Birmingham ( BUR-ming-ham) is a city in the north central region of the U.S. state of Alabama. With an estimated population of 209,403 in 2019, it is the most populous city in Alabama. Birmingham is the seat of Jefferson County, Alabama's most populous and fifth largest county by area. As of 2018, the Birmingham-Hoover Metropolitan Statistical Area had a population of 1,151,801, making it the most populous in Alabama and 49th-most populous in the United States. Birmingham serves as an important regional hub and is associated with the Deep South, Piedmont, and Appalachian regions of the nation.
Birmingham was founded in 1871, during the post–Civil War Reconstruction era, through the merger of three farm towns, most notably Elyton. The new city was named for Birmingham, England, the United Kingdom's second largest city and then a major industrial city. The Alabama city annexed its smaller neighbors as it developed into a major industrial center based on mining, the iron and steel industry, and rail transport. Most of the original settlers were of English ancestry. The city was developed as a place where low paid, non-unionized immigrants (mainly Irish and Italian), along with African-Americans from rural Alabama, worked in the city's steel mills and blast furnaces and gave it a competitive advantage over unionized industrial cities of the Midwest and Northeast.:14
From its founding through the end of the 1960s, Birmingham was a primary industrial center of the southern United States. Its rapid growth from 1881 through 1920 earned it the nicknames "The Magic City" and "The Pittsburgh of the South". Its major industries were iron and steel production. Major components of the railroad industry, including rails and railroad cars, were made in Birmingham. The two primary hubs of railroading in the "Deep South" have been Birmingham and Atlanta. The economy began to diversify in the latter half of the twentieth century, as the steel mills began to shut down. Banking, telecommunications, transportation, electric power transmission, medical care, college education, and insurance have become its major economic activities. Birmingham now ranks as one of the largest banking centers in the U.S. It is also one of the important business centers of the Southeast.
In higher education, the Birmingham area has major colleges of medicine, dentistry, optometry, occupational therapy, physical therapy, pharmacy, law, engineering, and nursing. Birmingham has been the location of the University of Alabama School of Medicine (formerly the Medical College of Alabama) and the University of Alabama School of Dentistry since 1947. In 1969, it gained the University of Alabama at Birmingham, one of three main campuses of the University of Alabama System. It is also home to three private colleges: Samford University, Birmingham-Southern College, and Miles College. The city has three of the state's five law schools: Cumberland School of Law, Birmingham School of Law, and Miles Law School. Jefferson State and Lawson State Community Colleges are also located in the city. Birmingham is also the headquarters of the Southwestern Athletic Conference and the Southeastern Conference, one of the major U.S. collegiate athletic conferences.
Birmingham was founded on June 1, 1871, by the Elyton Land Company, whose investors included cotton planters, bankers and railroad entrepreneurs. It sold lots near the planned crossing of the Alabama & Chattanooga and South & North Alabama railroads, including land that was part of the Benjamin P. Worthington plantation. The city was chartered by the state legislature on December 19, 1871. The first business at that crossroads was a trading post and country store operated by Marre and Allen. The site of the railroad crossing was notable for its proximity to nearby deposits of iron ore, coal, and limestone – the three main raw materials used in making steel.
Birmingham is the only place where significant amounts of all three minerals can be found in close proximity. From the start the new city was planned as a center of industry. To emphasize this point, the city's founders named it in honor of Birmingham, England, one of the world's premier industrial cities. The growth of the planned city was impeded by an outbreak of cholera and a Wall Street crash in 1873. Soon afterward, however, it began to develop at an explosive rate.
The Tennessee Coal and Iron Company (TCI) became the leading steel producer in the South by 1892. In 1907 U.S. Steel purchased it and became the most important political and economic force in Birmingham. It resisted new industry, however, to keep wage rates down.:119
In 1910, the towns of Elyton, Ensley and several others were absorbed into Birmingham pursuant to an act of the legislature. From the early 20th century, the city grew so rapidly it earned the sobriquet "The Magic City". The downtown was redeveloped from a low-rise commercial and residential district into a busy grid of neoclassical mid- and high-rise buildings crisscrossed by streetcar lines. Between 1902 and 1912, four large office buildings were constructed at the intersection of 20th Street, the central north–south spine of the city, and 1st Avenue North, which connected the warehouses and industrial facilities along the east–west railroad corridor. This early group of skyscrapers was nicknamed the "Heaviest Corner on Earth".
Birmingham was hit by the 1916 Irondale earthquake ( 5.1, intensity VII (Very strong)). A few buildings in the area were slightly damaged. The earthquake was felt as far as Atlanta and neighboring states.
The Great Depression of the 1930s struck Birmingham particularly hard, as the sources of capital fueling the city's growth rapidly dried up at the same time farm laborers, driven off the land, made their way to the city in search of work. Hundreds poured into the city, many riding in empty boxcars. "Hobo jungles" were established in Boyles, the Twenty-fourth Street Viaduct, Green Springs Bridge, East Thomas, Pratt City, Carbon Hill and Jasper. In 1934, President Roosevelt called Birmingham the "worst-hit town in the country." New Deal programs put many city residents to work in WPA and CCC programs, and they made important contributions to the city's infrastructure and artistic legacy, including such key improvements as Vulcan's tower and Oak Mountain State Park.
The Birmingham Police Department, with the help of U.S. Steel, investigated and targeted labor activities during the 1930s and 1940s. Information was provided to a Red Squad of detectives "who used the city's vagrancy and criminal-anarchy statutes (liberally reinforced by backroom beatings) to strike at radical labor organizers." In the 1950s, the investigations shifted from labor to civil rights activists.
The World War II demand for steel followed by a post-war building boom spurred Birmingham's rapid return to prosperity. Manufacturing diversified beyond the production of raw materials. Major civic institutions such as schools, parks, and museums, also expanded in scope.
Despite the city's growing population and wealth, Birmingham residents were markedly underrepresented in the state legislature. Although the state constitution required redistricting in accordance with changes in the decennial census, the state legislature did not act until the 1970s when the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision in Reynolds v. Sims forced it to do so. Birmingham-area voters had sued to force redistricting, and the Court in its ruling cited the principle of "one man, one vote". The Court found that the geographic basis of the state senate, which gave each county one senator, gave undue influence to rural counties. Representatives of rural counties also had disproportionate power in the state House of Representatives and had failed to provide support for infrastructure and other improvements in urban centers such as Birmingham, having little sympathy for urban populations. Prior to this time, the Alabama Legislature (known as the General Assembly until 1901) ran county governments as extensions of the state through their legislative delegations.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Birmingham gained national and international attention as a center of activity during the Civil Rights Movement. Based on their members working in mining and industry, in the 1950s independent Ku Klux Klan (KKK) chapters had ready access to dynamite and other bomb materials. Whites unhappy with social changes in the 1950s committed racially motivated bombings of the houses of black families who moved into new neighborhoods or who were politically active, earning Birmingham the nickname "Bombingham".
Locally, the civil rights movement's activists were led by Fred Shuttlesworth, a fiery preacher who became legendary for his fearlessness in the face of such violence. But he found city officials resistant to making changes for integration or lessening of Jim Crow.
A watershed in the civil rights movement occurred in 1963 when Shuttlesworth requested Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which Shuttlesworth had co-founded, come to Birmingham to help end public segregation.
Together they launched "Project C" (for "Confrontation"), a massive non-violent demonstration against the Jim Crow system. While imprisoned in April 1963 for having taken part in a nonviolent protest, Dr. King wrote the now famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail", a defining treatise in his cause against segregation. During April and May, daily sit-ins and mass marches organized and led by movement leader James Bevel were met with police repression, tear gas, attack dogs, fire hoses, and arrests. More than 3,000 people were arrested during these protests, many of them children. King and Bevel filled the jails with students to keep the demonstrations going.
By September the SCLC and city were negotiating to end an economic boycott and desegregate stores and other facilities. On a Sunday in September 1963, a bomb went off at the 16th Street Baptist Church, killing four black girls. The activists' protests and national outrage about the police and KKK violence contributed to the ultimate desegregation of public accommodations in Birmingham and also passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In 1998, the Birmingham Pledge, written by local attorney James Rotch, was introduced at the Martin Luther King Unity Breakfast. As a grassroots community commitment to combating racism and prejudice, it has since been used for programs in all fifty states and in more than twenty countries.
In the 1970s, urban renewal efforts focused around the development of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, which has become a major medical and research center. In 1971 Birmingham celebrated its centennial with a round of public-works improvements, including the upgrading of Vulcan Park and the construction of a major downtown convention center containing a 2,500-seat symphony hall, theater, 19,000-seat arena, and exhibition halls. Birmingham's banking institutions enjoyed considerable growth as well, and new skyscrapers were constructed in the city center for the first time since the 1920s. These projects helped the city's economy to diversify, but did not prevent the exodus of many of the city's residents to independent suburbs. Suburbanization was a national trend. In 1979 Birmingham elected Dr. Richard Arrington Jr. as its first African-American mayor.
The population inside Birmingham's city limits has fallen over the past few decades, due in large part to "white flight" from the city to the surrounding suburbs and loss of jobs following industrial and railroad restructuring. The city's formerly most populous ethnic group, non-Hispanic white, has declined from 57.4 percent in 1970 to 21.1 percent in 2010. From 340,887 in 1960, the city's population had decreased to 242,820 in 2000, a loss of about 29 percent. By 2010, Birmingham's population had reached 212,237, its lowest since the mid-1920s, but the city has since stopped losing residents. That same period saw a corresponding rise in the populations of the suburban communities of Hoover, Vestavia Hills, Alabaster, Trussville, and Gardendale. All of these cities were incorporated after 1947, and have since seen their populations swell with former Birmingham residents. For instance, Hoover was incorporated in 1967; it has since grown to become the sixth-largest city in the state.
New resources have been dedicated in reconstructing the downtown area into a 24-hour mixed-use district. The market for downtown lofts and condominiums has increased, while restaurant, retail and cultural options have expanded. In 2006, the visitors bureau selected "the diverse city" as a new tag line for the city. In 2011, the Highland Park neighborhood of Birmingham was named as a 2011 America's Great Place by the American Planning Association. In January 2015, the International World Game Executive Committee selected Birmingham as the host for the 2021 World Games (later postponed to 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic).
Recent developments have attracted national media. The New York Times has praised the city's food scene since 2006. The Washington Post has also featured stories about the city's cuisine and neighborhoods. Referring to the city's civil rights history, Alice Short of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "Anyone who cares about U.S. history should plan a trip here."
Birmingham occupies Jones Valley, flanked by long parallel mountain ridges (tailing ends of the Appalachian Mountains) running from northeast to southwest. The valley is drained by small creeks (Village Creek, Valley Creek) which flow into the Black Warrior River. 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. Many of Birmingham's television and radio broadcast towers are lined up along this prominent ridge. The "Over the Mountain" area, including Shades Valley, 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, Vestavia Hills, Homewood, Pelham, and Hoover. South of Shades Valley is the Cahaba River basin, one of the most diverse river ecosystems in the United States.
Sand Mountain, a lower ridge, flanks the city to the north and divides Jones Valley from much more rugged land to the north. The Louisville and Nashville Railroad (now CSX Transportation) enters the valley through Boyles Gap, a prominent gap in the long low ridge.
Ruffner Mountain, due east of the heart of the city, is home to Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve, one of the largest urban nature reserves in the U.S.
Birmingham is 147 miles (237 km) west of Atlanta, 92 miles (148 km) north of Montgomery, 147 miles (237 km) northeast of Meridian, Mississippi, 239 miles (385 km) southeast of Memphis, 192 miles (309 km) south of Nashville, and 148 miles (238 km) southwest of Chattanooga, all via Interstate highways.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city has an area of 148.6 square miles (384.9 km2), of which 146.1 square miles (378.3 km2) are land and 2.5 square miles (6.6 km2), or 1.71%, are water.
Birmingham has numerous suburbs. As with many major areas, most of the metropolitan population lives outside the city boundaries. In 2007, the metropolitan area was made up of 7 counties, 102 cities, and 21 school districts. Since then Alabaster and Pelham have broken away from the Shelby County School System to form their own school systems. Some analysts argue that the region suffers from having so many suburbs; companies play jurisdictions against each other to gain tax and other financial incentives for relocation, resulting in no net gain in the area's economy.
Suburbs in the Birmingham–Hoover metropolitan area by order of population (2016 estimates):
Birmingham has a humid subtropical climate (Cfa), characterized by hot summers, mild winters, and abundant rainfall. January has a daily mean temperature of 44.7 °F (7.1 °C), and there is an average of 47 days annually with a low at or below freezing, and 1.2 where the high does not surpass freezing. July has a daily mean temperature of 81.5 °F (27.5 °C); highs reach or exceed 90 °F (32 °C) on 65 days per year and 100 °F (38 °C) on 2. Precipitation is relatively well-distributed throughout the year, with March the wettest month on average, and October the driest. Snow occasionally falls during winter, but many winters pass with no snow or only a trace. The most recent winter to report zero snowfall was 2019–2020, the first since 1936–1937. However, 10.3 inches (26.2 cm) fell on March 13, 1993, during the 1993 Storm of the Century, which established the highest daily snowfall and one-storm fall. March 1993 subsequently became the snowiest month on record, with a total of 13.0 inches (33.0 cm), also setting the record for highest season total. Average snowfall over the winter season, based on the 1981–2010 period, is 1.4 in (3.6 cm), but, for the same period, median monthly snowfall for each month was zero.
The spring and fall months are pleasant but variable as cold fronts frequently bring strong to severe thunderstorms and occasional tornadoes to the region. The fall season (primarily October) features less rainfall and fewer storms, as well as lower humidity than the spring, but November and early December represent a secondary severe weather season. Birmingham is in the heart of a Tornado Alley known as the Dixie Alley due to the high frequency of tornadoes in Central Alabama. The greater Birmingham area has been hit by two F5 tornadoes; one in Birmingham's northern suburbs in 1977, and second in the western suburbs in 1998. The area was hit by an EF4 tornado which was part of the 2011 Super Outbreak and an EF3 Tornado in 2021. In late summer and fall months, Birmingham experiences occasional tropical storms and hurricanes due to its proximity to the Central Gulf Coast.
The record high temperature is 107 °F (42 °C), set on July 29, 1930, and the record low is −10 °F (−23 °C), set on February 13, 1899. The highest minimum temperature is 81 °F (27 °C), most recently on July 8, 2016, and the lowest maximum temperature 13 °F (−11 °C) on December 12, 1962. The driest month on record is October 1924, which reported no precipitation, and the wettest is July 1916, with a total of 20.12 inches (511 mm). The driest year on record is 2007, with a total of 28.86 inches (733 mm) and the wettest is 1929, with a total of 81.82 inches (2,078 mm).
The Birmingham area is not prone to frequent earthquakes; its historical activity level is 59% less than the US average. Earthquakes are generally minor and the Birmingham area can feel an earthquake from the Eastern Tennessee Seismic Zone. The magnitude 5.1 Irondale earthquake in 1916 caused damage in the Birmingham area and was felt in the neighboring states and as far as the Carolinas. The 2003 Alabama earthquake centered in northeastern Alabama (magnitude 4.6–4.9) was also felt in the rest of Alabama, as well as Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, and South Carolina.
Based on the 2000 census, there were 242,820 people, 98,782 households, and 59,269 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,619.7 people per square mile (625.4/km2). There were 111,927 housing units at an average density of 746.6 per square mile (288.3/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 62.46% Black, 35.07% White, 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 were Hispanic or Latino of any race.
There were 98,782 households, of which 27.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 31.1% were married couples living together, 24.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 40.0% were non-families. 34.4% of all households were made up of individuals, and 10.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older.
The city's 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 were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 34 years. For every 100 females, there were 85.7 males.
The city's median household income was $31,898, and the median family income was $38,776. Males had a median income of $36,031 versus $30,367 for females. The city's per capita income was $19,962. About 22.5% of families and 27.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 41.9% of those under the age of 18 and 18.3% of those age 65 or over.
Birmingham has hundreds of Christian churches, five synagogues, three mosques, and two Hindu temples. The Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies published data showing that in 2010, among metro areas with greater than one million population, Birmingham had the second highest ratio of Christians, and the greatest ratio of Protestant adherents, in the U.S.
The Southern Baptist Convention has 673 congregations and 336,000 members in the Birmingham metro area. The United Methodists have 196 congregations and 66,759 members. The headquarters of the Presbyterian Church in America was in Birmingham until the early 1980s; the PCA has more than 30 congregations and almost 15,000 members in the Birmingham metro area, with megachurches such as Briarwood Presbyterian Church. The National Baptist Convention has 126 congregations and 69,800 members.
The city is home to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Birmingham, covering 39 counties and comprising 75 parishes and missions as well as seven Catholic high schools and nineteen elementary schools. There are also two Eastern Catholic parishes in Birmingham. The Catholic television network EWTN is headquartered in metropolitan Birmingham. There are three Eastern Orthodox churches in the metro area, representing the Greek, Russian, and American Orthodox churches. The mother church of the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama, the Cathedral Church of the Advent is in downtown Birmingham. There is also a Unitarian Universalist church.
With a crime rate of 85 per one thousand residents, Birmingham has one of the highest crime rates in the United States, ranked 20th, according to a study in 2017 for cities with a population over 25,000. Neighboring Bessemer also ranks high at seventh. Violent crime in Birmingham increased by 10% from 2014 to 2016. As the third most violent city in the country, the city's murder, robbery, and aggravated assault rates are each among the top five of all major U.S. cities. As in many high crime areas, poverty is relatively common in Birmingham. Citywide, 31% of residents live in poverty, a higher poverty rate than all but a dozen other large U.S. cities.
Birmingham was ranked 425th in crime rate in the U.S. for 2012 by CQ Press. The Birmingham-Hoover Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) was ranked as having the 35th highest crime rate in the U.S., out of 347 MSAs ranked in 2011 by CQ Press. The Birmingham metro area crime rate is in line with other southern MSAs such as Jacksonville and Charlotte. U.S. News & World Report ranked Birmingham as the third most dangerous city in the nation for 2011 (only Atlanta and St. Louis were ranked higher). The A&E Network series The First 48 has filmed episodes with some of the city's homicide detectives.
Though the steel industry no longer holds the same prominence, steel production and processing continue to play a key role in the local economy. Steel products manufacturers American Cast Iron Pipe Company (ACIPCO) and McWane are based in the city. Several of the nation's largest steelmakers, including CMC Steel, U.S. Steel, and Nucor, also have a major presence in Birmingham. In recent years, local steel companies have announced about $100 million worth of investment in expansions and new plants in and around the city.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Birmingham's economy was transformed by investments in biotechnology and medical research at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and its adjacent hospital. The UAB Hospital is a Level I trauma center providing health care and breakthrough medical research. UAB is now the area's largest employer and the second largest in Alabama, with a workforce of about 23,000 as of 2016. Health care services providers Encompass Health (formerly HealthSouth), Surgical Care Affiliates and Diagnostic Health Corporation are also headquartered in the city. Caremark Rx was founded in the city.
Birmingham is a leading banking center, serving as home to two major banks: Regions Financial Corporation and BBVA Compass. SouthTrust, another large bank headquartered in Birmingham, was acquired by Wachovia in 2004. The city still has major operations as one of the regional headquarters of Wachovia, which itself is now part of Wells Fargo. In November 2006, Regions Financial merged with AmSouth Bancorporation, which was also headquartered in Birmingham. They formed the eighth largest U.S. bank by total assets. Nearly a dozen smaller banks are also headquartered in the Magic City, such as Cadence Bank. As of 2009, the finance and banking sector in Birmingham employed 1,870 financial managers, 1,530 loan officers, 680 securities commodities and financial services sales agents, 380 financial analysts, 310 financial examiners, 220 credit analysts, and 130 loan counselors. While Birmingham has seen major change-ups with its banking industry, it was still the ninth largest banking hub in the United States by the amount of locally headquartered deposits in 2012. A 2014 study found the city had moved down a spot to the tenth largest banking center.
The telephone company that is now owned by AT&T, which was formerly BellSouth and before that South Central Bell, which had its headquarters in Birmingham, has a major nexus in Birmingham, supported by a skyscraper downtown as well as several large operational center buildings and a data center.
The insurance companies Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, Protective Life, Infinity Property & Casualty, ProAssurance, and Liberty National have their headquarters in Birmingham, and these employ a large number of people in Greater Birmingham. Birmingham also boasts a growing employee presence from truck insurance specialist Reliance Partners.
Birmingham is also a powerhouse of construction and engineering companies, including BE&K, Brasfield & Gorrie, Walter Schoel Engineering Co. and B.L. Harbert International, which routinely are included in the Engineering News-Record lists of top design and international construction firms.
Two of the largest soft-drink bottlers in the United States, each with more than $500 million in sales per year, are in Birmingham. The Buffalo Rock Company, founded in 1901, has grown from making ginger ale to be a major bottler for the Pepsi Cola Company. The Coca-Cola Bottling Company United, founded in 1902, is the second-largest bottler of Coca-Cola products in the United States.
Birmingham has seen a noticeable decrease in the number of Fortune 500 companies headquartered in the city, due to mergers, moves, and buy-outs. In 2003, there were six Fortune 500 companies headquartered in the city. However, in 2014 there was only one, Regions Bank. Birmingham also used to be home to more than 30 publicly traded companies, but in 2011 there were only 15. The number has increased since then, but not significantly. Some companies, like Zoës Kitchen, were founded and operated in Birmingham, but moved their headquarters before going public. Birmingham has been on a rebound, though, with the growth of companies like HealthSouth, Infinity Property and Casualty Corp., and Southern Company.
The Birmingham metropolitan area has consistently been rated as one of America's best places to work and earn a living based on the area's competitive salary rates and relatively low living expenses. One study published in 2006 by Salary.com determined Birmingham was second in the nation for building personal net worth, based on local salary rates, living expenses and unemployment rates.
In 2019, Birmingham's largest public companies by market capitalization were Regions Bank (RF, $20.54 billion), Vulcan Materials Company (VMC, $17.23 billion), Energen (EGN, $6.8 billion) (Energen was acquired by Diamondback Energy Inc in 2018), Encompass Health Group (formally HealthSouth; EHC, $6.35 billion), and Medical Properties Trust (MPW, $5.11 billion). All were listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Protective Life was bought by the Japanese company Dai-Ichi in 2015 and removed from public trading. If Alabama Power was considered independent of the Southern Company (headquartered in Atlanta), it would be the second largest company in Birmingham with more than $5.8 billion in revenue in 2015.
Through 2018, Birmingham's largest private companies by annual revenue and employees included Brasfield & Gorrie, LLC ($3.31 billion, 1,210 employees), Coca-Cola Bottling Company United ($2.81 billion, 860 employees), EBSCO Industries ($2.8 billion, 1,556 employees), and McWane Inc. (2018 revenue: $2 billion, 570 employees), along with Drummond Co, Inc. (2017 revenue: $2.2 billion, 1,283 employees), and O'Neal Industries (2016 revenue: $2.1 billion, 275 employees).
A Birmingham start-up, Shipt was acquired by the Target Corporation for $550 million. Shipt is keeping its headquarters in Birmingham, though, at the John Hand Building. Shipt announced that it would add additional offices in the Wells Fargo Tower, which will be re-branded as the "Shipt Tower" in 2020.
Birmingham has a distinctly Deep South culture and a dynamic Upper South influence that has molded its culture from its beginning. This is due to the city's location as the gateway opening to and from both regions and their influences. Historically, many African Americans from the Black Belt and Whites from across the state settled this area in large numbers in the 20th century pursuing jobs in the steel industry, contributing their music and foods to its Southern nature. In the 1970s the city began to diversify spurred on by the growth of the University of Alabama at Birmingham which attracted many students from out of state as well as international students. During this period Birmingham solidified itself as the most diverse city in Alabama and the hub of a growing multi-cultural metropolitan area. This blending of southern cultures with international flavors is most evident in the city's cosmopolitan Southside neighborhood. As the city's hub for bohemian culture and a long frequented nightlife area it is among the most popular and fastest growing in the city. The presence of UAB helps make it the city's most racially and ethnically diverse neighborhood.
Birmingham is the cultural and entertainment capital of Alabama, with numerous art galleries in the area including the Birmingham Museum of Art, the largest art museum in the Southeast. Downtown Birmingham is currently experiencing a cultural and economic rejuvenation, with several new independent shops and restaurants opening in the area. Birmingham is home to the state's major ballet, opera and symphony orchestra companies such as the Alabama Ballet, Alabama Symphony Orchestra, Birmingham Ballet, Birmingham Concert Chorale, and Opera Birmingham.
Birmingham's nightlife is primarily clustered around the Five Points South, Lakeview, and Avondale districts. In addition, a $55-million "Uptown" entertainment district is adjacent to the BJCC featuring a number of restaurants and a Westin hotel.
Birmingham is home to several museums. The largest is the Birmingham Museum of Art, which is also the largest municipal art museum in the Southeast. The area's history museums include the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, which houses a detailed and emotionally charged narrative exhibit putting Birmingham's history into the context of the Civil Rights Movement. It is on Kelly Ingram Park next to the 16th Street Baptist Church.
The McWane Science Center is a regional science museum with hands-on science exhibits, temporary exhibitions, and an IMAX dome theater. The center also houses a major collection of fossil specimens for use by researchers. Other unique museums include the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, which contains the largest collection of motorcycles in the world; the Iron & Steel Museum of Alabama at Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park, near McCalla; and the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.
Birmingham is home to numerous cultural festivals showcasing music, films, and regional heritage. The Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival brings filmmakers from all over the world to Birmingham to have their films viewed and judged. This festival usually is scheduled in late August at eight venues around downtown. Screenings are concentrated at the Alabama Theatre. The Sloss Furnaces has an annual Halloween haunted attraction called "Sloss Fright Furnace". During the summer, Sloss Furnaces hosts an annual music and arts festival known as Sloss Music and Arts Festival, or Sloss Fest. Since it began in 2015, the festival has attracted hundreds of national headliners as well as local bands. In its first year, Sloss Fest had approximately 25,000 attendees over its two-day span.
Another musical festival is the Taste of 4th Avenue Jazz Festival, presented at the end of August each year, concurrent with the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival. This all-day festival features national and local jazz acts. In 2007, the festival drew an estimated 6,000 people. The Birmingham Folk Festival is an annual event held since 2006. It moved to Avondale Park in 2008. In 2009 the festival featured nine local bands and three touring "headliner bands".
The Southern Heritage Festival began in the 1960s as a music, arts, and entertainment festival for the African-American community to attract mostly younger demographics. Do Dah Day is an annual pet parade held around the end of May. The Schaeffer Eye Center Crawfish Boil, an annual music festival event held in May to benefit local charities, always includes an all-star cast of talent. It typically draws more than 30,000 spectators for the annual two-day event. The annual Greek Festival, a celebration of Greek heritage, culture, and especially cuisine, is a charity fundraiser hosted by the Greek Orthodox Holy Trinity - Holy Cross Cathedral. The Greek Festival draws 20,000 patrons annually. The Lebanese Food Festival is held at St. Elias Maronite Church. Central Alabama Pride puts on LGBT events each year, including a festival and parade. Magic City Brewfest is an annual festival benefiting local grassroots organization, Free the Hops, and focusing on craft beer. Alabama Bound is an annual book and author fair that celebrates Alabama authors and publishers. Hosted by the Birmingham Public Library, it is an occasion where fans may meet their favorite authors, buy their books, and hear them read from and talk about their work. Book signings follow each presentation.
The Vulcan statue is a cast-iron representation of the Roman god of fire, iron and blacksmiths that is the symbol of Birmingham. The statue, cast for the 1904 St. Louis Exposition and erected at Vulcan Park in 1938, stands high above the city looking down from a tower at the top of Red Mountain. Open to visitors, the tower offers views of the city below.
The Birmingham Zoo is a large regional zoo with more than 700 animals and a recently opened interactive children's zoo.
Birmingham Botanical Gardens is a 67-acre (270,000-square-metre) 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. It is complemented by Hoover's 30-acre (120,000 m2) Aldridge Botanical Gardens, an ambitious project open since 2002. Aldridge offers a place to stroll, but is to add unique displays in coming years.
Alabama Splash Adventure (formerly VisionLand and Alabama Adventure) in Bessemer serves as the Birmingham area's water and theme park, featuring numerous slides and water-themed attractions.
Kelly Ingram Park is the site of notable civil rights protests and adjacent to historic 16th Street Baptist Church. Railroad Park opened in 2010 in downtown Birmingham's Railroad Reservation District. Oak Mountain State Park is about 10 miles (16 km) south of Birmingham. Red Mountain is one of the southernmost wrinkles in the Appalachian chain, and a scenic drive to the top provides views reminiscent of the Great Smoky Mountains further north. To the west of the city is Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park, a 1,500-acre (6.1 km2) Civil War site which includes the well-preserved ruins of the Tannehill Iron Furnaces and the John Wesley Hall Grist Mill.
The folk song "Down in the Valley", also known as "Birmingham Jail", contains the lines, "Write me a letter, send it by mail; Send it in care of the Birmingham jail."
The best known song of the husband and wife band Shovels & Rope is their original tune, "Birmingham".
Birmingham has no major professional sport franchises. The Birmingham area is home to the Birmingham Barons, the AA minor league affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, which plays at Regions Field in the Southside adjacent to Railroad Park. The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB Blazers) has a popular basketball program and football program, and Samford University, in Homewood, has basketball and football teams. The Hoover Metropolitan Stadium in the suburb of Hoover is home to the Southeastern Conference Baseball Tournament which drew more than 108,000 spectators in 2006. There is also an amateur soccer association, known as La Liga, and the Birmingham area hosts the Alabama Alliance basketball teams.
Birmingham was home to the Black Barons, a very successful Negro league baseball team. The Black Barons played home games at Rickwood Field, which is still standing in the Rising-West Princeton neighborhood, and is verified as being the oldest baseball field in America. Scenes from the movies Cobb (1994), Soul of the Game (1995) and 42 (2012) were filmed at Rickwood.
The city has had several pro football franchises. The former pro football team in Birmingham, the Alabama Outlawz of the X-League Indoor Football, folded in 2015. Other teams included the two-time champion WFL franchise the Birmingham Americans/Birmingham Vulcans, before the league folded. The city hosted a USFL franchise, the Birmingham Stallions, but once again the league folded. A WLAF franchise, the Birmingham Fire, was renamed the Rhein Fire when the WLAF was renamed NFL Europa, but the league folded altogether in 2007. A CFL franchise, the Birmingham Barracudas, played one season and then folded as the league ended its American franchise experiment. An XFL franchise, the Birmingham Thunderbolts, were another instance where the league folded. In 2018, the short-lived Alliance of American Football introduced the Birmingham Iron, which played in the league's only season in 2019.
Birmingham's Legion Field has hosted several college football postseason bowl games, including the Dixie Bowl (1948–49), the Hall of Fame Classic (1977–85), the All-American Bowl (1986–90), the SEC Championship Game (1992–93), the SWAC Championship Game (1999–2012), the Magic City Classic (1946–present) and, currently, the Birmingham Bowl (formerly the BBVA Compass Bowl, 2006–present). The Southeastern Conference, Southwestern Athletic Conference, and Gulf South Conference are headquartered in Birmingham.
In 1996, Legion Field hosted early rounds of Olympic soccer where it drew record crowds. The field has also hosted men's and women's World Cup qualifiers and friendlies. A switch from natural grass to an artificial surface has left the stadium's role as a soccer venue in doubt.
Motorsports are very popular in the Birmingham area and across the state, and the area is home to numerous annual motorsport races. The GEICO 500 & 1000Bulbs.com 500 are NASCAR Cup Series races that occur in April and October at the Talladega Superspeedway 50 miles (80 km) east of Birmingham. The Indy Grand Prix of Alabama shares the Barber Motorsports Park road course with Superbike and sports car GrandAm races.
The PGA Champions Tour has had a regular stop in the Birmingham area since 1992, with the founding of the Bruno's Memorial Classic, later renamed the Regions Charity Classic. In 2011 the tournament was replaced by The Tradition, one of the Champions Tour's five "major" tour events.
Birmingham has been selected to host the World Games in 2021. It will be the first time an American city has hosted the event since the inaugural World Games were held in Santa Clara, California, in 1981.
Birmingham is the home of a professional ice hockey team, the Birmingham Bulls of the Southern Professional Hockey League. They play at the Civic Center in nearby Pelham. The Birmingham Bulls was also the name of a team that played in the World Hockey Association from 1976 to 1979 and the Central Hockey League from 1979 to 1981. The WHA Bulls played their home games at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Center. In 1992, another Birmingham hockey franchise was founded that used the Bulls name, the Birmingham Bulls of the East Coast Hockey League. This franchise was later sold to Atlantic City, New Jersey.
The American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI), at St. Vincent's Hospital in Birmingham, was founded by Dr. James Andrews in 1987. The institute's mission is to understand, prevent, and treat sports-related injuries. ASMI turned Birmingham into a major medical destination for professional athletes around the country. Dr. Andrews has operated on Bo Jackson, Drew Brees, Roger Clemens, John Smoltz, Charles Barkley, Michael Jordan, and Jack Nicklaus, to name a few. His orthopedics practice is frequently mentioned in books and articles.
Birmingham has a strong-mayor variant mayor–council form of government, led by a mayor and a nine-member city council. The current system replaced the previous city commission government 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. Executive powers are held entirely by the mayor's office. Birmingham's current mayor is Randall Woodfin.
In 1974 Birmingham established a structured network of neighborhood associations and community advisory committees to insure public participation in governmental issues that affect neighborhoods. Neighborhood associations are routinely consulted on matters related to zoning changes, liquor licenses, economic development, policing and other city services. Neighborhoods are also granted discretionary funds from the city's budget to use for capital improvements. Each neighborhood's officers meet with their peers to form Community Advisory Committees, which are granted broader powers over city departments. The presidents of these committees, in turn, form the Citizens' Advisory Board, which meets regularly with the mayor, council, and department heads. Birmingham is divided into 23 communities, and again into 99 individual neighborhoods with individual neighborhood associations.
The United States Postal Service operates post offices in Birmingham. The main post office is at 351 24th Street North in downtown Birmingham. Birmingham is also the home of the Social Security Administration's Southeastern Program Service Center. This center is one of only seven in the United States that process Social Security entitlement claims and payments. In addition, Birmingham is the home of a branch bank of the Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank.
Birmingham's recent political history has gained national attention. During his term as mayor, Larry Langford was arrested on charges of bribery. Langford was convicted in 2010 of accepting bribes in exchange for steering $7.1 million in county revenue to a prominent investment banker. The bribes included $230,000 cash, clothes, and jewelry. Langford was sentenced to 15 years in prison and fined $360,000 by a federal judge. The banker, Bill Blount, and a lobbyist, Al la Pierre, pled guilty and were sentenced to brief prison sentences.
Former mayor William A. Bell has also been the subject of national scrutiny. In 2015, the mayor got into a physical altercation with city councilman Marcus Lundy. The fight sent both men to the hospital.
The city is served by the Birmingham City Schools system. It is run by the Birmingham Board of Education with a current active enrollment of 30,500 in 62 schools: seven high schools, 13 middle schools, 33 elementary schools, and nine kindergarten-eighth-grade primary schools.
Birmingham Public Library administers 21 branches throughout the city and is part of a wider system including another 19 suburban branches in Jefferson County, serving the entire community to provide education and entertainment for all ages.
The greater-Birmingham metropolitan area is the home of numerous independent school systems, because there has been a great deal of fragmentation of educational systems in Alabama and especially Jefferson County. Some of the school systems only have three to five schools. The metropolitan area's three largest school systems are the Jefferson County School System, Birmingham City Schools, and the Shelby County School System. However, there are many smaller school systems.
The Birmingham area is reputed to be the home of some of Alabama's best high schools, colleges and universities. In 2005, the in Irondale, an eastern suburb of Birmingham, was rated as the No. 1 high school in America by Newsweek. The school remains among the nation's top high schools. Mountain Brook High School placed 250th on the list. Other area schools that have been rated among America's best in various publications include Homewood High School, Vestavia Hills High School, Hewitt-Trussville High School, and the Alabama School of Fine Arts downtown. The metro area also has three highly regarded private college-preparatory schools: Saint Rose Academy, in Birmingham proper; the Altamont School, also in Birmingham proper; and Indian Springs School in north Shelby County near Pelham.
Noteworthy institutions of higher education in greater Birmingham include the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Samford University (including the Cumberland School of Law), Birmingham School of Law, Miles College, the independent Miles Law School, Jefferson State Community College, Birmingham-Southern College, University of Montevallo (in Shelby County), and Lawson State Community College.
Birmingham is served by one major newspaper, The Birmingham News (circulation 150,346), which changed from daily to thrice-weekly publication on October 1, 2012. The Birmingham News' Wednesday edition features six subregional sections named East, Hoover, North, Shelby, South, and West that cover news stories from those areas. The newspaper has been awarded two Pulitzer Prizes, in 1991 and 2007. The Birmingham Post-Herald, the city's second daily, published its last issue in 2006. Other local publications include The North Jefferson News, The Leeds News, The Trussville Tribune (Trussville, Clay and Pinson), The Western Star (Bessemer) and The Western Tribune (Bessemer).
Weld for Birmingham, Birmingham Weekly and Birmingham Free Press are Birmingham's free alternative publications. The Birmingham Times, a historic African-American newspaper, also is published weekly. Birmingham is served by the city magazine, Birmingham magazine, owned by The Birmingham News.
Birmingham is part of the Birmingham/Anniston/Tuscaloosa television market. The major television affiliates, most of which have their transmitters and studios on Red Mountain in Birmingham, are WBRC 6 (Fox), WBIQ 10 (PBS), WVTM 13 (NBC), WTTO 21 (CW), WIAT 42 (CBS), WPXH 44 (ION), WBMA-LD 58/68.2 (ABC) and WABM 68 (MyNetworkTV).
NOAA weather radio station KIH54 broadcasts weather and hazard information for the Birmingham Metropolitan Area.
Major broadcasting companies who own stations in the Birmingham market include IHeartMedia, SummitMedia, Cumulus Media, and Crawford Broadcasting. The Rick and Bubba Show, which is syndicated to over 25 stations primarily in the Southeast, originates from Birmingham's WZZK-FM. The Paul Finebaum sports-talk show, also syndicated and carried nationwide on Sirius digital radio, originated from WJOX.
Birmingham is home to EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network), the world's largest Catholic media outlet and largest religious network of any kind, broadcasting to about 150 million homes worldwide as of 2009.
Before the first structure was built in Birmingham, the directors of the Elyton Land Company developed a plan for the city's 1,160 acres (4.7 km2). The streets were numbered from west to east, leaving 20th 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). At the same time, a movement to consolidate several neighboring cities gained momentum. Although local referendums indicated mixed feelings about annexation, the Alabama legislature enacted an expansion of Birmingham's corporate limits that became effective on January 1, 1910.
The Robert Jemison Company developed many residential neighborhoods to the south and west of Birmingham which are still renowned for their aesthetic quality.
A 1924 plan for a system of parks, commissioned from the Olmsted Brothers, is seeing renewed interest with several significant new parks and greenways under development. Birmingham officials have approved a City Center Master Plan developed by Urban Design Associates of Pittsburgh, which advocates strongly for more residential development in the downtown area. The plan also called for a major park over several blocks of the central railroad reservation: Railroad Park, which opened in 2010. Along with Ruffner Mountain Park and Red Mountain Park, Birmingham ranks first in the United States for public green space per resident.
The city of Birmingham has a higher than average percentage of households without a car. In 2015, 15.8 percent of Birmingham households lacked a car, and decreased to 12.3 percent in 2016. The national average was 8.7 percent in 2016. Birmingham averaged 1.48 cars per household in 2016, compared to a national average of 1.8.
The city is served by four Interstate Highways: Interstate 20, Interstate 65, Interstate 59, and Interstate 22, as well as a southern bypass expressway Interstate 459, which connects with I-20/59 to the southwest, with I-65 to the south, I-20 to the east, and I-59 to the northeast. Beginning in downtown Birmingham is the Elton B. Stephens Expressway—the "Red Mountain Expressway" to the southeast—which carries U.S. Highway 31 and U.S. Highway 280 to, through, and over Red Mountain. Interstate 22 connects I-65 and Memphis, Tennessee. Construction has begun on the first segment of I-422, a Northern Beltline Highway that will serve the suburbs on the opposite side of Birmingham from I-459.
Public transportation in the Birmingham metropolitan area is provided by the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority (BJCTA) which offers bus and paratransit services under the Metro Area Express (MAX) branding. Demand-responsive transport is also offered throughout downtown and Birmingham's western neighborhoods through Birmingham On-Demand in a partnership between the city of Birmingham and Via Transportation. A ten-mile bus rapid transit line named Birmingham Xpress is under construction that will travel between Woodlawn and Five Points West. The route is expected to begin service in 2022 before the 2022 World Games. Bus service to other cities is provided by Greyhound Lines. Megabus offers bus service to Atlanta and Memphis.
Birmingham–Shuttlesworth International Airport, 4 miles (6 km) northeast of downtown, serves more than 3 million passengers every year. With more than 160 flights daily, the airport offers flights to 37 cities provided by United Express, Delta Air Lines/Delta Connection, American Eagle, and Southwest Airlines.
Amtrak provides intercity rail service to the Birmingham Intermodal Facility, serving over 37,000 passengers in 2019. The Crescent line makes stops on a tri-weekly basis in each direction between New York City and New Orleans. Birmingham is served by three major railroad freight lines: the Norfolk Southern Company, CSX Transportation, and the BNSF Railway, together with smaller regional railroads, the Alabama Warrior Railway and the Birmingham Southern Railroad.
The water for Birmingham and the intermediate urbanized area is served by the Birmingham Water Works Board (BWWB). A public authority that was established in 1951, the BWWB serves all of Jefferson, northern Shelby, and western St. Clair counties. The largest reservoir for BWWB is Lake Purdy, which is on the Jefferson and Shelby County line, but has several other reservoirs 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.
Jefferson County Environmental Services serves the Birmingham metro area with sanitary sewer service. Sewer rates have increased in recent years after citizens concerned with pollution in area waterways filed a lawsuit that resulted in a federal consent decree to repair an aging sewer system. Because the estimated cost of the consent decree was approximately three times more than the original estimate, many blame the increased rates on corruption of several Jefferson County officials. The sewer construction and bond-swap agreements continue to be a controversial topic in the area.
Electric power is provided primarily by Alabama Power, a subsidiary of the Southern Company. However, some of the surrounding area such as Bessemer and Cullman are provided power by the TVA. Bessemer also operates its own water and sewer system. Natural gas is provided by Spire Alabama Inc., although some metro area cities operate their own natural gas services. The local telecommunications are provided by AT&T. Cable television service is provided by Bright House Networks within the cities of Birmingham and Irondale, and Charter Communications in the rest of the metro area.