Birmingham, Alabama

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Birmingham, Alabama
Seal and Flag of Birmingham
City flag City seal
City nickname: "Magic City", "Pittsburgh of the South", "Da Ham"
Location of Birmingham, Alabama
Location in Jefferson County and Alabama
County Jefferson County, Alabama
 - Total
 - Water

393.5 km² (151.9 mi²)
388.3 km² (149.9 mi²) 1.34%
 - Total (2000)
 - Metropolitan
 - Density

Time zone Central: UTC–5
Location 33° 39′ 12″ N, 86° 48′ 32″ W
Mayor Bernard Kincaid
City website

Birmingham is the largest city in the U.S. state of Alabama and the county seat of Jefferson County. Portions of the city are also located in Shelby County. Though pronounced differently, it is named after Birmingham, England. Birmingham was at the center of the American Civil Rights Movement throughout the 1960s. Birmingham is a city that features a mixture of Old South meets New South, according to tourists. In recent years Birmingham has been named by various groups as one of the best U.S. cities in which to live.

Birmingham was founded as an industrial enterprise after the close of the Civil War. However, beginning in 1873, the city began to grow at an astonishing pace through the turn of the century, earning itself the nicknames of "The Magic City" and "The Pittsburgh of the South". Over the course of the 20th century, while industry declined nationwide, the city's economy diversified. Though manufacturing is still a strong sector, Birmingham also is a major medical research center and a regional banking and publishing power.

The population of the city proper is only 242,820 (2000 U.S. census), and declined to 236,620 according to the 2003 estimate. However, it serves as the primary nucleus for a sprawling urbanization known as Greater Birmingham with 1,052,238 inhabitants.

Birmingham's area code is 205.



Birmingham was founded on June 1, 1871 by real estate promoters who sold lots near the planned crossing of the Alabama & Chattanooga and South & North railroads. The site of the railroad crossing was notable for the nearby deposits of iron ore, coal, and limestone - the three principal raw materials used in making steel. Birmingham is one of the very few places worldwide where significant amounts of all three minerals can be found in close proximity. From the start the new city was planned as a great center of industry. The founders borrowed the name of Birmingham, England's principal industrial city, to advertise that point. Birmingham got off to a slow start: the city was impeded by an outbreak of cholera and a Wall Street crash in 1873. But soon afterward the city began growing rapidly.

Panorama of Birmingham, Alabama c.1916
Panorama of Birmingham, Alabama c.1916

In the 1950s and '60s Birmingham received national and international attention as a center of the civil rights struggle for African-Americans. A watershed in that movement occurred in 1963 when Martin Luther King, Jr., imprisoned for having taken part in a nonviolent protest, wrote the now famous Letter from Birmingham Jail, a defining treatise in his cause against segregation. Birmingham is best known, however, for a bombing which occurred later that year. Four black girls were killed by a bomb planted at the 16th Street Baptist Church. Although Birmingham was never home to large scale racial violence (Mass racial violence in the United States) such as has occurred in other cities as recently as 1992, common modern knowledge of the city is dominated by the 1963 bombing.

Following the same pattern as many other American cities, the population inside Birmingham's city limits has fallen over the past few decades. From 340,887 in 1960, the population was down to 242,820 in 2000, a loss of about 29 percent. However, the growth of suburbs to the south of Birmingham over that same time period has kept the metropolitan population growing.

In 1971 Birmingham celebrated its centennial with a round of public works improvements, including the upgrading of Vulcan Park.

In 1979 Birmingham elected Dr. Richard Arrington as its first African-American mayor.

In 1996 Birmingham's Legion Field hosted early rounds of Olympic soccer.

Over the course of the 20th century, while industry declined nationwide, the city's economy successfully diversified. Though manufacturing is still a strong sector, Birmingham also is a major medical research center and a regional banking and publishing power.

Geography and Climate


Birmingham is located at 33°31'29" North, 86°48'46" West (33.524755, -86.812740)1.

Birmingham occupies Jones Valley, flanked by long parallel mountain ridges (the tailing ends of the Appalachian foothills) running from north-east to south-west. The valley is drained by small creeks (Village Creek, Valley Creek) which flow into the Black Warrior River. More importantly, the valley was bisected by the principal railroad corridor, along which most of the early manufacturing operations began.

Red Mountain lies immediately south of downtown. Birmingham's television and radio broadcast towers are lined up along this prominent ridge. The area "Over the Mountain", including Shades Valley and Shades Mountain and beyond, was largely shielded from the industrial smoke and rough streets of the industrial city. This is the setting for Birmingham's more affluent suburbs of Mountain Brook, Homewood, Vestavia Hills, and Hoover. South of Shades Valley is the Cahaba River basin.

Sand Mountain, a smaller ridge, flanks the city to the north and divides Jones Valley from much more rugged land to the north. The Louisville and Nashville railroad enters the Valley through Boyles Gap, a prominent gap in the long low ridge.

Ruffner Mountain, located due east of the heart of the city, is home to Ruffner Mountain Nature Center, one of the largest urban nature reserves in the United States.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 393.5 km² (151.9 mi²). 388.3 km² (149.9 mi²) of it is land and 5.3 km² (2.0 mi²) of it is water. The total area is 1.34% water.


Birmingham has a temperate climate characterized by warm summers, mild winters, and abundant rainfall. Birmingham has slightly less rainfall than the Gulf Coast and is slightly cooler. January sees average daily high temperatures of 53.0 °F (11.7 °C) and lows of 31.8 °F (−0.1 °C). In July the average daily high is 90.6 °F (32.6 °C) and the low is 69.2 °F (20.7 °C). The average annual temperature in Birmingham is 62 °F (17 °C). Snowfall is infrequent in the area, with a yearly average of only 0.5 inches (1 cm). The average yearly rainfall in Birmingham is about 52 inches (1330 mm), with March being the wettest month and October the driest.

The spring and fall months are pleasant but variable, but cold fronts frequently bring strong to severe thunderstorms and occasional tornadoes to the South. The fall season features less rainfall and fewer storms, as well as lower humidity than the spring, but it is also a secondary severe weather season. Birmingham is located on the heart of a tornado alley known as the Dixie Alley due to the frequency of tornadoes in Central Alabama. In late summer and fall months, Birmingham experiences occasional tropical storms and hurricanes due to its proximity to the Central Gulf Coast.


The City of Birmingham has a mayor/council form of government with a nine-member city council. This replaced a City Commission in 1962, primarily as a way to remove Commissioner of Public Safety Eugene "Bull" Connor from power. By Alabama law, an issue before a city council must be approved by a two-thirds majority vote (Act No. 452, Ala. Acts 1955, as supplemented by Act No. 294, Ala. Acts 1965.). Executive powers are held entirely by the mayor's office.

Current Mayor

Current Council

  • Council District 1 (Joel Montgomery, Councilor)
  • Council District 2 (Carol Reynolds, Councilor)
  • Council District 3 (Valerie A. Abbott, Councilor)
  • Council District 4 (Gwen Pouncy Sykes, Councilor)
  • Council District 5 (Elias Hendricks, Jr, Councilor)
  • Council District 6 (Carole Smitherman, Councilor and President Pro-Tem)
  • Council District 7 (Bertram D. Miller, Councilor)
  • Council District 8 (Lee Wendell Loder, Councilor and President)
  • Council District 9 (Roderick Royal, Councilor)

See Also


In the 1970s and 1980s, Birmingham's economy was transformed with investments in bio-technology and medical research at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). UAB is now the area's largest employer and the largest in Alabama with a workforce of about 20,000. Birmingham is also a leading banking center, serving as home to three major banking companies: AmSouth Bancorporation, Compass Bancshares and Regions Bank. SouthTrust, which also had been headquartered in Birmingham, was acquired by Wachovia in 2004. Telecommunications provider BellSouth has a major presence with several large offices in the metropolitan area. The city is also a powerhouse of construction and engineering companies. It started with Rust Engineering International and has grown to many other construction and engineering companies such as BE&K, Brasfield & Gorrie, BL Harbert International, and Dunn Construction, all of which are in the top 100 engineering and construction companies in the world.

See also List of Corporations Based or Major Presence in Birmingham


The city of Birmingham is served by the Birmingham City Schools system.

The Birmingham-Hoover metropolitan area is home to numerous independent primary school systems. The area's largest are the Jefferson County, Birmingham City, and Shelby County school systems.

Institutions of Higher Education



Before the first structure was built in Birmingham, the plan of the city was laid out over a total of 1,160 acres (4.7 km²) by the directors of the Elyton Land Co. The streets were numbered from west to east, leaving Twentieth Street to form the central spine of downtown, anchored on the north by Capital Park and stretching into the slopes of Red Mountain to the south. A "railroad reservation" was granted through the center of the city, running east to west and zoned solely for industrial uses. As the city grew, bridges and underpasses separated the streets from the railroad bed, lending this central reservation some of the impact of a river (without the pleasant associations of a waterfront). From the start, Birmingham's streets and avenues were unusually wide at 80 to 100 feet (24 to 30 m), purportedly to help evacuate unhealthy smoke.

In the early 20th century professional planners helped lay out many of the new industrial settlements and company towns in the Birmingham District, including Corey (now Fairfield) which was developed for the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company (subsequently purchased by U. S. Steel).

The Robert Jemison company developed many residential neighborhoods to the south and west of Birmingham which are still renowned for their aesthetic quality.

Birmingham officials in November 2004 were reviewing a City Center Master Plan developed by Urban Design Associates of Pittsburgh, which advocates strongly for more residential development in the downtown area and includes a major park over several blocks of the central railroad reservation.

See also List of Birmingham Neighborhoods


Birmingham is served by three Interstates, Interstate 20, Interstate 65, and Interstate 59, and a southern beltway Interstate 459 and the Elton B. Stephens (Red Mountain) Expressway (U.S. Highway 31 & U.S. Highway 280). There have been some recent developments with the regional interstate system, including the construction of Corridor X (Future Interstate 22), and the planned future construction of a Northern Beltline corresponding to the existing Interstate 459. Birmingham is served by the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority through the Metro Area Express (MAX) bus system.

Birmingham is served by Birmingham International Airport (there is another airport of the same name in Birmingham, England).

Amtrak's Crescent train connects Birmingham with the cities of New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Charlotte, Atlanta and New Orleans. The Amtrak station is situated at 1819 Morris Avenue.

View of Birmingham's skyline from the BJCC
View of Birmingham's skyline from the BJCC


The water and sewage services for Birmingham and the intermediate urbanized area is served by the Birmingham Water Works Authority (BWWB). A public authority that was established in 1951, the BWWB serves all of Jefferson, northern Shelby, western St. Clair counties. The largest reservior for BWWB is Lake Purdy, which is located on the Jefferson and Shelby County line, but has several other reserviors including Bayview Lake in western Jefferson County. There are plans to pipeline water from Inland Lake in Blount County and Lake Logan Martin, but those plans are on hold indefinitely.

Electric power is provided primarily by Southern Company-subsidiary, Alabama Power. However, some of the surrounding area such as Bessemer and Cullman are provided by TVA. Natural gas is provided by Alagasco. The local telecommunications are provided by BellSouth.

People and Culture


As of the census2 of 2000, there are 242,820 people, 98,782 households, and 59,269 families residing in the city. The population density is 625.4/km² (1,619.7/mi²). There are 111,927 housing units at an average density of 288.3/km² (746.6/mi²). The racial makeup of the city is 24.07% White, 73.46% Black or African American, 0.17% Native American, 0.80% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 0.62% from other races, and 0.83% from two or more races. 1.55% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There are 98,782 households out of which 27.7% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 31.1% are married couples living together, 24.6% have a female householder with no husband present, and 40.0% are non-families. 34.4% of all households are made up of individuals and 10.4% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.37 and the average family size is 3.09.

In the city, the population is spread out, with 25.0% under the age of 18, 11.1% from 18 to 24, 30.0% from 25 to 44, 20.4% from 45 to 64, and 13.5% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 34 years. For every 100 females there are 85.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 80.4 males.

The median income for a household in the city is $26,735, and the median income for a family is $31,851. Males have a median income of $28,184 versus $23,641 for females. The city's per capita income is $15,663. 24.7% of the population and 20.9% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 35.4% of those under the age of 18 and 18.5% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.


Birmingham is the cultural and entertainment capital of Alabama with its numerous art galleries in the area and home to Birmingham Museum of Art, the largest art museum in the state. Birmingham is also home to the state's major ballet, opera, and symphony orchestra companies such the Alabama Ballet, Alabama Symphony Orchestra, Birmingham Ballet, Birmingham Concert Chorale, and Opera Birmingham.

  • The historic Alabama Theatre hosts film screenings, concerts and performances.
  • The Alys Stephens Center for the Performing Arts is home to Alabama Symphony Orchestra and Opera Birmingham as well as several series of concerts and lectures. It is located on the UAB campus in the Southside community.
  • The Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC), houses a theater, concert hall, exhibition halls, and a sports and concert arena. The BJCC is home to the Alabama Ballet and hosts major concert tours and sporting events.
  • Boutwell Auditorium (formerly Municipal Auditorium) is located at Linn Park.
  • The Verizon Wireless Music Center, formerly Oak Mountain Amphitheater, is a large outdoor venue with two stages.

Other entertainment venues in the area include:

  • Fair Park Arena, on the west side of town, hosts sporting events, local concerts and community programs.
  • WorkPlay, located in Southside, is a multi-purpose facility with offices, audio and film production space, a lounge, and a theater and concert stage for visiting artists and film screenings.
  • The Wright Center Concert Hall at Samford University is home to the Birmingham Ballet

Birmingham's nightlife is primarily clustered around Five Points South and Lakeview.

Attractions, Events, and Recreation

Birmingham is home to a variety of museums that includes that ranges from those that depict the city's involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, science, fine arts, sports, steel industry, fight, and jazz. The area's largest Birmingham Museum of Art, which also the largest municipal art museum in the Southeast. The museum is home to over 20,000+ artworks including the important collections of Wedgwood, the larges outside England, the premier collection of German decorative cast iron, and important collections of Asian and European decorative arts.

The area's history museums includes Birmingham Civil Rights Institute[1]. The area was at the center of the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and the contemporary Human rights struggle around the world. It houses a detailed and emotionally-charged narrative exhibit putting Birmingham's history into the context of the It is located on Kelly Ingram Park adjacent to the 16th Street Baptist Church. Other history museums includes Bessemer Hall of History, Sloss Furnaces, Alabama Museum of the Health Sciences, and the Arlington House.

Birmingham is also home to some of the most unique museums in the South. McWane Center is a regional science museum with hands-on science exhibits, temporary exhibitions, and guided demonstrations. The building has a 42,000 square foot (3,900 m²) IMAX dome theater with science-related programming. The center also houses a major collection of fossil specimens for use by researchers. Other unique museums includes the Southern Museum of Flight and Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame. The Barber Museum of Motorsports, located in a large motorsports complex in the suburb of Leeds, displays one of the most important collections of motorcycles in the world. The museum includes an extensive reference library and restoration workshop, as well as views over Barber's 2.3-mile race course. The Alabama Sports Hall of Fame is located in the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex downtown, showcases the disproportional contribution of Alabamians to the world of athletics. The Talladega Superspeedway Motorsports Hall of Fame museum that depicts the history of motorsports across Alabama and the nation as a whole.

South of downtown upon Red Mountain, Vulcan statue and adjacent history center features the god Vulcan at his forge and Birmingham's history the cast iron industry. The statue is largest cast iron statue in the world which was first cast for the 1904 St. Louis Exposition, and displayed on top of in 1938.

Birmingham is home to numerous cultural festivals that features music, films, regional hertiage. CityStages is a world-renowned music festival that occurs around Birmingham's Linn Park on Father's Day weekend, that offers 3 days of music from all genres on 11 stages on Fathers' Day Weekend. Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival is considered the third largest film festival in the US behind Sundance and Tribeca. It brings filmmakers from all over the world to Birmingham to have their films viewed and judged. This festival usually occurs on the last weekend in September at eight venues around downtown, but is more concentrated around the Alabama Theatre. The Southern Heritage Festival is an event that began in the 1960s as a music, arts, and entertainment festival for the African-American community in Birmingham that targeted mostly younger demographics. Do Dah Day is an annual pet parade held around the end of April

Kelly Ingram Park, site of notable civil rights protests and adjacent to historic 16th Street Baptist Church. Oak Mountain State Park is about 10 miles South of Birmingham. It is one of the southernmost wrinkles in the Appalachian chain, and a scenic drive to the top provides views reminiscent of the Great Smokey further north. The Birmingham Botanical Gardens is a 67-acre (270,000 m²) park displaying a wide variety of plants in interpretive gardens, including formal rose gardens, tropical greenhouses, and a large Japanese Garden. The facility also includes a white-tablecloth restaurant, meeting rooms, and an extensive reference library. The Birmingham Zoo is a large regional zoo with more than 700 animals and a recently-opened interactive children's zoo. Visionland is an amusement park with two independent sections: Splash Beach Waterpark and Magic Adventure Theme Park,. The theme park has 25 different thrill rides including The Rampage wooden roller coaster and Zoomerang, a steel roller coaster purchased in 2004 from the Brisbane expo. The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, a world-famous development of high-caliber public golf courses throughout Alabama, includes two championship courses and an 18-hole short course in Oxmoor Valley just south of Birmingham.


Though Birmingham has no major professional sport franchises, there is a very strong fan base for collegiate sports - primarily the University of Alabama and Auburn University football teams. The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) has a popular basketball program and is trying to broaden its base for football. Birmingham is home to the Birmingham Barons, the AA minor league affiliate of the Chicago White Sox that plays at the Hoover Metropolitan Stadium. The city also hosts the Birmingham Steeldogs of the Arena Football League 2 at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Center Arena. There is also a amateur soccer association, known as La Liga.

Motorsports are very popular in the Birmingham area and across the state, and the area is home to numerous annual motorsport races. "Aaron's 499 & EA Sports 500" are two NASCAR circuit races that occurs in April and October at the Talladega Superspeedway, and bring a major boost to the area's economy. The Superbike and Sports Car Grand Am races also take place in the area at the Barber Motorsports Park. The Mercedes Marathon is a 10-k and 5-k road race that takes place on the 1st or 2nd Sunday in February that was started in 2002.

The Senior PGA event the Bruno's Memorial Classic golf tournment in nearby Hoover at the Greystone Country Club.

Other area sport facilities includes:


Birmingham is served by one daily newspaper, The Birmingham News (circulation 150,346). The Birmingham News' Wednesday edition features six subregional sections named East, Hoover, North, Shelby, South, and West that cover news stories from those areas.

Birmingham Weekly, Birmingham Free Press and Black & White (published biweekly) are Birmingham's free alternative publications. The Birmingham Times, an historic African-American newspaper, also is published weekly.

Birmingham is part of the Birmingham/Anniston/Tuscaloosa television market, which is the nation's 40th largest. The major television affiliates are WBRC6 (FOX), WBIQ7 (PBS), WVTM13 (NBC), WTTO21 (WB), WBMA33/40 (ABC), WIAT42 (CBS), WPXH44(i), and WABM68 (UPN)

See also List of radio stations in Alabama


Notable Natives

See List of Birmingham, Alabama people

Sister cities

See also

External links

Flag of Alabama State of Alabama
Capital: Montgomery
Largest Metro: Birmingham-Hoover-Cullman Metropolitan Area
Regions: Greater Birmingham | Black Belt | Central Alabama | Lower Alabama | Mobile Bay | North Alabama | South Alabama
Largest cities: Birmingham | Huntsville | Mobile | Montgomery
Major cities: Anniston | Auburn | Decatur | Dothan | Florence | Gadsden | Hoover | Tuscaloosa
All cities: List of cities in Alabama
Counties: Autauga | Baldwin | Barbour | Bibb | Blount | Bullock | Butler | Calhoun | Chambers | Cherokee | Chilton | Choctaw | Clarke | Clay | Cleburne | Coffee | Colbert | Conecuh | Coosa | Covington | Crenshaw | Cullman | Dale | Dallas | DeKalb | Elmore | Escambia | Etowah | Fayette | Franklin | Geneva | Greene | Hale | Henry | Houston | Jackson | Jefferson | Lamar | Lauderdale | Lawrence | Lee | Limestone | Lowndes | Macon | Madison | Marengo | Marion | Marshall | Mobile | Monroe | Montgomery | Morgan | Perry | Pickens | Pike | Randolph | Russell | Shelby | St. Clair | Sumter | Talladega | Tallapoosa | Tuscaloosa | Walker | Washington | Wilcox | Winston
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