Alabama History in February

Excerpted from Alabama Department of Archives and History

February 1, 1839: The Alabama legislature abolishes imprisonment for debt, except in cases of fraud. This action continued a modification of English common law that had begun with the Mississippi and Alabama territorial governments. The constitutions of 1868, 1875, and 1901 would prohibit imprisonment of debtors even in cases of fraud.

February 1, 1956: Autherine Lucy of Birmingham becomes the first African American to enroll at the University of Alabama. Her stay at the school ended abruptly, however, as she was suspended and then expelled amid campus unrest. Permanent integration of the university would be delayed until 1963, when two black students enrolled the day of Gov. George Wallace’s “stand in the schoolhouse door.”

February 4, 1861: Delegates from six states that had recently seceded from the Union meet in Montgomery to establish the Confederate States of America. Four days later this provisional Confederate Congress, comprising representatives of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina, organized the Confederacy with the adoption of a provisional constitution.

February 6, 1852: The Alabama Insane Hospital is established by the legislature. Built in Tuscaloosa, it received its first patient in 1861, with Dr. Peter Bryce as director. Applying modern methods, Bryce became renowned for humane treatment of his patients. Today, the Alabama Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation oversees multiple facilities and programs, including Bryce Hospital in Tuscaloosa.

February 7-13: Several Alabama counties established:

February 9, 1903: Alabama’s last county, Houston County, is created by act of the legislature. Formed from parts of Dale, Geneva, and Henry counties in the extreme southeastern corner of the state, it was named for former Gov. George S. Houston. The city of Dothan was made the county seat.

February 10, 1881: The Alabama legislature establishes Tuskegee Institute as a “normal school for the education of colored teachers.” The law stipulated that no tuition be charged and that graduates agree to teach for two years in Alabama schools. Booker T. Washington was chosen as the first superintendent and arrived in Alabama in June 1881. Washington’s leadership would make Tuskegee one of the most famous and celebrated historic black colleges in the U.S.

February 13, 1866: On Fat Tuesday, Confederate veteran Joe Cain parades through the streets of federal-occupied Mobile dressed as a Chickasaw Indian chief he dubbed “Slackabamorinico.” The antics of “Chief Slac” marked the first public celebration of Mardi Gras in Mobile since the start of the Civil War, and led to larger, more formalized festivities the next year. Joe Cain Day is observed annually in Mobile on the Sunday before Mardi Gras.

February 15, 1854: Alabama establishes a statewide public school system. The legislation, which provided funding for the system and created the position of state superintendent, cited the state’s 1819 constitution as the basis for a system of free schools in Alabama: “Schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged in this State.”

February 15, 1965: Nat King Cole, “the man with the velvet voice,” dies in Santa Monica, California. Born the son of a Baptist minister in Montgomery in 1919, Cole sold over 50 million records and became the first African-American male with a weekly network television series.

February 16, 1895: Alabama formally adopts a state flag for the first time. The legislature dictated “a crimson cross of St. Andrew upon a field of white,” which was the design submitted by John W. A. Sanford, Jr., who also sponsored the bill. This flag remains Alabama’s flag today.

February 16, 1968: The first-ever 911 call is placed in Haleyville. State Representative Rankin Fite made the call from the mayor’s office and it was answered at the police station by Congressman Tom Bevill. The system was put into operation within weeks of AT&T’s announcement that it planned to establish 911 as a nationwide emergency number. Alabama Telephone Company, in a successful attempt to implement the number before AT&T, determined that Haleyville’s equipment could be quickly converted to accommodate an emergency system.

February 17, 1864: The H.L. Hunley, a Confederate submarine built in Mobile, becomes the first submarine in history to sink an enemy ship. After torpedoing the USS Housatonic in Charleston Harbor the Hunley sank. It did not return to port until it was recovered in August 2000.

February 18, 1861: After being welcomed to Montgomery with great fanfare, Jefferson Davis is inaugurated as president of the Confederate States of America on the portico of the Alabama capitol. Davis, a former U.S. senator from Mississippi, lived in Montgomery until April, when the Confederate government was moved from Montgomery to its new capital of Richmond, Virginia.

February 19, 1807: Former U.S. vice-president Aaron Burr is arrested in the Mississippi Territory at McIntosh Bluff, Washington County, in present-day Alabama. Burr was accused of treason for attempting to form a new republic in the southwest. After spending several weeks in custody in Alabama, Burr was returned to Richmond, Virginia, for trial. Burr was acquitted of the charges, but quickly left the country to avoid other charges relating to the murder of Alexander Hamilton during an 1804 duel.

February 22, 1893: The first Alabama/Auburn football game is played in Birmingham’s Lakeview Park before a crowd of 5,000 spectators. Auburn won this first match-up 32-22. The rivalry continued until 1907 when games were stopped, with the renewal of the series not coming until 1948.

February 26, 1965: Jimmie Lee Jackson, a young black man, dies eight days after being shot by a state trooper during civil rights protests in Marion. His death gave immediate impetus to the decision of civil rights organizers to lead a march from nearby Selma to the state capital in support of voting rights for black Alabamians. The historic Selma-to-Montgomery March took place the next month.

February 28, 1887: Alabama passes its first child labor law, fixing age limits and restricting work hours for certain types of labor. The legislation, which also protected women workers, was repealed in the 1890s, but efforts of reformers like Rev. Edgar Gardner Murphy of Montgomery resulted in new child labor laws during the first two decades of the 20th century.