Alabama History in April

Excerpted from Alabama Department of Archives and History

April 1, 1862: As the first year of the Civil War comes to a close, an order by Gov. John Gill Shorter prohibiting the distillation of hard liquors in Alabama goes into effect. Shorter was willing to make some exceptions, but was determined to prevent distillers from “converting food necessary to sustain our armies and people into poison to demoralize and destroy them.”

April 3, 1825: During his tour of the United States, French general and Revolutionary War hero, the Marquis de Lafayette, is entertained at Montgomery with great fanfare. Gov. Israel Pickens spared no expense for Lafayette’s visit to Alabama–which included stops at Cahaba and Mobile–expending more funds than existed in the state treasury.

April 3-4, 1974: During a record outbreak of tornadoes in twelve states and Canada, eighty-six Alabamians die and 949 are injured. A total of 148 tornadoes caused 315 fatalities, 6,142 injuries, and $600 million in property damage in the United States and Canada.

April 5, 1856: Booker T. Washington, African-American educator, author and leader, is born near Hale’s Ford, Virginia. Born a slave, Washington worked his way through school and in 1881 was selected to head the newly established Normal School for Colored Teachers at Tuskegee, Alabama. He guided the development of the institution until his death in 1915. (The date of his birth was unknown even to Washington; based on evidence submitted after his death, the Board of Trustees of Tuskegee Institute adopted April 5, 1856, as “the exact date of his birth.”)

April 8, 1911: An explosion at Jefferson County’s Banner Mine kills 129 miners. Most of the miners were prisoners leased to Pratt Consolidated Coal Company under the state’s notorious convict lease system. While many southern states leased convicts, Alabama’s program lasted the longest, from 1846 to1928. In 1883 at least 10% of state revenue was derived from the convict lease program.

April 8, 1927: Horace Devaughn, a black man convicted of double murder in Jefferson County, is executed at Kilby Prison, marking Alabama’s first use of the electric chair. Two weeks later, Virgil Murphy, a veteran of World War I who was convicted in Houston County of murdering his wife, became the first white man electrocuted in the chair. Before the state’s use of the electric chair, executions generally were carried out in the counties by hanging.

April 8, 1974: Mobile native Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves hits his 715th career home run to break Babe Ruth’s longstanding record. Aaron finished his career with 755 home runs, still the best in Major League Baseball.

April 9, 1931: The Scottsboro Boys, eight young men ranging in age from 13 to 21, are sentenced to die for the alleged rape of two white women on a freight train between Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Scottsboro, Alabama. The conviction by an all-white jury and the subsequent appeals were widely publicized and led to major protests around the world. Four of the men were freed in 1937, while the others endured lengthy prison sentences. The final prisoner was released in 1950.

April 12, 1887: Alabama industrialist Henry DeBardeleben and his partners sell the first lots for the new city of Bessemer. Located twelve miles southwest of Birmingham and named after Henry Bessemer, the British inventor of the Bessemer steel process, the community was envisioned as a steelmaking center. Within a year Bessemer had a population of 3,500 and boasted a large industrial complex.

April 13, 1813: Surrounded, with little hope of support from his government, Captain Cayetano Perez, commander of the Spanish forces at Ft. Charlotte in Mobile, meets with General James Wilkinson of the United States. Two days later U.S. forces take possession of Ft. Charlotte and Spanish Mobile.

April 14, 1955: In a ceremony at Huntsville High School, Wernher von Braun and 102 other German-born scientists, technicians, and family members based at Redstone Arsenal become American citizens. Recruited to the United States at the end of World War II, the scientists conducted rocket research crucial to the development of the U.S. space program.

April 15, 1956: A Sunday afternoon tornado touches down in western Jefferson County, killing 25 people and injuring 200, most of whom lived in the Stacey Hollow and McDonald’s Chapel communities. Rated an F4, the tornado traveled 20 miles, was 300 yards wide, and destroyed or damaged more than 350 homes.

April 16, 1979: Alabama native Edward O. Wilson wins the Pulitzer Prize in the General Non-Fiction category for his book, On Human Nature. Wilson was born in Birmingham, and lived in Mobile, Brewton, and Decatur, before attending the University of Alabama, where he studied biology. He earned a Ph.D. from Harvard University and went on to an internationally recognized career in the sciences, receiving more than sixty other awards and honors, including another Pulitizer Prize in 1991 for The Ants.

April 18, 1831: The University of Alabama formally opens its doors. Fifty-two students were accepted that first day, but by the end of the session the student body had swelled to nearly one hundred. The faculty was made up of four men including the Reverend Alva Woods, who had been inaugurated president of the university on April 12, 1831.

April 18, 1853: William Rufus King, Alabama’s leading nineteenth-century politician, dies in Dallas County. King was a member of the state’s first constitutional convention in 1819 and served for many years in the U.S. Senate and as Minister to France in the 1840s. In 1852 King was elected vice-president of the U.S. on the Democratic ticket with Franklin Pierce. King took the oath of office in Havana, Cuba, where he had gone to recuperate from ill health. King’s health did not improve and he returned to his plantation in Dallas County to die, never actually serving as vice-president.

April 23, 1957: An earthquake with its epicenter near Guntersville affects parts of Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee, but causes little damage. The Montgomery Advertiser reported that “thousands of light sleepers were awakened by the shock” at about 3:30 a.m.

April 23, 1963: At the outset of his one-man march against segregation, William Moore is slain alongside an Etowah County highway when he is shot by a rifle fired at close range. Moore, a white postal worker from Binghamton, New York, had begun his march in Chattanooga intending to travel to Jackson, Mississippi. A white store owner from DeKalb County was implicated in the shooting but never indicted.

April 24, 1922: Alabama’s first radio station, WSY, begins broadcasting. The station was started by Alabama Power Company to help keep in touch with line crews in isolated areas. In 1925 the station merged with Auburn’s WMAV to become WAPI.

April 25, 1944: The United Negro College Fund is established by Tuskegee president F. D. Patterson, after convincing 26 other black colleges to “pool their small monies and make a united appeal to the national conscience.” Since its founding, UNCF has raised more than a billion dollars in support of its member institutions.

April 28, 1926: Harper Lee is born in Monroeville. Her famous novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, was published on July 11, 1960, and sold more than two-and-one-half million copies in the first year. On May 1, 1961, To Kill A Mockingbird was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Letters.

April 30, 1863: The Battle of Day’s Gap is fought between the cavalry forces of Union Col. Abel Streight and Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest. The engagement was the first in a series of skirmishes between Streight and Forrest during Streight’s Raid across north Alabama. The raid ended with Streight’s surrender to Forrest just short of Streight’s intended destination of Rome, Georgia.