History of Birmingham
Even though Birmingham’s roots run deep in the Old South, it retains the vigor and excitement of a young, vibrant city. Birmingham was founded in 1871 at the crossing of two railroad lines. Until the 1860s, Birmingham was known as Elyton, then just a small pioneer farm settlement. Because of its open land and sparse population, the area was relatively unscathed during the Civil War. Soon, land barons realized that the area was ripe for development. Railroads were laid and a town center was constructed. Elyton was renamed Birmingham, in honor of Birmingham, England, a renowned industrial giant.
Birmingham was formally organized in 1871, and soon became a commercial hub for Alabama. As railroads further developed, so did the community. Birmingham grew so quickly that it was dubbed “The Magic City.” However, the magic momentarily subsided when a cholera epidemic nearly wiped out the town, shortly followed by a depressed economy. Yet Birmingham’s abundant natural resources, including coal, iron ore and limestone, helped it pull through the Great Depression and an unstable wartime economy. The growth of the mining and metals industries in Birmingham also helped stabilize other enterprises, such as corporate headquarters and healthcare.
Birmingham was once again put on trial during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and early 1970s, where the city’s reputation was nearly destroyed when the 16th Street Baptist Church was bombed and Civil Rights demonstrators were attacked by police dogs. Birmingham’s social struggles led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Out of years of social hardship came a new era of prosperity. As the University of Alabama at Birmingham grew to be one of the nation’s finest institutions of higher education, Birmingham’s economy gained strength. Business boomed, and the city’s skyline was quickly commercialized. The University gave Birmingham more educational opportunities and, as a result, increased wealth. Cultural and recreational opportunities also improved in order to accommodate Birmingham’s growing, more diverse population. In 1993, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute opened, enabling the city to come to grips with its complicated past and celebrate human rights across the nation.
Despite its evolution throughout history, Birmingham has retained its Southern charm. Although it is a major, cosmopolitan city, its atmosphere reflects small-town America. People are friendly, charitable, and proud to call this eclectic city home.