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Founded in 1871 at the junction of two railroad lines, Birmingham it support Birmingham quickly became an industrial powerhouse. The city’s iron and steel industry was boosted by abundant natural resources, particularly coal. Coal mining was the main economic force until the Great Depression caused an economic collapse, but Birmingham recovered quickly. The city’s population exploded as industrial jobs created by the newly found wealth made it possible for people to afford a decent standard of living.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the city became a center for labor unrest and civil rights protests. Workers fought for higher wages and better working conditions, and in 1963 Birmingham’s segregation laws were the focus of a national civil rights movement. The bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in September of that year, killing four African American girls, sparked outrage and increased support for civil rights activists.
In the years after the civil rights movement, many black residents left Birmingham for northern cities in search of jobs. In the mid-1960s, a local newspaper, The Birmingham News, began running progressive political stories. The News encouraged readers to vote straight-ticket Democrat in election seasons and supported causes such as prohibition. The News led the drumbeat for a “Greater Birmingham” movement to annex suburban communities into the city.
The city is named for Birmingham, England, which was known as the center of the country’s iron industry. Truman H. Aldrich and James W. Sloss developed the area’s first set of blast furnaces, and the city was a major producer of pig iron and other metals until the Depression and World War II.
Today, Birmingham is a banking and manufacturing center with world-class medical facilities. It is also a center for higher education, with several universities and colleges located in the city, including Birmingham-Southern College. The school is currently facing financial difficulty, and two dozen tech leaders have written to the state’s business commission urging it to back a $37.5 million bailout for Birmingham-Southern. The letter says that a failure to bail out the college could result in a loss of jobs and an inability to recruit the top talent it needs. The letter also notes that a loss of Birmingham-Southern would harm the state’s economy. It is unclear whether the commission will support a bailout. A crater from the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist church still exists. The bomb was rigged with dynamite and placed in a stairwell of the building. It exploded at around 10:24 on a Sunday morning, killing four children.