Alabama History in July
Excerpted from Alabama Department of Archives and History
July 1, 1915: Statewide prohibition goes into effect in Alabama, five years before nationwide prohibition. The sale and regulation of alcohol has often been a bitter issue in Alabama politics, and the 1915 ban was first vetoed by Gov. Charles Henderson, but the legislature overrode his veto. Despite prohibition, 386 illegal stills were seized in Alabama in 1915.
July 3, 1920: William Crawford Gorgas, U.S. Surgeon General, 1915-1918, and world-renowned expert on tropical diseases, dies in London while en route to South Africa. Gorgas was born in Mobile in 1854 and served as the Chief Sanitation Officer in Havana, Cuba, during the Spanish-American War and during the building of the Panama Canal, 1904-1914. In those tropical climates Gorgas saved hundreds of lives by successfully eliminating mosquito breeding grounds and thereby controlling the spread of yellow fever.
July 3, 1927: Grover C. Hall, Sr., editor of the Montgomery Advertiser, publishes the cornerstone editorial in a series of pieces that won him the 1928 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. The editorials, directed against the Ku Klux Klan, called for Alabama politicians and citizens to take a stand against Klan violence. Hall especially reprimanded Gov. Bibb Graves, a Klan member, urging him to take measures to end the countless floggings of white and black men and women across the state.
July 5, 1819: Alabama’s first constitutional convention is convened in Huntsville. Less than a month later the forty-four delegates, representing twenty-two counties, adopted what would become known as the Constitution of 1819, the first of six Alabama constitutions.
July 7, 1915: Author Margaret Walker is born in Birmingham. Walker is best known for her collections of poetry and her novel, Jubilee, which is based on her maternal grandmother’s memories of slavery. Walker taught for many years at Jackson State University in Mississippi and she died in 1998.
July 10, 1820: Alabama’s first governor, William Wyatt Bibb, dies as a result of injuries received in a riding accident. As specified in the 1819 constitution the president of the state senate automatically became the new governor. The new governor was Bibb’s younger brother, Thomas Bibb, who had represented Limestone County at the Constitutional Convention and in the state senate. Thomas did not stand for re-election, but later served again in the legislature and as director of the Huntsville Branch of the Bank of Alabama.
July 10, 1862: Forty men from the hill country of northwest Alabama sneak into Decatur to join the Union army, prompting Gen. Abel Streight to mount an expedition to the south to recruit more volunteers. With the help of an impassioned speech from fervent Unionist Christopher Sheats of Winston County, a center of anti-secessionist sentiment, Streight added another 150 Alabamians to his force.
July 10, 1864: Gen. Lovell H. Rousseau of the Union army begins his raid through Alabama at Decatur. Under orders from Gen. William T. Sherman, Rousseau’s 2,200 cavalrymen raided south more than 300 miles to the West Point and Montgomery Railroad in east Alabama. By July 20 they had destroyed more than thirty miles of track between Chehaw Station and Opelika, thereby aiding Sherman’s march on Atlanta by cutting a vital supply line to the city.
July 13, 1868: The Alabama legislature ratifies the 14th amendment to the U.S. constitution, thereby meeting one of the requirements for readmission to the Union. In part, the amendment guaranteed that states could not abridge citizenship rights of “persons born or naturalized in the United States,” which included freedmen.
July 14, 1948: At the National Democratic Convention in Philadelphia, half of the Alabama delegation walks out in protest of the party’s stand for civil rights. Three days later those delegates and other southerners formed the States’ Rights party, or “Dixiecrats,” at a convention in Birmingham, nominating Strom Thurmond of South Carolina for president.
July 16, 1900: Harper Councill Trenholm, president of Alabama State College from 1925 to 1962, is born in Tuscumbia. A graduate of Morehouse College and the University of Chicago, Trenholm served as instructor and director of the college extension program before assuming the presidency. During his long tenure Alabama State graduated its first four-year college class in 1932, developed a model teacher in-service program that served African-American teachers statewide, and began the legendary Turkey Day Classic football rivalry between Alabama State and Tuskegee Institute.
July 17, 1948: The Dixiecrat Convention assembles in Birmingham, with over 6,000 delegates from across the South in attendance. They selected Strom Thurmond as the presidential candidate for their States’ Rights Party. In the 1948 presidential election the Dixiecrats carried four states, including Alabama, where Democratic candidate Harry Truman’s name did not even appear on the ballot.
July 19, 1941: The first black pilots in the American military begin their primary flight training at Tuskegee Institute’s Moton Field. This first class of “Tuskegee Airmen” graduated the next March after transferring to Tuskegee Army Air Field to complete their training. The group saw its first action in World War II in 1943 as members of the segregated 99th Fighter Squadron of the Army Air Corps.
July 20, 1799: Daniel Pratt, who was to become a significant industrialist in nineteenth-century Alabama, is born in Temple, New Hampshire. After arriving in Alabama in 1832 he founded the town of Prattville and established what would later become the largest cotton gin manufacturing plant in the world.
July 21, 1962: The federal district court in Montgomery rejects the Alabama legislature’s plan to reapportion itself, ordering it instead to implement the court’s plan. Although Alabama’s Constitution of 1901 mandated reapportionment every ten years, the state’s legislative districts had not been redrawn since 1901, with the result that less-populated districts came to dominate the legislature in violation of the principle of “one man/one vote.”
July 25, 1868: For the first time since 1861, Alabama’s two U.S. senators take their seats in Congress, thus signifying Alabama’s readmission to the Union. “Carpetbaggers” George E. Spencer and Willard Warner, both natives of northern states, served as Republicans.
July 26, 1914: Erskine Hawkins, famed jazz musician, is born in Birmingham. His band, the ‘Bama State Collegians, became the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra in the late 1930s after gaining a following in New York and winning a recording contract with RCA Victor. The band’s biggest hit was the immensely popular “Tuxedo Junction” (1940).
July 26, 1952: Alabama Senator John Sparkman is named the Democratic vice-presidential running mate with Adlai Stevenson. Sparkman was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Alabama in 1936 and served in that body until 1946 when he was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served until 1979. The Democratic ticket lost the election to Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon.
July 27, 1813: The first engagment of the Creek Indian War of 1813-1814 takes place at Burnt Corn Creek in present-day Escambia County, Alabama. Creek leaders Peter McQueen and High Head Jim were returning from Pensacola, where they had secured supplies and arms from the Spanish and British, when they were attacked by American forces.
July 27, 1863: William Lowndes Yancey dies at his home near Montgomery at the age of 48. The main author of Alabama’s ordinance of secession, which removed Alabama from the Union, Yancey was one of the leading “fire-eaters” who influenced southern states to secede.