Alabama 1st District
Mobile, the port where the Tombigbee and Alabama rivers flow into the Gulf of Mexico, was a strategic point on the American frontier. Spanish after the Revolutionary War, it was wrested away by threats of war from Secretary of State John Quincy Adams. During the Civil War, it was one of the major Confederate ports. In 1864, Admiral David Farragut, while steaming into the harbor lashed to his mast, cried, ‘‘Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead.’’ Today, Mobile is full of graceful signs of its exotic past. Behind the docks and rail lines are downtown buildings and old houses with Spanish motifs, French accents, or tropical Art Deco lines. Further inland are neighborhoods with spacious houses, often with double porches, overhung by huge live oaks graced with Spanish moss. Mobile is a Gulf Coast version of Charleston or a smaller, more comfortable New Orleans, with a taste for shellfish and spicy food and an even older Mardi Gras, which the locals have been celebrating since 1703. As befits a frontier city with a martial past, Mobile is bristling with arms: One of the city’s proudest possessions is the battleship USS Alabama, moored at the head of Mobile Bay, with its guns aimed out toward the Gulf. Mobile’s economy was based originally on docks and shipyards, factories and terminals, but with a determination to impose touches of beauty on its hot, flat landscape. Its economy has been thriving at the shipyards, chemical plants, and a cruise ship terminal. The capital improvements include Mobile’s State Docks, which serves Alabama’s booming Mercedes, Honda, and Hyundai auto factories. ThyssenKrupp has a new $4.2 billion steel-processing plant in Calvert to supply the auto companies, and Mobile’s $300 million container terminal opened in 2008, and immediately more than doubled annual shipments.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck Mobile and its beaches with Category 4 intensity. On Dauphin Island, the 15-mile spit of land south of Mobile Bay, 300 homes were swept away, and a one-mile gash created a new island. Elsewhere in Mobile and Baldwin counties, Katrina caused major damage to pecan, peanut, and cotton crops. Although the damage received far less national attention than did the devastation in Louisiana and Mississippi, the government authorized $970 million of post-Katrina assistance to Alabama, though it took until 2008 for many of the 2,000 displaced residents to get repairs or new homes.
Mobile is the focus of Alabama’s 1st Congressional District, which extends north along the usually lazy Tombigbee and Alabama rivers, with their old forts and mansions. Monroeville was the home of great writers— Winston Groom, author of Forrest Gump; Truman Capote, who wrote In Cold Blood; and his childhood playmate, Harper Lee, whose classic To Kill a Mockingbird is set here. In 2007, President Bush awarded Lee the Presidential Medal of Freedom, saying her book “has influenced the character of our country for the better.” There are also surviving backcountry settlements of blacks and Cajans (who may or may not be descended from Louisiana Cajuns) and Creek Indians. Once cotton fields, this is now timberland, a major contributor to Alabama’s economy, though the housing downturn suspended many operations. East of Mobile Bay, along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, are condominium communities in Baldwin County, one of the two fastest-growing counties in Alabama. The area hosts the annual National Shrimp Festival, and its glorious Gulf beaches are one of the South’s best-kept secrets. For years, this southern seaboard of the Confederacy has been one of the most hawkish parts of America, and today it is solidly Republican in national elections. But in September 2005, in elections held after Katrina, Mobile elected its first African-American mayor, Sam Jones, a liberal Democrat who served with John McCain during the Vietnam War.