Alabama History in January

Excerpted from Alabama Department of Archives and History

January 1, 1900: Alabama ushers in 1900 with cold temperatures and little fanfare. Snow was recorded in Birmingham and Montgomery at the start of the holiday weekend and freezing temperatures continued to Monday, the first. Most citizens did not celebrate the start of the 20th century until 1901 and the Birmingham Age-Herald remarked “the first day of the last year of the nineteenth century dawned dull enough in Birmingham.”

January 1, 1901: Alabama newspapers welcome a new year and a new century. Declaring January 1, 1901, as the first day of the 20th Century (and not January 1, 1900), the Montgomery Journal predicts that “Montgomery can well afford to welcome the year and the century with enthusiasm.” Likewise, the Birmingham Age-Herald carries a prominent front-page cartoon with a depiction of Father Time greeting the twin babies of the new year and the new century.

January 1, 1926: The University of Alabama football team wins the Rose Bowl. This was the first of six Rose Bowl appearances for Alabama and the first time a southern football team was invited to play in a national bowl game.

January 1, 1953: Legendary singer-songwriter Hank Williams dies at the age of twenty-nine. Over 20,000 people attended his funeral in Montgomery. Williams was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1961 and received the Alabama Music Hall of Fame Lifetime Award for Performing Achievement in 1985.

January 3, 1972: Alabama’s legislative districts are reapportioned by federal court order to bring them in line with the principle of “one man/one vote.” Neither the first nor the last such federal court action, this plan established single-member districts, which no longer necessarily followed county boundaries.

January 4, 1861: A full week before Alabama secedes from the Union, Gov. A. B. Moore orders the seizure of federal military installations within the state. By the end of the next day Alabama troops controlled Fort Gaines, Fort Morgan, and the U.S. Arsenal at Mount Vernon.

January 6, 1702: French colonists from Biloxi unload goods at Massacre Island to be used for the establishment of Fort Louis de la Louisiane on a bluff twenty-seven miles from the mouth of the Mobile River.

January 7, 1839: The Judson Female Institute opens in Marion. A Baptist college, it was named for Ann Hasseltine Judson, one of the nation’s first female foreign missionaries. In 1903 the school was renamed Judson College.

January 9, 1965: The battleship USS Alabama is dedicated in Mobile as a World War II memorial. Commissioned in August 1942, the Alabama served primarily in the Pacific, earning nine battle stars. She was awarded to the state in 1964 through the efforts of the USS Alabama Battleship Commission, and since her dedication has become a primary Mobile tourist attraction.

January 10, 1957: Six pre-dawn bombings in Montgomery damage four black churches and two ministers’ homes, including that of Montgomery Bus Boycott leader Ralph Abernathy. The violence came on the heels of several shooting incidents in which recently desegregated city buses were fired upon.

January 11, 1861: The Alabama Secession Convention passes an Ordinance of Secession, declaring Alabama a “Sovereign and Independent State.” By a vote of 61-39, Alabama becomes the fourth state to secede from the Union.

January 12, 1951: Annie Lola Price of Cullman becomes the first woman to serve on the Alabama Court of Appeals when she is appointed to the court by Gov. Jim Folsom. The appointment was especially significant because state law at the time prevented women from serving on juries. In 1952 Price was elected to the three-person court and served the state as an appeals judge until her death in 1972.

January 15, 1879: The State Bar Association holds its organizational meeting in the State Capitol with former Gov. Thomas H. Watts presiding. During its first year eighty-one lawyers were admitted for membership. The Alabama State Bar Association listed 12,761 members in the year 2000.

January 16, 1830: A charter is granted by the state legislature to the Tuscumbia Railroad Company. Tracks were built approximately two miles to Sheffield and were completed in 1832. Though the rail cars were horse drawn and never powered by steam locomotives, it is still considered the first railroad in Alabama.

January 16, 1967: Lurleen Wallace is inaugurated as Alabama’s first female governor–and only the third nationwide–as an estimated 150,000 look on. Wallace succeeded her husband George C. Wallace, who was barred by law at the time from serving consecutive terms. She died in office of cancer on May 7, 1968.

January 19, 1818: The first legislature of the Alabama Territory convenes at the Douglass Hotel in the territorial capital of St. Stephens. Attendance is sparse with twelve members of the House, representing seven counties, and only one member of the Senate conducting the business of the new territory.

January 20, 1702: French colonists, led by Jean Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, establish Fort Louis de la Mobile on a bluff twenty-seven miles up the Mobile River from Mobile Bay. The settlement, soon known simply as “Mobile,” moved to its permanent site at the mouth of the Mobile River in 1711. It served as the capital of the colony of Louisiana from its founding to 1718.

January 26, 1839: Alabama’s first state prison is established by legislative act. In 1842, at the Wetumpka State Penitentiary, the state’s first inmate began serving time for harboring a runaway slave. The first female was incarcerated in 1850 for murder. Today, the Alabama Department of Corrections oversees a multi-facility state prison system.

January 26, 1983: Alabamians are shocked and saddened when retired University of Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant dies suddenly from a heart attack. Bryant began coaching at Alabama in 1958 and went on to win six national championships with the team. In 1981 he became football’s “winningest” coach with 315 victories.

January 27, 1840: The Alabama legislature passes a joint resolution accepting the disputed boundary line with Georgia. In recognizing the line marked by a Georgia commission in 1826, the legislature stated that “a fixed and known line between this State and Georgia, is of far higher consequence to us, than the acquisition of an inconsiderable portion of territory.”

January 28, 1846: Montgomery is selected as capital of Alabama by the state legislature on the 16th ballot. Montgomery won the final vote largely because of promises of Montgomery city leaders to provide $75,000 for a new capitol and because of the emerging prominence of the Black Belt region of the state.

January 30, 1956: With the Montgomery Bus Boycott about to enter its third month, segregationists bomb the home of boycott spokesman Martin Luther King Jr. The home sustained moderate damage, but no one was injured. The young minister addressed the large crowd that gathered after the blast, declaring, “I want it to be known the length and breadth of this land that if I am stopped this movement will not stop.”

January 30, 1966: Alabama experiences its coldest ever recorded temperature of -27°F at New Market in Madison County. The average low temperature during January for nearby Huntsville is around 29°.

January 31, 1902: Tallulah Bankhead, star of stage, screen, and radio in the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s, is born in Huntsville. The daughter of U.S.Congressman William B. Bankhead, Tallulah was most famous for her flamboyant lifestyle, throaty voice, and stage role in The Little Foxes (1939) and her part in the film Lifeboat (1943). [There is some question of the exact birthdate; this is the most generally accepted.]