Alabama History in March

Excerpted from Alabama Department of Archives and History

March 2, 1901: Trustees of the Alabama Department of Archives and History meet in Gov. William J. Samford’s office to organize the nation’s first state archival agency. Charged with, among other responsibilities, “the care and custody of official archives [and] the collection of materials bearing upon the history of the State,” the department was housed in the capitol until 1940. In that year it moved across Washington Avenue to the War Memorial Building, which had been constructed for the Archives.

March 2, 1961: Alabama native Luther Leonidas Terry begins serving as U.S. Surgeon General under President John F. Kennedy. Terry was born in Red Level in 1911 and graduated from Birmingham-Southern College in 1931. As Surgeon General he issued a landmark report on smoking and health that raised awareness among policymakers and the public about the dangers of smoking. Terry served until October 1, 1965.

March 3, 1817: The Alabama Territory is created when Congress passes the enabling act allowing the division of the Mississippi Territory and the admission of Mississippi into the union as a state. Alabama would remain a territory for over two years before becoming the 22nd state in December 1819.

March 4, 1861: The first Confederate flag is raised over the Alabama Capitol at 3:30 PM by Letita Tyler, granddaughter of former U.S. president John Tyler. The flag, which flew on a flagpole by the capitol clock, was not the Confederate battle flag, but the “First National Pattern,” also known as the stars and bars.

March 7, 1965: Six-hundred demonstrators make the first of three attempts to march from Selma to the capitol in Montgomery to demand removal of voting restrictions on black Americans. Attacked by state and local law enforcement officers as they crossed Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge, the marchers fled back into the city. The dramatic scene was captured on camera and broadcast across the nation later that Sunday, causing a surge of support for the protestors.

March 9, 1964: In the Alabama case New York Times v. Sullivan the U.S. Supreme Court hands down a landmark free speech decision. A Montgomery city commissioner, L. B. Sullivan, had sued the Times for running a factually inaccurate ad that criticized the city’s handling of civil rights demonstrators. Citing the First Amendment the court ruled against Sullivan, thereby strengthening the right to freely criticize government.

March 10, 1890: Juliet Opie Hopkins dies. Hopkins served as the Superintendent of Civil War Hospitals established in Richmond by the State of Alabama during the Civil War. She became a Confederate heroine for her efforts and her portrait even appeared on Alabama state bank notes during the Civil War years.

March 10, 1948: Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald–Montgomery belle, writer, artist, and (with her husband, F. Scott Fitzgerald) icon of the Jazz Age–dies in a hospital fire in Asheville, North Carolina.

March 11, 1861: The Confederate Congress, meeting in Montgomery, adopts a permanent constitution for the Confederate States of America to replace the provisional constitution adopted the previous month. The seceded states then ratified the essentially conservative document, which was based largely on the United States Constitution.

March 14, 1780: After only a day of resistance the British commander at Fort Charlotte surrenders Mobile to Spain. The city remained under Spanish control until the War of 1812 when the United States took it over, adding it to the Mississippi Territory.

March 15, 1929: Elba residents are forced to take refuge on housetops as they await rescue from rapidly rising flood waters. Rains beginning in late February resulted in flooding that affected most of the state and left 15,000 south Alabamians homeless. Although the Flood of 1929 hit Elba the hardest, several other towns, including Geneva and Brewton, were covered in as much as fifteen feet of water.

March 17, 1825: Benjamin Sterling Turner is born a slave in North Carolina. In 1830 he was brought to Dallas County, Alabama. After freedom Turner began a mercantile business and was elected Dallas County tax collector in 1867. In 1871 Turner was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, becoming the state’s first African-American congressman.

March 17, 1863: John Pelham, a 24-year-old Confederate hero from Calhoun County, is mortally wounded on the battlefield at Kelley’s Ford, Virginia. He died the next day and his body lay in state in the capitol at Richmond before being taken to Alabama for burial. Pelham’s skill and daring as an artillery commander distinguished him from the outset of the Civil War and earned him the nickname “the gallant Pelham” from Robert E. Lee.

March 17, 1970: The Alabama Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville is dedicated, with Wernher von Braun calling it “a graphic display of man’s entering into the cosmic age.” Now known as the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, visitors tour the museum, which includes rockets and spacecraft, and participate in activities like Space Camp.

March 20, 1872: Because of financial problems, the Methodist church transfers the grounds, buildings, and legal control of East Alabama Male College in Auburn to the State of Alabama. The institution is rechartered as the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama, the first land-grant college in the South to be established separate from the state university. The school became Alabama Polytechnic Institute in 1899 and Auburn University in 1960.

March 21, 1932: Over 250 Alabamians die in tornadoes that sweep the state. More than 1,500 others were injured and damage was estimated at $5 million. The western and north-central parts of the state, especially the towns of Northport, Cullman, and Columbiana, were hardest hit.

March 21, 1965: Rev. Martin Luther King leads 3,200 marchers from Selma toward Montgomery in support of civil rights for black Americans, after two earlier marches had ended at the Edmund Pettus Bridge–the first in violence and the second in prayer. Four days later, outside the Alabama state capitol, King told 25,000 demonstrators that “we are on the move now . . . and no wave of racism can stop us.” On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law.

March 24, 1832: In Washington, D.C., representatives of the Creek Indians sign a treaty ceding “to the United States all their land, East of the Mississippi,” which included large portions of east Alabama. Known as the Treaty of Cusseta, it was negotiated in the wake of the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Approximately 20,000 Creeks were removed to the Oklahoma Indian Territory by 1840, although some remained, including the ancestors of the Poarch Band of Creeks, who are concentrated near Atmore, Alabama.

March 24, 1853: William Rufus King of Selma is inaugurated as Vice President of the United States near Havana, Cuba. Elected the previous fall on the Democratic ticket with Franklin Pierce, King had been in the warm Cuban climate since January in an attempt to recover his failing health. When it became apparent that he would be unable to travel to Washington for the inauguration, Congress passed a special act to allow him to take the oath of office in Cuba. When his health did not improve, King returned to Alabama, where he died April 18, 1853, never formally serving as Vice President.

March 25, 1931: Nine black youths, soon to be known as the Scottsboro Boys, are arrested in Paint Rock and jailed in Scottsboro, the Jackson County seat. Charged with raping two white women on a freight train from Chattanooga, the sheriff had to protect them from mob violence that night. Within a month, eight of the nine were sentenced to death. Based on questionable evidence, the convictions by an all-white jury generated international outrage.

March 26, 1910: Orville Wright pilots the first plane in Alabama, causing the Montgomery Advertiser to report “a strange new bird soared over the cotton fields west of Montgomery.” The Wright brothers came to Montgomery to set up a pilots’ training school. Several pilots were trained, but the brothers left the area by the end of May. Replacement parts for broken machinery were difficult to locate in the area and the flyers’ efforts were frustrated by numerous spectators during their stay.

March 27, 1814: In the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, Andrew Jackson leads a force of Americans, Creeks, and Cherokees against Red Stick Creeks. Attacking the Red Stick stronghold of Tohopeka on the banks of the Tallapoosa River, Jackson’s men killed more than 900 people. The victory soon led to the end of the Creek War and the cession of 23 million acres of Creek territory to the United States.