Spanish explorers are believed to have arrived at Mobile Bay in 1519, and the territory was visited in 1540 by the explorer Hernando de Soto. The first permanent European settlement in Alabama was founded by the French at Fort Louis de la Mobile in 1702. The British gained control of the area in 1763 by the Treaty of Paris but had to cede almost all the Alabama region to the U.S. and Spain after the American Revolution. The Confederacy was founded at Montgomery in Feb. 1861, and, for a time, the city was the Confederate capital.
During the later 19th century, the economy of the state slowly improved with industrialization. At Tuskegee Institute, founded in 1881 by Booker T. Washington, Dr. George Washington Carver carried out his famous agricultural research.
Today paper, chemicals, rubber and plastics, apparel and textiles, primary metals, and automobile manufacturing constitute the leading industries of Alabama. Continuing as a major manufacturer of coal, iron, and steel, Birmingham is also noted for its world-renowned medical center. The state ranks high in the production of poultry, soybeans, milk, vegetables, livestock, wheat, cattle, cotton, peanuts, fruits, hogs, and corn.
Points of interest include the Helen Keller birthplace at Tuscumbia, the Space and Rocket Center at Huntsville, the White House of the Confederacy, the restored state Capitol, the Civil Rights Memorial, the Rosa Parks Museum & Library, and the Shakespeare Festival Theater Complex in Montgomery; the Civil Rights Institute and the McWane Center in Birmingham; the Russell Cave near Bridgeport; the Bellingrath Gardens at Theodore; the USS Alabama at Mobile; Mound State Monument near Tuscaloosa; and the Gulf Coast area.
Thirty-seven years after the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing which killed four young girls in Birmingham, the FBI released the name of four men—self-proclaimed Cahaba Boys, a branch of the Ku Klux Klan—responsible for the dynamite attack: Robert Chambliss, Herman Cash, Thomas Blanton and Bobby Cherry. Cash died in 1994; Blanton and Cherry were tried and convicted in 2001 and 2002 respectively (Cherry died in prison in 2004). Chambliss, originally charged alone, was acquitted of murder in 1963, but was sentenced to life in prison when the case was reopened in 1977. He died in prison in 1985.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina caused major flooding and destruction along the coast of Alabama; flood waters reached 11 ft in Mobile. Twenty-two counties were declared federal disaster areas.
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Selected famous residents:
- Hank Aaron baseball player;
- Ralph Abernathy civil rights activist;
- Tallulah Bankhead actress;
- Hugo L. Black jurist;
- George Washington Carver educator, agricultural chemist;
- Nat "King" Cole entertainer;
- Mia Hamm soccer player;
- Lionel Hampton jazz musician;
- W. C. Handy composer;
- Courtney Cox actress;
- Helen Keller author and educator;
- Coretta Scott King civil rights leader;
- Harper Lee writer;
- Carl Lewis athlete;
- Joe Louis boxer;
- Willie Mays baseball player;
- Jim Nabors actor;
- Jesse Owens athlete;
- Rosa Parks civil rights activist;
- Condoleeza Rice Secretary of State;
- Wayne Rogers actor;
- Tascaluza Choctaw chief;
- Channing Tatum Actor;
- George Wallace governor;
- William Weatherford (Red Eagle) Creek leader;
- Heather Whitestone Miss America (1995).
- Hank Williams singer and songwriter.