Alabama History in October

Excerpted from Alabama Department of Archives and History

October 1-4, 1867: For the first time in Alabama history, African Americans vote in a statewide election. About 70,000 black men, the majority of voters in the election, called for a constitutional convention and elected an overwhelmingly Republican set of convention delegates, including 18 blacks. That convention produced Alabama’s fourth constitution.

October 4, 1858: Dr. Joseph Henry Johnson founds the Alabama School for the Deaf in Talladega, enrolling his younger brother as the first student. The school evolved into the state-supported Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind, which annually serves thousands with a variety of programs.

October 4, 1937: Hugo Black, a native of Clay County, takes his seat as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Black studied law at the University of Alabama, served in World War I, and represented Alabama in the U.S. Senate from 1927 until 1937, when he was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Franklin Roosevelt. Black served on the court until his death in 1971.

October 7, 1763: In the aftermath of the French and Indian War, Britain’s King George III establishes the colonies of East and West Florida by royal proclamation. West Florida’s northern boundary was set at the 31st parallel, which today forms most of Alabama’s boundary with Florida.

October 8, 1890: “Rube” Burrow is killed after escaping from jail in Linden, Alabama. A native of Lamar County, Burrow robbed his first train in 1886 and by 1890 was the most wanted outlaw in the South.

October 8, 1896: George Washington Carver arrives in Macon County to direct Tuskegee Institute’s agricultural school. Born a slave in Missouri during the Civil War, Carver was studying in Iowa when school president Booker T. Washington invited him to Alabama. He remained at Tuskegee until his death in 1943, and although he dedicated much of his work to helping black farmers in the South, Carver’s international fame came from his innovative uses of peanuts, sweet potatoes, and other southern products.

October 9, 1908: Two-term Alabama governor James “Big Jim” Folsom is born in Coffee County. Folsom, known for farm-to-market road paving and other programs to benefit Alabama’s common folk, served as governor from 1947-1951 and 1955-1959.

October 12, 1896: The Alabama Girls’ Industrial School opens its doors as the first state-supported industrial and technical school devoted to training girls to make a living. The school later became known as Alabama College, and is now the University of Montevallo.

October 16, 1917: Serving aboard the USS Cassin, Alabamian Kelley Ingram becomes the first American serviceman killed in action during World War I. In 1918 the Navy named a destroyer after Ingram, marking the first time an enlisted man had a ship named in his honor. Congress later awarded Ingram the Medal of Honor and the city of Birmingham named Ingram Park after the Pratt City hero.

October 18, 1540: The largest Indian battle in North America occurs at the village of Mabila (or Mauvila) between Hernando de Soto’s Spaniards and Chief Tuscaloosa’s (or Tascaluza’s) warriors. Accounts vary, but most agree that the Indian village and most of its more than 2,000 inhabitants were destroyed. The exact location of this battle has eluded researchers for centuries.

October 18, 1916: A strong earthquake occurs around 4 p.m. in an unnamed fault east of Birmingham, with the epicenter near Easonville in St. Clair County. The earthquake caused buildings to sway in downtown Birmingham and tied up all phone lines in the city with 25,000 calls recorded at the main exchange in the hour following the quake. Two additional weaker tremors were reported that evening.

October 20, 1832: Representatives of the Chickasaw Indians sign the Treaty of Pontotoc, thereby ceding “all the land which they own on the east side of the Mississippi river” to the United States. That land included a portion of northwest Alabama.

October 22, 1821: The steamboat Harriet reaches Montgomery after ten days of travel from Mobile. This was the first successful attempt to navigate so far north on the Alabama River and opened river trade between Montgomery and Mobile.

October 25, 1819: In anticipation of achieving statehood, Alabama’s first state legislature assembles at Huntsville, the temporary capital. The General Assembly, as it was called, was composed of nineteen senators and forty-seven representatives from Alabama’s nineteen counties. Thomas Bibb of Limestone County was elected President of the Senate, while James Dellet of Monroe County was elected Speaker of the House.

October 25, 1941: Groundbreaking ceremonies are held in Huntsville for the U.S. Army’s Redstone Ordnance Plant. Renamed Redstone Arsenal in 1943, the installation produced conventional artillery ordnance during World War II, but in 1949 became the Army’s missile and rocket development center. Led by German scientist Wernher von Braun, Redstone developed the rocket system that propelled the first U.S. satellite into space.

October 28, 1819: The Alabama legislature elects William Rufus King and John W. Walker as Alabama’s first United States senators. King served several terms in the Senate and in 1852 was elected U.S. Vice President. Walker, who had been president of the Alabama constitutional convention of 1819, served in the Senate until 1822, when he resigned. The terms of both senators officially began December 14, 1819, the day Alabama became the 22nd state.

October 30, 1979: In a run-off, Richard Arrington is elected as the first black mayor of Birmingham, Alabama’s largest city. Arrington served in that post for nearly twenty years, until his resignation in July 1999.

October 31, 1954: Martin Luther King Jr. of Atlanta is installed as minister of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery. A little more than a year later, on the first day of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, he was named president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, a role which made him a national civil rights figure.