Mission and History

Mission and History

Jefferson County Alabama
A Brief History.

The land that became the state of Alabama in 1819 served first as Native American lands for the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, and Creek Indian tribes. During the early 1800s, migrants flocked in great numbers to what would become Alabama for cheap, fertile land where cotton became king in the new state. 1 Jefferson County, founded in northern Alabama, grew to be the most populated county in the state and would soon include the city of Birmingham.

Birmingham was founded in 1871 as part of the New South during the post-Civil War Reconstruction era through the merger of three existing farm towns, most notably Elyton. The county seat moved to the newly founded city of Birmingham, which became the most populous city in the state. Birmingham naturally became the primary industrial center of the South because of the discovery of an abundance and close proximity of iron ore, limestone, and coal, which are the key raw materials used in making iron/steel.

Pig iron production, Birmingham’s core industry, fueled the economy through the jobs and revenue created by the melding of many industrial sectors. Mining, railroads, and blast furnaces provided the materials, transport, and machinery needed to produce pig iron. Companies such as Sloss-Sheffield Steel & Iron Company, Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company (TCI), and American Cast Iron Pipe Company (ACIPCO) were major contributors during this period.

This New South era distinguished Birmingham from other pre- and Civil War cities of the Old South that maintained agricultural economies, such as cotton and tobacco. Named in honor for the United Kingdom’s major industrial city, Birmingham, England, Birmingham, Alabama had an explosion of growth (1881-1920) fueled by its industrial economy of pig iron and steel production, earning it such monikers as, “The Magic City” and “The Pittsburgh of the South.” As Birmingham grew, it annexed its smaller neighbors such as Avondale, Ensley, and Woodlawn with the Greater Birmingham Annexation Act of 1910.

The Great Depression of the 1930s decimated the iron industry in Birmingham – which never truly recovered. The city began to diversify its economy during the 1950s, as the steel mills began to shut down. Birmingham shifted to an economy of medicine and higher education with the establishment of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). Other industries such as banking, telecommunications, insurance, transportation, electrical power, and medical care have emerged as major economic activities. Birmingham ranks as one of the most important banking
and business centers in the Southeast.

Birmingham remains known for its turbulent role in the Civil Rights Movement during the late 1950s and 1960s. Because of the protests of Civil Rights activists and the bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963, Birmingham served as the turning point in helping to end public segregation and ultimately the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, Birmingham holds significant history both before and after the Civil Rights. In 1992, the city designated the historic Civil Rights District and opened the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, a major tourist attraction.

Birmingham’s industrial history brought many immigrants from countries such as Italy, Lebanon, and Greece, and the influences of these cultures remain prevalent today through art and culture, food festivals, restaurants, and even architecture. Birmingham’s personality is a culmination of its industrial history, racial tensions, unique blend of cultures and its rebirth – which all remain ingrained in the legacy of the city today. It continues to grow as a food destination with James Beard Foundation award winners Frank Stitt and Chris Hastings, as well an artistic hub with the Birmingham Museum of Art.