Alabama Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Patterns of immigration in Alabama have varied markedly among different areas of the state, making the state as a whole ethnically diverse; however, arrivals of large groups of new immigrants sometimes prompted eruptions of nativism. Late in the twentieth century, an influx of Mexicans provoked protests from taxpayers and from workers who felt their jobs were threatened.

During the sixteenth century, Spanish explorers found Alabama populated by Iroquois peopleIroquoian and Muskogean Indians, large numbers of whom were killed by Europeans. Most of those who survived were forced off their land and sent to what became the state of Oklahoma. Many died on the infamous Trail of Tears during the 1830’s.AlabamaAlabama[cat]STATES;Alabama[00070]

After several unsuccessful efforts at colonization by the Spanish, the French established a colony at Mobile, which was still a part of French Louisiana, in 1711. In 1780, that settlement was taken over by the Spanish. In 1813 it was claimed by the United States. Nevertheless, the French and the Spanish had left their imprint on Mobile, and as a port city, it would continue to have a more cosmopolitan atmosphere than any other place in Alabama. Baldwin County, which lies on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, also attracted a diverse population.

After the U.S. Civil War ended in 1865, immigrants from Italy, Scandinavia, Greece, Germany, central Europe, and French Canada settled in the county, cleared the land and farmed the fertile soil, and fished in the coastal waters. The ethnic origins of the communities they founded are still evident. For example, Fairhope, a town in Baldwin County, was the site of two unusual ventures, both organized by midwesterners. It was originally founded as a semisocialistic single-tax colony, and it was also the home of an early educational experiment, the School of Organic EducationSchool of Organic Education.

Alabama’s central and northern parts were settled largely by people from other states. Planters from South Carolina and Georgia, who could no longer grow cotton on their depleted soil, moved to the Black Belt in the central part of Alabama, and Scotch-Irish immigrants[Scotch Irish immigrants];AlabamaScotch-Irish from the eastern Appalachians traveled westward into northern Alabama. From time to time, new European arrivals attempted to carve out places for themselves. For example, in 1817, two years after the final fall of France’s Emperor Napoleon, some of his officers and officeholders went to western Alabama to establish vineyards and grow olive trees. Their enterprise was a failure, and they left, but the town they named Demopolis, AlabamaDemopolis remains. During the 1890’s, immigrants from Sweden, Denmark, and Norway were persuaded to move to Fruithurst, AlabamaFruithurst, a model town in eastern Alabama, but their winemaking project, too, was a failure. German immigrants who founded Cullman, AlabamaCullman in 1848 had no better luck with viniculture, but they remained and succeeded at otherenterprises.

During the 1880’s, Birmingham, AlabamaBirmingham became the center of a new industry, the making of Iron and steel industry;Alabamacoke pig iron. To the local labor force the manufacturers added immigrants from England, Scotland, Ireland, Italy, and Holland. Because these immigrants made up less than one-fifth of the local workforce, there was no concerted protest to their presence. After World War I, however, when immigrants flooded in from southern and eastern Europe, local workers saw their jobs threatened. Moreover, longtime residents, who were mostly of Protestant Scotch-Irish stock, looked with suspicion on the languages, customs, and religions of the new arrivals, many of whom were Roman Catholics or Jews. The result was a storm of protest and the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan;in Alabama[Alabama]Ku Klux Klan.

Native Alabamians welcomed well-educated immigrants who could fill obvious needs, such as the Scientists;German immigrantsGerman scientists who transformed Huntsville, AlabamaHuntsville into a technological center, and Asian Indian immigrants;AlabamaIndian physicians who came to Alabama to work in understaffed hospitals. However, they resented the presence of uneducated immigrants who began flooding into the state from Latin America, and especially from Mexico, during the 1990’s. They believed these people took jobs away from native Alabamians and burdened taxpayers with their demands for schooling, health care, and social services. The fact that as many as half these immigrants had probably entered the United States illegally and that some were involved in drug trafficking also concerned Alabamians. Some Alabamians supported taking legal steps to expel undocument immigrants. However, others made efforts to teach English to Spanish-speaking immigrants and help them in other ways to become integral members of the community.Alabama

Further Reading
  • Cobb, James C., and William Stueck, eds. Globalization and the American South. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2005.
  • Hamilton, Virginia. Alabama: A Bicentennial History. New York: W. W. Norton, 1984.
  • Mohl, Raymond A. “Globalization, Latinization, and the Nuevo New South.” In Other Souths: Diversity and Difference in the U.S. South, Reconstruction to Present, edited by Pippa Holloway. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2008.
  • Rogers, William Warren, Robert David Ward, Leah Rawls Atkins, and Wayne Flynt. Alabama: The History of a Deep South State. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1994.
  • Waters, Mary C., and Reed Ueda, eds. The New Americans: A Guide to Immigration Since 1965. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007.

Clotilde slave ship

Florida

French immigrants

Iron and steel industry

Ku Klux Klan

Labor unions

Mexican immigrants

Mississippi

South Carolina

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