tried to have Alabama’s constitution amended, but after that failed, they championed a national suffrage amendment to guarantee their political freedom. Bossie O’Brien Hundley organized the Alabama Equal Suffrage Association in Birmingham in 1912. Unfortunately, suffrage for women was opposed not only by men, but also by women, especially those involved in religious organizations and those that felt inclined towards domesticity. But, the opposition would eventually be matched. In August, 1920, women in Alabama could vote.

After the Civil War, Reconstruction and emancipation, Alabama’s constitution was in need of a rewrite. On May 21, 1901, 155 delegates met in Montgomery as a constitutional convention. Alabama’s Black Belt leaders wanted to disfranchise the blacks in order to maintain their wealth and power. They also wanted to disfranchise white illiterate voters and keep the vote limited to those who were educated. Despite the immoral implications of the new constitution that basically reiterated white supremacy, the constitution was ratified. It limited the state’s ability to tax, diminished important education funds, and limited the state’s funding for land improvement and railroad development. Basically, not much changed from the constitution of 1875 because the Black Belt leaders found ways around the changes that were proposed.

Alabama was a center for the civil rights movement because it was the home of leaders such as Rosa Parks, who performed the bus boycott in Montgomery. White supremacy had long been the standard in Alabama, and blacks began to fight for their rights after emancipation. The vote would mean that they would have a voice in their leaders and politics. Although the state could not prohibit blacks from voting after the national decision for suffrage, Alabamian leaders turned to violence to prevent them from voting. They also imposed a literacy test knowing that many African Americans had not been afforded an education. Candidates who would back up the African Americans lost to leaders who would continue the white supremacy. Even when blacks did manage to vote, the results would be misleading. However, in 1965, the Voting Rights Act was passed, which protected the voting rights of African Americans.

In March 1931, nine black males were on a train and got into a fight with two white males who got off the train and went to the police. Two white females accused the nine males of raping them. They went to trial with no attorney and an all white jury and were convicted. The Supreme Court overruled the verdict because they were not given an attorney. When appealed, they were convicted again, but that ruling was also overturned because there were no blacks on the jury. People had mixed feelings about racism at this time. Most people who still partook in racism were uneducated. The fact that the case was overruled shows that African Americans had gained rights in the realm that mattered.

Of course, as a woman, I think that the most important event discussed above is the women’s movement in Alabama. Prior to the movement, women were undervalued and basically treated as slaves. The women’s movement paved the way for women to become educated, professional citizens and to gain some respect. Now women have the choice to become a professional or to stay at home, and both are valued. Although there are still instances of gender inequality, women have come a long way from two centuries ago.