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Birmingham, Alabama

Birmingham is the largest city in the U.S. state of Alabama and the county seat of Jefferson County. The city also occupies portions of Shelby County. Though the population of the city itself is only 242,820 (2000 U.S. census), it serves as the major nucleus for a sprawling urbanization known as Greater Birmingham with 1,052,238 inhabitants.

Birmingham, Alabama
City flag City seal
City nickname: "The Magic City"
Location of Birmingham, Alabama

Location in the state of Alabama
County Jefferson County
 - Total
 - Water

393.5 km² (151.9 mi²)
388.3 km² (149.9 mi²) 1.34%

 - Total (2000)
 - Metropolitan
 - Density


Time zone Central UTC-6


33°31'29" North
86°48'46" West


Birmingham was founded with the first sale of lots on June 1, 1871 at the planned crossing of the Alabama & Chattanooga and South & North railroads. The site was strategically chosen in order to capitalize on the mineral resources of the Birmingham District; most notably the uniquely close proximity of iron ore, coal, and limestone - the raw materials for the production of steel. 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.

After a slow start, impeded by an outbreak of cholera and a Wall Street crash 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.

In recent years Birmingham has been named by various groups as one of the best U.S. cities to live in.

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 four black girls were killed by a bomb planted at the 16th Street Baptist Church. Violent racial conflicts have long since abated and most residents of Birmingham are eager to put such distasteful history behind them. The population of the core city of Birmingham has fallen from 340,887 in 1960 to 242,820 in 2000, a loss of about 45 percent. This can be attributed to the increasing size of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and the growth of business-related land use in the downtown area.

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.


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

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 Reserve, the largest urban nature reserve 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.

List of neighborhoods

  • Airport Hills
  • Brownville
  • Cahaba
  • Crestline
  • Crestwood
  • East Birmingham
  • East Lake
  • East Pinson Valley
  • Ensley
  • Five Points West
  • Grasselli
  • Huffman
  • North Birmingham
  • Northside
  • Pratt City
  • Red Mountain
  • Roebuck/South East Lake
  • Smithfield
  • Southside
  • Southwest
  • Titusville
  • West End
  • Woodlawn

Metropolitan Area

Birmingham along side with Hoover, are 2 of the 3 main principal cities in the much larger Greater Birmingham area that covers 8 counties in Central Alabama. The following counties are part of the metropolitan area: Bibb, Blount, Chilton, Cullman, Jefferson, St. Clair, Shelby, and Walker.


The city of Birmingham has a mayor/council form of government with a 9-member city council. As of 2005, the mayor is Bernard Kincaid . An issue must be approved by the council by a two-thirds majority vote pursuant to Act No. 452, Ala. Acts 1955, (the Mayor-Council Act of 1955), as supplemented by Act No. 294, Ala. Acts 1965.


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 Company. 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.

The city of Birmingham is currently (November 2004) 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.

Contemporary issues

Birmingham's city council is often ridiculed for outlandish behavior in local independent news outlets. Much of the lack of public services can be attributed to money wasted in inept bond deals designed to benefit friends and family members of city and county officials. The city has also been saddled with an enormous sewer repair bill, which resulted from a surprise verdict from a judge sympathetic to a local environmental group, the Cahaba River Society.

Despite city and county occupational taxes, which contribute to the flight of businesses "over the mountain," Jefferson County (which houses Birmingham) recently enacted, with no public hearing or vote, a 1% raise in sales tax to fund yet another bond for education. The constitutionality of the tax increase is currently being challenged in the Alabama Legislature.


Birmingham is served by 3 Interstates, Interstate 20, Interstate 65, 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 possible 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.


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 3rd largest in Alabama with a work force of about 20,000. Birmingham is also a leading banking center, serving as home to three major banking companies: AmSouth , Compass Bancorp and Regions Bank . SouthTrust, which had also been headquartered in Birmingham, was acquired by Wachovia in 2004. Regional telecommunications provider BellSouth has a major presence in the region with two offices in the metropolitan area.

Major Corporations

  • Alabama Power
  • AmSouth Bancorp
  • Bruno's Supermarkets
  • Compass Bancorp
  • EBSCO Industries, Inc., the largest private company in Alabama with diverse operations in publishing, manufacturing, and real-estate development.
  • Energen
  • HealthSouth Corp., the nation's largest outpatient clinic company.
  • Liberty National Life Insurance Co. (now owned by Torchmark)
  • McWane Corporation, manufacturer of fire hydrants, industrial valves, pipes and flanges.
  • Regions Financial Corporation
  • Royal Cup Coffee, Inc.
  • Saks Incorporated, department store operator.
  • Southern Research Institute, pharmaceutical, automotive, and chemical defense research firm.
  • Vulcan Materials, producer of construction aggregates and industrial chemicals.


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 per capita income for the city 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.


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.

List of Institutions of Higher Education



Major attractions

  • Barber Motorsports Park is a recently-opened $40 million motorsports complex that includes a 2.3 mile long track built to MotoGP specifications which currently hosts Superbike and Sports Car Grand Am races.
  • The Birmingham Botanical Gardens is a 67 acre (270,000 m²) park displaying a wide variety of plants in interpretive gardens, including a Japanese Garden with a teahouse, koi pond, and zen rock garden.
  • The Birmingham Zoo is a large regional zoo with over 700 animals and a recently opened a new interactive children's zoo.
  • The Riverchase Galleria mall hosts more than 200 retail stores, a five-star hotel, and an office tower under the largest skylight in the world in the suburb of Hoover. It includes the anchors of JCPenney, McRae's, Parisian, Proffitt's, Macy's, and Sears.
  • The Talladega Superspeedway, located east of Birmingham, is home to two of NASCAR circuit's annual races in April and October. The speedway also has a Motorsports Hall of Fame museum.
  • Visionland is two amusement parks in one. Splash Beach Waterpark provides water attractions for all ages and Magic Adventure Theme Park, has 25 different thrill rides including The Rampage wooden roller coaster and, premiering in 2005, a steel roller coaster purchased from the Brisbane expo.
  • The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, ranked one of the best golf trails in the world, includes two championship courses and a an 18-hole short course in Oxmoor Valley just south of Birmingham.

Annual major events

  • 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.
  • Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival this film festival is considered the third largest film festival in the US behind Sundance and Tribeca. It brings filmmakers from all over the U.S. and even the world to Birmingham to have their films viewed and judged. This festival usually occurs on the last weekend in September at 8 different venues around downtown, but is more concentrated around the Alabama Theatre. [1]
  • 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.
  • Southern Heritage Festival, this festival is one with a second chance at life. Originally began the 1960s as a music, arts, and entertainment festival for the African American community in Birmingham, but ceased to exist by the early 1990s. It was replaced by the now-defunct Birmingham Heritage Festival, which was basically an all-music festival, that targeted mostly the younger demos. But in July 2004 the Southern Heritage Festival was revived with a new name, The Original Southern Heritage Festival. This festival offers 3 days of music, culture, and arts. The first day of the festival is Hip Hop Night, the second day is Classic R&B and Old School night, while the final and third day is Gospel. This festival takes place on the Alabama State Fair Grounds at its Fair Park on the first weekend of September.
  • "Aaron's 499 & EA Sports 500" are two NASCAR circuit races that occur in April and October, and bring a major boost to the area's economy.


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, 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 Lynn 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.


  • The Birmingham Museum of Art is the Southeast's largest municipal art museum with over 20,000+ artworks. Important collections include the largest Wedgewood collection outside England, the premier collection of German decorative cast iron, and important collections of Asian and European decorative arts. European and American painting and sculpture from every period are well-represented. This museum was renovated and expanded in 1993.
  • The McWane Center, located downtown, 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.
  • The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute houses a detailed and emotionally-charged narrative exhibit putting Birmingham's history into the context of the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and the contemporary Human rights struggle around the world. It is located on Kelly Ingram Park adjacent to the 16th Street Baptist Church. the Institute also houses archival and research materials for public use and gallery space for temporary exhibitions.
  • 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 long race course.
  • Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark offers tours of one of Birmingham's signature blast furnaces. The site is also used for cultural programs and houses a nationally recognized metal arts program.
  • The Southern Museum of Flight, located near the Birmingham Airport, has a large collection of aircraft and aviation models and memorabilia.
  • The Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, located in the lobby of the Carver Theatre for the Performing Arts downtown, exhibits material relating to the history of Jazz in Alabama and hosts frequent concerts.
  • The Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, located in the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex downtown, showcases the disproportional contribution of Alabamians to the world of athletics.
  • The Bessemer Hall of History, housed in a 1916 railroad depot in the nearby industrial city of Bessemer, has a diverse collection of artifacts, including a modern mummy and Adolf Hitler's typewriter.
  • The Alabama Museum of the Health Sciences, located on the UAB campus, houses a collection of medical instruments, artifacts and specimens dating to the 16th century.

Buildings and structures

The 2000 foot (609.6 m) WTTO Tower is one of the world's tallest guyed towers.


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. The city also hosts the Birmingham Steeldogs of the Arena Football League 2.

Area Sport Venues



Birmingham is served by two daily newspapers; the Birmingham News, (circulation 150,346) owned by Advance Publications and the Birmingham Post-Herald, (circulation 25,652) owned by Scripps. The two have a joint-operating agreement and publish a combined edition on Saturdays.

The Birmingham Weekly and Black & White are Birmingham's free weekly alternative publications.


Birmingham is part of the Birmingham/Anniston/Tuscaloosa television market, which is the nation's 40th largest.


Birmingham mentioned in music

Randy Newman wrote and sang a song about the city, called "Birmingham" (lyrics). The city is also referenced in folk singer Ani DiFranco's song "Hello Birmingham" (lyrics) and in the song "Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Tracy Lawrence had a country hit in 2004 with his song "Paint Me A Birmingham". Other songs include "Postmarked Birmingham" by Blackhawk, "Down and Out in Birmingham" by Pirates of the Mississippi , "The Birmingham Bounce" by Red Foley , "Birmingham" by Amanda Marshall, "Birmingham Blues" by John Lee Hooker and Charlie Daniels, "Birmingham Breakdown" by Duke Ellington, "Birmingham Daddy" by Gene Autry, "Birmingham Jail" by Leadbelly and many others, "Birmingham Sunday" by Joan Baez, "Birmingham Turnaround" by Keith Whitley, and "Birmingham, Alabama" by Harry Belafonte and R. B. Greaves

Famous residents

Birmingham is the birthplace of:

Sister cities

  • Hitachi, Japan
  • Gweru, Zimbabwe
  • Szekeshfehrevar, Hungary
  • Cape Town, South Africa
  • Pomiglian D'Arco, Italy
  • Vinista, Ukraine
  • Anshan, China

External links

Last updated: 06-01-2005 20:16:04
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