What is Alabama known for? Well, that depends on who you ask. Push aside any stereotypes and consider these interesting facts about Alabama.
- See also this incredible Alabama Road Trip itinerary
What is Alabama known for?
Ah, Alabama. This curious and complex state in the Deep South of the United States has a lot going on, despite its reputation.
It has craggy mountains, white sand beaches, literary history, green fried tomatoes, historic hot dogs and a rocket that put men on the moon.
And most of all: a powerful message about hatred, love and change through Martin Luther King Jr and the Civil Rights Movement.
If you're not sure yet, it's time to discover what Alabama is famous for.
Ready for a challenge? Keep count and let me know how many of these interesting facts about Alabama you already knew.
Disclosure - This project took place through a partnership with Alabama Tourism Department and America As You Like It. As ever, as always, we kept the right to write what we like. There's really no point otherwise! Also, we use some affiliate links. That means that if you book or buy through some of these links then we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. We still only recommend products and services we use ourselves. Again, no point otherwise!
Fun Facts About Alabama
Alabama's nickname is the Yellowhammer State
Nothing to do with construction, the yellowhammer is a beautiful petite bird and the nickname dates back to the American Civil War.
At the time, a group of soldiers from Huntsville turned up to fight wearing yellow shirts. The yellowhammer nickname was born - and stayed. And it's now a formal affair: the yellowhammer is currently the official Alabama state bird.
It's also known as the Heart of Dixie
The nickname Dixie refers to a collection of southern states, allegedly harking back to the days when their bank notes were in French. From dix (deece) standing for ten on the bank notes, came Dixie, with Alabama at the heart of it, both geographically and, arguably, spiritually.
However, the term now attracts some controversy. Some see the word as evoking nostalgia for an era when Blacks, and others, were mistreated.
That's not a universal opinion but it's wise to listen rather than speak when it comes to the phrase.
And as the cotton state
Now, many of the southern states are referred to as cotton states. Largely because, you guessed it, they produce a lot of cotton. However, Alabama is often called the cotton state because of its position, both geographically and politically, at the heart of the cotton area. You'll also hear talk of the "black belt." That refers to the mid section of the state, where the cotton grows. The fertile earth is darker, hence the name. Look out for white puffs of cotton along the side of the road as you drive through on an Alabama road trip.
It's home to America's oldest Mardi Gras
Now, this one is a fun fact about Alabama. Mobile, the carnival city in the south, is home to the oldest Mardi Gras in America.
Founded long before New Orleans, (well, 15 years, but who's counting?) Mardi Gras and the whole carnival season stomps and struts its way across the Mobile calendar with masks and music, mystic societies and legendary bands.
If you can't make the big fat Tuesday in person, you can get a sense of the gowns, the floats and the grandiosity at the Mobile Carnival Museum.
And a Giant Naked Bottom
One of the most surprising fun facts about Alabama has to involve a cast iron naked buttock hanging over the skyline of a city.
Vulcan, the largest cast iron statue in the world, wasn't supposed to hang around for so long. Built in 1904 in Birmingham for the World Fair, people so fell in love with this Roman god of metalwork and his amorous ways that they campaigned to save him.
He now stands as a permanent fixture of the city, with a visit offering cool views of the skyline at sunset. You'll also find the Vulcan Visitor's Center, which catalogues the rise of Birmingham itself, a patchwork of hard work, baseball and big money.
The Civil Rights Movement
When it comes to interesting facts about Alabama, at some point we have to move away from the fun. Serious and sobering, uplifting and inspiring, it was in Alabama that some of the most defining moments of the Civil Rights Movement in America took place.
Rev Martin Luther King Preached here
He may have been born in Atlanta, Georgia, but Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr was a preacher at the Dexter Avenue Memorial Church in Montgomery, Alabama before he became a spokesman, if not the spokesman, for the Civil Rights Movement in 1960s America.
The church lives just steps away from the Capitol Building and a painted memorial of footsteps waits outside. This marks the spot where the marchers from Selma arrived to present their petition for equal voting rights to Governor George Wallace.
"We have come not only five days and 50 miles but we have come from three centuries of suffering and hardship. We have come to you, the Governor of Alabama, to declare that we must have our freedom NOW. We must have the right to vote; we must have equal protection of the law and an end to police brutality."
Wallace refused to greet them. But on the 50th anniversary of the event, the Governor came out onto the steps to greet Martin Luther King Jr's daughter.
Rosa Parks refused to stand up in Alabama
When Rosa Parks refused to yield her seat on the bus for a white man, it prompted an arrest and then the Montgomery Bus Boycott. For over a year, African Americans refused to ride the bus in Montgomery, instead walking or car pooling with supporters until the injustice was ended.
It was the first large scale protest against segregation in the US.
“We came to see that, in the long run, it is more honorable to walk in dignity than ride in humiliation. So … we decided to substitute tired feet for tired souls, and walk the streets of Montgomery.” Dr Martin Luther King Jr
After the U.S Supreme Court ruled that segregation on the buses was unconstitutional, the transport company gave in and mandated equal access to seats to all. The bus stops and stations, however, remained segregated.
The real power of the protest, though, was to launch the wider awareness of America's Civil Rights Movement and to bring to prominence one local speaker: Dr Martin Luther King Jr.
The Edmund Pettus Bridge
At first glance, it's not obvious why the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma is a National Historic Landmark. Crossing the Alabama River, on the way from Selma to Montgomery, its prominence comes from the events which took place here.
In March 1965 armed police attacked unarmed protestors as they attempted a peaceful march toward Montgomery. The day became known as Bloody Sunday and images of the beaten protestors travelled across the world.
Find out more about the role of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in the Civil Rights Trail here.
The KKK Killed children in Birmingham, Alabama
In yet another harrowing turn, Alabama's history includes the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. With entertainment and meeting spaces effectively closed off to African-Americans due to relentless segregation rules, the Church also functioned as a meeting place and community centre.
On the morning of September 15th 1963, just as Sunday School children were preparing to read to a packed church inside, a bomb exploded. Planted by the KKK, it killed four young girls and injured many others.
Today, you'll find sculptures in the Kelly Ingram park outside which remembers these young lives, along with sculptures that depict the water cannons, dogs and police brutality used against African Americans as they tried to stand up for their rights. The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute lives just next door and provides a wider context for the events that took place here.
The quest of the Freedom Riders
Back in Montgomery, following the successful end to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, all was still not well. While perhaps in law, African Americans had won the right to a seat on public transport, the reality remained tough and cruel.
Wihtout police enforcement, many local transport companies simply carried on as before. Waiting rooms remained segregated and to travel remained a risk.
Enter the Freedom Riders, a group of people who became activists to stand up for their right to travel. They came from near and far, from Alabama to Washington... and were greeted by a violent mob.
Today's Freedom Riders Museum lives on in that former bus stop and brings to life this often overlooked story.
The Negro Motorist Green Book
Another somber but interesting fact about Alabama includes its place within the Negro Motorist Green Book. At the height of segregation and the era of Jim Crow laws, this publication made it easier for African-Americans to find transport, hotels and lodgings which would accept them. While published in New York, its links with the Freedom Riders make it part of the story of Alabama.
Natural Facts About Alabama
I'm not sure about you, but I didn't know too much about Alabama's rich natural diversity before I went there. From white sand beaches to mountain peaks, alligator swamps to cotton fields, Alabama has plenty of natural facts to surprise you.
Alabama has a greater biodiversity than anywhere in the us
Yep, you read that right. Alabama is described, by academics not just bloggers, as the Amazon of North America. It is teeming with natural resources.
The Mobile River basin, which drains most of the state, is home to more species of freshwater fish, crawfish, snails, mussels and turtles than any other state. By a long shot.
To California's 9 species of crawfish, and Louisiana's 32, Alabama has 84.
When it comes to species of turtle, Alabama's 18 tops the Nile, the Mekong, the Yangtze and, yes, even the Amazon itself.
Unable to spend weeks in the back country? Then visit the Cook Museum of Natural Science in Decatur. There you'll find the biodiversity of Alabama brought to life, from stuffed bears to interactive geology exhibits and a live, swimming turtle.
You can even wander through a reconstructed underground cave network.
The Appalachian Mountains run into Alabama
They may start in the north, in Canada's Newfoundland, but the Appalachian Mountain Range runs all the way south to Alabama.
Geographically, the Appalachians served as a barrier to westward expansion from the east, leading to a number of conflicts taking place here during both the period of European colonisation and then the American Civil War.
Geographically, they also look beautiful. Think waterfalls and canyons, rocky outcrops and autumn leaves. Even, depending on your luck and your viewpoint, bears.
Alabama has beautiful white sand beaches
Oh, let's all take a moment to appreciate the brilliance of Alabama's Gulf Coast beaches, shall we? Head down to Gulf Shores State Park and walk on some of the finest sand there is.
Think that's a hoax? I'm serious.
This sand, washed down from the Appalachians, looks sugar-dusted perfect and doesn't get hot enough to burn the soles of your feet. Amazing.
And an enormous underground cave network
Alabama's underground cave networks are so vast that it's a local hobby in its own right. Adventurers abound in their quest to swing around from ropes in the darkness. But for us more lowly mortals, you can visit Cathedral Caverns State Park, where you can hike through a cave system instead.
As one of the largest underground cave networks in the world, this place gets its name because the rock formations in one section resemble a cathedral. In other places, they touch on bacon, popcorn, soda straws and the Taco Bell logo.
Plus an incredible story after the Deepwater HOrizon Spill
In 2010, the biggest marine oil spill in history occurred as Deepwater Horizon exploded and leaked barrels upon barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. When BP was ordered to pay around 20 billion in compensation, residents around Gulf Shores State Park had a choice to make.
Build back the same? Or build back better?
They chose the latter and now host one of, if not the, most environmentally sustainable hotels in the world. Its windows protect against bird strikes, its lights protect turtle nesting grounds, its water system recycles the water collected from the AC and it sells energy back to the grid from its solar panels on the beach.
Literary Facts About Alabama
The Great Gatsby lived here
Well, not technically, of course. Gatsby lived in Long Island, New York. But author, F. Scott Fitzgerald lived in Montgomery, Alabama, for around a year with his wife Zelda. Zelda was a novelist in her own right, as well as a painter.
Today, you can visit their house at the Fitz Museum, a home in a gorgeous, grassy neighbourhood called Old Cloverdale. Inside, first edition novels jostle with family heirlooms and postcards, along with the black tie suits worn by Leonardo and co in the 2013 film Gatsby.
So did To Kill a Mockingbird
Is Maycomb a real place in Alabama? It sure feels like it is when you visit Monroeville, Alabama. For this was the childhood home of Harper Lee, author of the famous schoolroom text To Kill a Mockingbird.
The county courthouse matches the description in the book and was used as inspiration for the 1962 Gregory Peck film.
But you can't visit Harper Lee's house. That was dismantled years ago. Residents of Monroeville claim she never was a recluse, she simply didn't like nosy neighbours and prying journalists. Seems fair enough to me...
And Truman Capote
Alabama's small town of Monroeville has another literary claim to fame. Truman Capote also grew up here, as the literary inspiration for Dill in To Kill a Mockingbird.
For all the international Mockingbird fame, it's Capote who has the more stellar literary pedigree. As the author of In Cold Blood, A Christmas Story, and Breakfast At Tiffany's, it's fascinating to visit his hometown and see artefacts from his and his family's past, from blue glass to faded photographs.
And Helen Keller
Author Helen Keller was also born and raised in Alabama. Left unable to see and hear following a childhood illness, Helen's life changed when teacher Anne Sullivan began introducing her to words by tracing the letters on her palm. Keller went on to study at Harvard, became a published author many times over and advocated for disability rights and women's suffrage.
Music Facts About Alabama
R-E-S-P-E-C-T Alabama's music scene, will ya?! Alabama's Muscle Shoals launched household names all over the world.
Founded by Rick Hall, FAME Studios have entertained the vocal cords of Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding and many more.
Muscle Shoals Sound Studio
Also in Muscle Shoals is the sound studio of the same name. Musicians lured here include the likes of Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart and Paul Simon.
Science Facts About Alabama
Albama has a real rocket city
Want to feel small? Head out to Huntsville and visit the US Space and Rocket Center and stand looking at its Saturn V rocket. The spike and spire appears long before you reach the museum. Once inside, you'll give yourself neck ache trying to see the top.
But that's just the replica. The real thing lives indoors, laid out horizontally in a demonstration of scale to make everyone who visits feel miniature.
But what else could you expect? The Huntsville Space Center, the official Visitor Center for NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center is the largest space museum on this planet.
And a mighty military presence
The might of the US industrial complex isn't just about space and naked bottomed gods of Roman metalwork.
Head to Mobile to the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park to climb and clamber around the world war battleship and real life submarine. And prepare to leave feeling small. These monuments to metal are already dated and yet as you climb and climb and climb inside them, the scale of the conflict and America's military power starts to shift into focus.
Foodie Facts About Alabama
Hot sauce is a big thing
This is one of those fun facts about Alabama that probably seems obvious when you live there but which only surprises you as a visitor: hot sauce is a big thing.
Back in the UK, for example, it's not a thing at all. Maybe, in specific restaurants, you may come across hot sauce. But that's it.
In Alabama, you'll find it almost everywhere. And not as a single bottle. Oh no. Expect to find entire hot sauce counters, with a range of ten to twenty different styles of hot sauce.
This needs to catch on.
So is BBQ sauce
Right after hot sauce, is Alabama's precision and passion for barbecue sauce. It seems as though every smokehouse has its own recipe. And again, you'll often find a BBQ sauce counter, with an array of sticky, sour and sweet options.
Look out for Moon Pies
Nothing to do with Huntsville and outer space, MoonPies refer to a marshmallow and biscuit concoction made famous through Mobile's Mardi Gras. According to tradition, people throw sweets and biscuits from the floats during the parades. After a number of injuries from some sharper edged confectionary, the organisers switched to these round, marshmallow like treats.
They come in chocolate, banana and salted caramel and kids love them.
So, too, do many adults.
And shrimp and grits
The shrimp part may be self explanatory but what on earth are grits? They're a warm and comforting dish made from ground corn, a recipe with its roots in west Africa. You'll find it across the southern states, not just in Alabama, but it will be served in different ways. Some grits are plain, like porridge, for breakfast. Others throw in some cheese or paprika and cajun seasoning to form a spicier, more gourmet dish.
Biscuits and gravy
One of the most interesting facts about Alabama involves how languages change. To a Brit, biscuits and gravy conjures up choc chip cookies with a brown Bisto sauce. The real biscuits and gravy in the southern United States is a completely different affair.
Biscuits are discs of soft dough, more similar to scones in the UK. And the gravy is often a thick white sauce with occasional meat and mustard. It involves flour and milk and often pork dripping. It's another warming comfort food that you'll often find at breakfast.
And Big Bob Gibson's White BBQ Sauce
Smokehouses and barbecues are another key staple of food in the south. Many have their own BBQ sauces and they're typically brown, sweet and tangy.
Not so Big Bob Gibson's. Renowned in Decatur, just south of Huntsville, Big Bob's barbecue sauce is white. It's based on mayonnaise, garlic, paprika and mustard but still carries a definite twang.
More Facts About Alabama
The US Government Removed Native Americans
In one more distressing chapter of history, the US government forcibly removed Native Americans from their land to make room for more cotton plantations. They were driven west in a series of unforgiving marches, during which hundreds died. You can visit the Trail of Tears in and around the Appalachian mountains and find small plaques which commemorate what happened.
A key part of the American Civil War took place here
In 1861, Jefferson Davis was inaugurated as the first president of the Confederacy on the steps of the capitol building in Montgomery. Years later, Martin Luther King Jr became a preacher at the church just a few metres away.
The word Alabama
Sources vary on the details but there seems to be no doubt that Alabama comes from a Native American name. Some say that it derives from the Choctaw language and means "thicket clearers" or herb gatherers.
Alabama created an industrial city from scratch
With the arrival of the steam engine, a group of wealthy men decided to found a brand new city in order to grow their fortunes. Freed from needing a river for transport, they created Birmingham, Alabama, with a train track instead of a river connecting the city to the rest of the world.
The highest point in Alabama...
Is in Cheaha State Park. The peak measures 2407 feet and is surrounded by the cool deep greens of the Talladega National Forest.
There's a quaint water mail route
In Magnolia Springs near the Gulf Coast, residents get their mail in a rather unusual way: by boat. The water mail route has been in operation for over 100 years and it's the only one of its kind in the continental United States.
And Alabama's Number is...
Alabama is the 22nd state of the United State of America. The transition from territory to statehood began in 1819.
And she goes to bed early
During our Alabama road trip, if we hadn't reached a restaurant by 8.30, it was often too late to eat. Take note night owls and those used to later dining. 6pm is a usual enough time in Alabama.
What did you think about these amazing facts about Alabama? Bookmark on Pinterest for later.
What's New in Alabama for 2022
The Last American Slave Ship
More than 50 years after the importation of enslaved people was outlawed in the US, people were still at it. The schooner Clotilda was scuttled close to Mobile in 1860 and is one of only 13 known surviving slave ships out of a 20 000 or so that existed.
Water tours from Mobile are in development to highlight the ship and educate visitors about the realities of this despicable trade.
The illegal arrival of the last known slave ship, Clotilda, in 1860 brought 110 prisoners to the shores of the US just before the start of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery. This community first tried to return home to the lives and families they clearly remembered but this proved to be impossible. Instead, they founded Africatown, a community close to Mobile which survives and thrives to this day. In 2022, the Africatown Heritage House will open to share stories from this incredible story of resilience and provide access to the only known remnants from the Clotilda.
Birmingham to host the 2022 World Games
The “Magic City” of Birmingham, Alabama will play host to The World Games July 7-17, 2022, attracting athletes from over 100 countries in a tradition that typically follows the year after the summer Olympic Games.
As a result, Birmingham has seen a lot of investment and innovation lately. Look out for this brand new CityWalk project, a fantastic space to connect the city through food, nature and community.
The Orion Amphitheatre is coming to Huntsville
An 8000 capacity amphitheatre is due to open in Huntsville in Spring 2022, with the aim of becoming the ultimate outdoor music venue. Check out plans for the Orion Amphitheatre here.
Amtrak will connect New Orleans to Mobile
After 16 long years, passenger trains are back along the Gulf Coast. Amtrak will connect New Orleans to Mobile with four stops in Mississippi – Bay St. Louis, Gulfport, Biloxi and Pascagoula.
See also what you can do in New Orleans here.
And the A.G Gaston Motel is coming back
Another important monument is gaining its place on the Civil Rights Trail. President Barack Obama kickstarted the programme during the last month of this term and the restoration of the A.G. Gaston Motel is scheduled to be completed in 2022.
Not only did the Motel serve as a haven for weary black travellers but Room 30 also became the unofficial war room for civil rights leaders in their quest for freedom.
More on Travel in the United States
We love a good road trip through America. It's such a fascinating country to drive through with so many different landscapes, stories, peoples and cultures.
Check out our American road trip itineraries:
- Your two week road trip from New Orleans
- A fly-drive itinerary for the west coast in Florida
- Driving Massachusetts: road trips from Boston
- Your perfect road trip through Alabama
- Meet the real Maycomb from Harper Lee's Mockingbird
- The beach in Alabama that is changing the world. Seriously.
And our useful prep guides here: