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Alabama in the Twentieth Century

Written by Wayne Flynt

Publication Year: 2004

An authoritative popular history that places the state in regional and national context.

Alabama is a state full of contrasts. On the one hand, it has elected the lowest number of women to the state legislature of any state in the union; yet according to historians it produced two of the ten most important American women of the 20th century—Helen Keller and Rosa Parks. Its people are fanatically devoted to conservative religious values; yet they openly idolize tarnished football programs as the source of their heroes. Citizens who are puzzled by Alabama's maddening resistance to change or its incredibly strong sense of tradition and community will find important clues and new understanding within these pages.

Written by passionate Alabamian and accomplished historian Wayne Flynt, Alabama in the Twentieth Century offers supporting arguments for both detractors and admirers of the state. A native son who has lived, loved, taught, debated, and grieved within the state for 60 of the 100 years described, the author does not flinch from pointing out Alabama's failures, such as the woeful yoke of a 1901 state constitution, the oldest one in the nation; neither is he restrained in calling attention to the state's triumphs against great odds, such as its phenomenal number of military heroes and gifted athletes, its dazzling array of writers, folk artists, and musicians, or its haunting physical beauty despite decades of abuse.

Chapters are organized by topic—politics, the economy, education, African Americans, women, the military, sport, religion, literature, art, journalism—rather than chronologically, so the reader can digest the whole sweep of the century on a particular subject. Flynt’s writing style is engaging, descriptive, free of clutter, yet based on sound scholarship. This book offers teachers and readers alike the vast range and complexity of Alabama's triumphs and low points in a defining century.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

I suppose anyone who spends half a century pondering a single subject will become obsessed with it and want to write a book. One day as the words poured out of my fountain pen, I realized that I had lived in Alabama during 6 of the 10 decades I was describing. During 5 of them, I was an activist with pronounced opinions...

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pp. xv-xvii

Americans were so anxious to greet the new century that they could not wait an entire hundred years. So the 20th century offcially lasted only 99 years, beginning January 1, 1901, and ending December 31, 1999. It is no wonder they were glad to have the century over. It witnessed the greatest depression and the bloodiest war in human history. It also recorded...

PART ONE: Alabama's Political Economy

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1. In the Beginning: The 1901 Constitution

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pp. 3-28

As it was, most if not all the state’s formidable problems had their origins in the 1901 document. The virulent racism of that original charter reminded one and all that at the beginning of the century chief among the issues of governance in the minds of white citizens was the subordination and exclusion of black citizens. That such a document could still govern...

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2. Every Man for Himself: Politics, Alabama Style

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pp. 29-106

The political scientist V. O. Key Jr. had a unique vantage point from which to analyze Alabama politics. In 1946 the Bureau of Public Administration at the University of Alabama hired Key away from Johns Hopkins University. A Texan by birth, with a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, Key’s assignment was to supervise a study of southern politics. He brought...

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3. Selling Alabama: The Economy

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pp. 107-171

A century after Alabama put its children and young women on the auction block of economic development, an eerily similar advertisement appeared in Bobbin Magazine. The setting for the August 1991 ad was different, but the sentiment was identical: “Rosa Martinez produces apparel for U.S. markets on her sewing machine in El Salvador. You can hire her for...

PART TWO: Alabama's Society

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4. Life from the Bottom Up: Society

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pp. 175-219

What do Alabamians look like? What do they eat? Where do they live? What are their hobbies? How are their families organized? Are they healthier or sicker than most Americans? Are most of them poor, middle class, or rich? How do they provide for the less fortunate, the poor, the mentally ill, children? How did society change during the years between 1900...

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5. Teaching the People: Education

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pp. 220-250

Being a teacher in Alabama never has been an easy job. Some education problems were rooted deep in the state’s frontier past: resistance to taxes; belief in Jacksonian egalitarianism rather than educational elitism; resistance to new ideas. Other problems emerged from the 1901 constitution: limits on property taxes, which forced the state to rely on unpredictable...

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6. On and Off the Pedestal: Women

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pp. 251-292

Revolutions come in all shapes and sizes. Some are big, violent, and noisy. Others are so quiet that they barely announce their arrival. Some run their course in a few months or years. Others take decades to play out and defy the concept of sudden change altogether. Some compromise and accommodate. Others contest ground so fiercely that in the end it is hard to...

Image Plates

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7. Counting behind White Folks: African Americans

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pp. 317-372

To commemorate the 45th anniversary of the Montgomery bus boycott, HBO television network prepared a film and commissioned a symposium on the event that symbolically launched the modern civil rights movement in America. The symposium, appropriately enough, met on the campus of Alabama State University on February 15, 2001. The university...

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8. Fighting Mad: Alabamians at War

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pp. 373-406

In his post–World War Two career as a professor of biology at the University of Montevallo, Eugene B. Sledge specialized in ornithology, the study of birds. That the author of what many military historians consider the best ordinary rifleman’s memoir of the Second World War should spend his postwar years watching eastern bluebirds, cedar waxwings, evening...

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9. Beyond the Game: The Social Significance of Sports

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pp. 407-439

A familiar crisis engulfed Alabama at the end of the 20th century. Gov. Don Siegelman declared the state’s education budget to be in proration. Alabama Education Association president Paul Hubbert, in an effort to minimize the effect of budget cuts on K-12 schools, launched an attack on “rich...

PART THREE: Alabama's Culture

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10. What Would Jesus Do? Religion

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pp. 443-484

The 20th century began with a virtual Baptist-Methodist monopoly on religion in Alabama. The 1906 religious census listed nearly 400,000 black and white missionary Baptists among a total church membership of 832,000. Another 243,000 black and white Methodists of various affiliations meant that Baptists and Methodists accounted for more than 3 of...

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11. Plain and Fancy: Folk and Elite Culture

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pp. 485-531

The lives of three intellectuals—two southern and one northern—converged in Hale County, Alabama. They represented different generations and disparate temperaments. The two visual artists—Walker Evans of Chicago and William Christenberry of Tuscaloosa—were both shy, private men. Though they allowed their cameras to intrude into the lives of...


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pp. 533-543

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 545-578


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pp. 579-602

E-ISBN-13: 9780817381868
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817314309

Publication Year: 2004