BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — So much of Alabama’s history is well documented, captured on video, in pictures and on audio recordings.
There are a lot of colorful characters and some dark days that are not easily forgotten, but also a lot to be proud of.
One trip down memory lane at the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame and you will find one of the most prominent aspects of Alabama history: football.
Just ask Scott Myers, executive director of ASHOF.
“Football has really defined our state over the past century really as you look at the early 1900’s and we went out to the Rose bowl the University of Alabama and won that game, it kind of put us on a national map at a unique time,” Myers said.
Over time, Alabama’s Paul “Bear “Bryant and Auburn’s James Ralph”Shug” became legends. However, CBS 42 News political analyst Steve Flowers pointed to another larger-than-life Alabama: George Wallace, the former governor who infamously uttered the words, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” during his 1963 inaugural address.
“He ran around the country running for president as a racist demagogue and segregationist,” Flowers said.
We were a state infamously known for racial confrontation, most notably for the 1963 bombing at 16th Street Baptist Church that killed four little girls.
“Plus there were a lot of bombings and it got the nickname ‘Bombingham,’” Flowers said.
Out of alabama’s civil rights grew legends such as Rosa parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and legendary accounts of the celebrated Tuskegee Airmen. Fame studios in Muscle Shoals, Birmingham’s Tuxedo Junction and Mobile, the true birthplace of Mardi Gras.
While Alabama may be partly known for its segregationist past, it is a state with many great stories to tell about the legends who grew out of the civil rights movement such as Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and legendary accounts of the celebrated Tuskegee Airman, the first African American military aviators. It is also a state known for its musical contributions from Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, as well as Birmingham’s Tuxedo Junction, where jazz echoed through the air from the talents of jazz greats like Erskine Hawkins. There is also Mobile, the true birthplace of Mardi Gras.
These are truths people elsewhere don’t often hear about.
“I think they get bits and pieces and probably don’t know the full truth,” said Ivan Holloway, director of Urban Impact.
There’s no mistaking Alabama was a top producer of steel. According to historians, that’s how Birmingham got the name “Magic City,” growing from about 100 people in 1865 to more than 250,000 by 1878, just like magic.
“Birmingham has been a big source of Alabama’s economic prowess and a lot of it centered around coal and steel,” said Anthony Hood, a professor in political science at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
UAB led the way as Birmingham transitioned from steel to health care and research and, ultimately, banking.
“We had a huge banking industry, several of the larger banking institutions had their headquarters here because of merger and acquisition activity in the 90’s and 2000’s we’re down to one fortune 500 bank and that’s Regions Bank,” Hood said.
Now, the state has a flourishing automobile industry with the Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance, Hyundai in Montgomery, Honda in Lincoln and soon Toyota in Huntsville. Huntsville is also the home of the Marshall Space Flight Center, where NASA built the spacecraft that put man on the moon.
“It is amazing what that city has done historically with the rocket science established, now high technology taking off,” Flowers said. “As you know, it is forecast to become the major metropolitan economic engine of Alabama.”
Economists say Birmingham’s economy is growing as well with UAB, once again, at the forefront.
“Through partnerships with Southern Research, as well as partnership with Innovation Department, we’re really trying to evolve our economy into one based mostly on tech as well as biotech,” Hood said.
So much about what people think about Alabama is our past, so what’s the truth about Alabama today?
“So, the truth about Alabama from my perspective is a state that really wants to get it right… it is a state that is on the rise,” Holloway said.