Given that the capital of the Confederacy was located here in the days of secession and the American Civil War, it’s easy to make a compelling argument that Alabama is indeed the heart of the Old South.
The mannerisms and hospitality of the locals here will only reinforce that notion, as conversations on their end will often be conducted in the distinctive deep drawl that defines the Southern accent, and most will display a level of deference for visitors that will make you feel like family or a long lost friend during your time here.
While the complex social issues mean that not all your experiences with this region’s past history will be positive ones, the enriching nature of this state’s culture will fascinate you, its important role in a modern sector of the nation’s technological infrastructure will surprise you, and its much less crowded frontage on the Gulf of Mexico will make those afraid of Texas‘ or Florida‘s popular beaches jump for joy.
Though you might not suspect it at first glance, your time in Alabama will likely be very enjoyable.
What To Do – Culture & History
Like it or not, the first thing that most people think of when it comes to the state of Alabama is the civil rights movement, as it was in Montgomery where it all began. When a tired African-American woman refused to move to the back of the bus when ordered to do so as per the segregationist bylaws at the time, it touched off a firestorm of emotions that led to the start of a widespread drive for equal rights.
In order to remember this event, and the protests and struggles that flowed from it, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute was founded in Alabama’s capital in 1992. One of the most moving exhibits remembers the tragic bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, which was a terrorist attack perpetrated by the KKK, killing four young girls in the church’s basement.
In order to better understand the tensions during the era of the Civil Rights Movement, one must go back to a time when Alabama was at the center of a new federation determined to retain certain rights (like keeping slaves) that they felt were being unfairly infringed upon by Washington DC.
Birmingham became the place where the Confederate States were to be governed by their first president, Jefferson Davis. Today, visitors can still tour the First White House of the Confederacy, where President Davis and his family lived and directed the actions of the secessionist states.
While it only served as the capital for a few short months before the executive decision was made to shift the federal center to Richmond, Virginia, the house was still home to many fateful decisions in that time period, and with many pieces of period furniture and exquisite Italianate architecture, even those bored by politics will find this house to be an interesting place to visit for an hour or so.
Fort Morgan, considered by many military historians to have be one of the best designed fortifications in the New World at the time of its construction played a major role in the conflict that would result from the actions of President Davis.
It laid down covering fire to allow almost all boats attempting to break the Union naval blockade offshore to do so, and it was one of the last forts to fall before the end of the Civil War. Today, the fort is in precarious condition due to a lack of funding in recent times, but most of the walls and ramparts are still in relatively good condition, considering the natural decay it has borne over the years.
One of humanity’s most inspirational people was born and raised in Alabama, as it was in Tuscumbia where the world’s most famous deaf/blind person was raised. Helen Keller’s Home is now a museum where you can view personal documents and mementos relevant to the life of this amazing woman.
Given the warmth the Deep South possesses compared to lands much further north, it shouldn’t be surprising that more organized forms of civilization began to emerge on the lands of the native people that called Alabama home before European settlers arrived.
The Moundville Archaeological Site is essentially the story of a tribe beginning to show signs of beginning to evolve into an organized civilization, as the earthen mounds were beginning to be used as mortuaries, residences, granaries and more around the 11th to 15th centuries AD.
What To Do – Modern & Natural Attractions
Given all the stereotypes that many uninformed people have about Alabama, it comes as shock to many that this state is home to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, where much of the USA’s artifacts surrounding the Apollo program and other space missions can be found.
Rocket, lunar landers, and re-entry capsules can all be found here, and a Space Camp awaits for those who think they have what it takes to be an astronaut.
War buffs will love touring the USS Alabama, a museum ship anchored in Mobile. Being a battleship that saw significant action in the Second World War, a highlight of any tour on this boat involves checking out its massive gun turrets and its powder magazine.
Sloss Furnaces is a US National Historical Landmark unlike any other, as it is one of the first places in the country to show off life as it was in the Industrial Age. Last operating in 1971, Sloss Furnaces produced pig iron, but today, it bones lay in a preserved and sanitized fashion for those who have an interest in urban exploration, but don’t wish to trespass through other similar abandoned structures that are not open to the public.
Finally, if the oppressive humidity of the South have you fanning yourself as fast as you can muster, and you can’t take it anymore, then a visit to Gulf Shores will fix you up in no time. These beaches are every bit as nice as those that can be found further east in the Florida Panhandle, sans the crowds found in the latter locale.
In addition to the fine beaches, water parks, golf courses and other sources of amusement can be found in the area, making it an excellent place to stretch out and relax.