Alabama History: Re-examined Part 3

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - WSFA 12 News is continuing its series of stories on the history and contributions of African Americans to this state. It’s a joint effort with the Alabama Department of Archives & History to promote their recommitment to telling the whole story of our state’s past after years of knowingly only focusing on the Confederacy.

Montgomery is a city still making history. In 2019, residents elected its first Black mayor.

But another historic event that also took place years ago, not far from the mayor’s office, led to the creation the Confederate States of America with intent to maintain slavery in the South.

It was a historic day when Montgomery swore in its first Black mayor. Steven Reed took the oath of office inside a packed City Hall, a nod to the city’s civil rights history and the foot soldiers who ushered him to this moment.

At the other end of Dexter Avenue, happening more than a century ago, was another history-making moment for Montgomery. Jefferson Davis was sworn in on the steps of the Capitol as the first president of the Confederacy.

“In introducing Jefferson Davis at the Exchange Hotel the night before he said the man and the hour have come. Meaning? They know have a stand bearer at a crucial time in southern history,” said author and historian Richard Bailey.

But Montgomery would only remain the capital of the Confederacy for a few months. It moved to Richmond, Virginia, closer to the frontlines of the war and their mission.

During the 1861 secession, convention state delegates voted 61-39 to leave the Union. The Montgomery Weekly Advertiser called it “a glorious day.”

But a north Alabama delegate against secession wrote “To see a large crowd of both men and women transported with joy (without) one regret for the old stars and stripes, was to me the most soul sickening spectacle that I ever witnessed in all my life.”

“They decided in that same action to invite representatives from the other slaveholding states to send delegates to Montgomery to join in having discussions about creating a new regional government that would become the Confederate States of America,” said Steve Murray of the Alabama Department of Archives & History.

State delegates also took up the matter of rewriting Alabama’s constitution to include new laws concerning slavery. It now forbade the emancipation on any enslaved person. It also left in a key provision of the 1819 Constitution that protects the lives of enslaved persons, guaranteeing them the right to a trial by jury and establishing criminality for their harm, a law that was often violated.

“They are still in legal servitude and the property of the white people on whose land they live and work,” Murray said.

At the beginning of the Civil War, almost half of Alabama’s residents were enslaved, living mostly in the Black Belt where plantations and cotton fields were plentiful. In some counties, enslaved Alabamians outnumbered white residents eight to one.

“Most of your pro-slave sentiment was most evident in your Black Belt counties because that’s where cotton was really king,” Bailey said.

Further north, along the Tennessee River was an opportunity for enslaved Alabamians living along the Union lines.

“They knew that if they could get to the Union lines that they would be freed by the Union army,” said Murray.

According to Murray, by the end of the war, almost 200,000 Black soldiers and sailors had fought for the Union.

Bailey says before the war ended the South became desperate and considered enlisting the very people they were fighting to enslave.

“The point here such a movement goes against the logic of why the war was being fought in the first place,” he said.

The bloody conflict dragged on for four long years. According to the Alabama Department of Archives & History, 80,000 Sons of the Confederacy from Alabama fought in the Civil War, 27,000 lost their lives, and countless others were injured.

But for more than 400,000 enslaved Alabamans, the end of the conflict signaled a new beginning.

If you want more information on history in Alabama, head to the Alabama Department of Archives & History’s website.

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