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As African Americans were mainstreamed into politics, education, and economic life, cities such as Huntsville, Birmingham, Montgomery, and Mobile experienced a renaissance, the state thrived in a globalized world economy, and a new generation of socially enlightened entrepreneurs and their allies led the way toward racial reconciliation and educational modernization.Long before humankind disturbed Alabama's forests and streams, enormously powerful natural forces bent, broke, shaped, and reshaped its landscape.As both agriculture and then heavy manufacturing declined, and as Birmingham and Montgomery were paralyzed by racial conflict, the state lost its long challenge to lead the "New South" into modernization and national leadership.Decades of decline and decay finally gave way to renewal in the last quarter of the twentieth century.Fiercely independent and resistant to outsiders, a portion of the state's white population enslaved a population nearly its own size to promote plantation cotton cultivation and became fabulously wealthy in the process.The arrogance of that wealth factored into the decision to secede from the Union in 1861, with disastrous consequences.They ranged from huge stands of mountain longleaf pine that grew amidst an open grassy understory to extensive and dense hardwood forests.The longleaf pine—unique for its dense core used for naval stores, lumber, railroad ties, and "heart-pine" floors—once constituted the most extensive ecosystem in North America (90 million acres); that acreage has now shrunk to less than 3 million.
The soils, rocks, trees and plants of Alabama are no less complex and amazing than its waters.
A new constitution written in 1901 not only crushed rural political insurgency but also fixed the principles of the old conservative white regime into law.
Disfranchising almost all African Americans and many poor and working-class whites, the constitution hardened class and racial divisions that remained in place until the civil rights movement of the 1960s and intervention by the U. Congress, the executive branch, and the federal courts.
The death of perhaps a fifth of the prime-age white male population during the war, the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in capital with the emancipation of slaves, political control by a liberal outside power structure followed by the reinstitution of conservative white rule, and finally the establishment of a system of racial apartheid all shaped the state well into the twentieth century.
So did the decline of cotton monoculture and the rise of industrialization together with the shift of economic activity from the Port of Mobile and river towns to inland and upland urban centers newly linked by railroads.
Beneath the waters life thrives, supporting the most diverse array of mussels, snails, turtles, fish, and other aquatic life to be found anywhere in the nation.