Reckon presents: The History of Alabama. In the beginning, Alabama was under water. Then Pangaea busted apart and the world
came together. But continent building is hard. And Alabama sank again. People finally showed up and lived in caves, they learned how
to grow maize and Alabama loved its grits ever since.
Native Alabamians were pretty solid farmers by the time in Spanish showed up,
but Hernando de Soto wanted gold, not breakfast, so there was trouble.
de Soto was a jerk. He’d go from town to town
kidnapping Native American leaders to keep them in line. But that didn’t work
on the Mabila Indians led by the badass Chief Tuscaloosa. There was a
fight in the Spanish lost a bunch of guys but guns won. Another first. By 1600
the tribes formed nations, leading future Alabama 4th graders to learn the
chant: ‘Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek.’ It wouldn’t last.
The Spanish and French and English all wanted a piece of Alabama. In 1701 the
French started settling Mobile. In 1703 they celebrated the first Mardi Gras, and
they haven’t shut up about it since. The Mississippi Territory was always open to
the slave trade, but the first slave ships started to arrive in the 1720s.
They’d keep coming even after it wasn’t legal. Everything changed because cheap
unwilling labor was like free gas to fuel the money machine. By 1800 there were seven
hundred and thirty-three white people living in the Alabama territory, and five
hundred seventeen black people. And a whole bunch of Native Americans who
wouldn’t stand still long enough for counting. In 1819 Alabama became a state,
and the population boomed. There were 85,000 white people by then, and
42,000 black people. But it was pretty much over for the Natives.
After Andrew Jackson became president he marched them away to make room for even
more white people in their slaves. Alabama was still figuring out the
government thing. The capital bounced all over the state
before landing in Montgomery. Southern states said they had a right to do as
they pleased on issues like slavery, and were willing to go to war over it. So by
1860 things were ready to blow. The election of Abe Lincoln was too much, so
the rest of the South joined Alabama and agreed to get out of the United
States and build their own government, with slavery. There came four years of
hell, in which Montgomery for a time was the capital of the Confederacy. But the
South lost. Then came Reconstruction, which was like a war too, only longer.
After the war white people and former slaves got equal votes, in theory. So
black people took office for the first time in Alabama and it scared the crap
out of those who held power. The Ku Klux Klan terrorized the South to fight political
and social change, and several Republican politicians, black and white, were killed.
The economy collapsed in the 1870s, the federal government withdrew troops that
were guaranteeing fair elections for blacks and whites alike, and so Democrats
took over and held on for a century. In 1871 Birmingham was established in the
valley where all the ingredients for steel could be found in one convenient
spot, and it grew like magic. In 1901 the state’s big mules realized they had a
problem, because if everybody could vote the powers that had always been were
screwed. So they wrote up a constitution to establish white supremacy. They made
the Legislature really strong and local governments really weak to
keep them from rising up. And that set the tone for… for forever. Confederate
vets, and women who love them, began an effort to rewrite the history of slavery,
erecting monuments to the Lost Cause of the Old South and telling stories of
Antebellum chivalry and grace. Alabama birthed Jim Crow and created formal ways to
keep black people from voting. Millions of blacks fled the South’s dangers,
seeking opportunity elsewhere in the Great Migration. Alabama missed the days
of free labor, so it turned to the convict lease system, which put people in
jail and sold them to work on farms and coal mines. Many of them died, especially
black people. That ended in 1928, though people have been trying to imprison
others for profit ever since. That was about the same time Alabama discovered
its true love. The University of Alabama football team beat Washington in the Rose
Bowl, putting Southern football on the map. Roll Tide. Alabama was changing… sort of.
The Great Depression hit Alabama hard, but electricity soon came for the first
time, and the state’s geography was changed forever. There was a surplus of
power in North Alabama, and the U.S. built an arsenal there with one mission:
killing Nazis. Then Huntsville teamed up with former Nazi rocket scientists to help
NASA put men on the moon, and Huntsville’s military-industrial complex
was born. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat,
the Magic City became Bombingham, Dr. King went to jail and wrote a letter,
Freedom Riders bussed across the state, foot soldiers march from Selma to
Montgomery, and George Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door. In 1960 Harper Lee
published ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ It changed America’s views on race, and
students have been pretending to read it ever since. In Tuscaloosa Bear Bryant was
transforming the game of football. Also, Auburn had a team. In 1974,
Mobile native Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s homerun record, and he didn’t have
to take growth hormones to do it. In 1986, after Wallace’s last term as
governor, the two Democrats seeking to replace and fought so hard against each
other they tainted the whole election, and Guy Hunt became the first Republican
governor since Reconstruction. He’d later be convicted of misusing
money from his inaugural fund, thus beginning Alabama’s Era of Corruption, in which
three of four elected governors would be convicted of crimes. In 1993 Alabama
lured Mercedes Benz to the state. Twenty-five years later most Alabamians
are proud of that, even if they still can’t afford one. A year later Michael
Jordan moved to Birmingham to play baseball.
Three years later he returned to basketball… after defeating a group
of space aliens to save Looney Tunes. Yeah I think that’s about it.
I mean some other stuff happened, sure. But every story has to have an ending, and
just like Jordan – we wanted to go out on a high note.
Just forget all that stuff about Bentley and Roy Moore. Just think of those as
the Washington Wizards years. For Reckon, that’s all folks