Alabama 6th District
Birmingham, once one of America’s booming industrial cities, was better known in the latter half of the last century as a bastion of white resistance to the civil-rights movement. It has more hopeful prospects in the 21st century. This is a new city by Southern standards. Before the Civil War, there was nothing here but a few creeks running below Red Mountain. But Red Mountain is almost pure iron ore, and by 1890, Birmingham had the South’s largest steel mills. In the early 20th century, as the statue of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and metalworking, looked out over the smokestack-filled valley, Birmingham seemed the most progressive city in the South. But the worldwide overcapacity of steel and technological obsolescence at home sent the American steel industry into long-term decline starting in the 1950s. Meanwhile, Birmingham’s political leaders plotted to avoid desegregation, and the city’s violent reaction to civil rights made a vivid impression on the rest of the country, watching it unfold on the relatively new medium of television. Police Commissioner (and Democratic National Committeeman at the time) Bull Connor set dogs and fire hoses against peaceful demonstrators, and Ku Klux Klansmen bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church, killing four young girls in 1963. Those images haunted Birmingham for a generation.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
In recent years, Birmingham has worked to improve race relations and has developed a new economic base. Health care is a major industry. The city has some of the largest and most advanced medical care centers in the South, and is especially renowned for its sports medicine facilities and specialists who tend to the ailments of famous athletes. Banking is also important. While Atlanta’s banks foundered and were acquired by outsiders, Birmingham became the largest Southern banking center outside Charlotte, N.C. But city leaders worry that the viability of the downtown area and white movement to newer suburbs have arguably caused an uptick in racial polarization. The city’s population has declined by 100,000 since 1960 and was 74% black in 2000. Whites have been moving out of Birmingham’s Jefferson County southeast to Shelby County, which grew 44% in the 1990s and 26% from 2000 to 2007—the fastest growth in the state. (However, the migration to Shelby has not been entirely white flight. Its African-American population increased significantly as well.) Jefferson County, once more Republican than most of Alabama, votes Democratic in close statewide elections, while Shelby County is one of the most Republican counties in the state. Metropolitan planners project an 85% population increase for Shelby County from 2005 to 2035, but only a 2% increase for Jefferson, whose development growth is limited by its hills.
The 6th Congressional District of Alabama, which once included all of Birmingham and most of Jefferson County, is now the suburban Birmingham-area district and strongly Republican. It includes parts of Jefferson County, such as prosperous Mountain Brook, and stretches southwest to Tuscaloosa and south along Interstate 65 halfway to Montgomery. In 2002, the Democratic line-drawers made it even more Republican by removing the last part of Birmingham and some black precincts in Tuscaloosa, and adding most of fast-growing St. Clair County north of Shelby County. Today, this is one of the most Republican districts in the nation. It voted 74% for George W. Bush in 2000—his second-best district outside of Texas—and four years later, gave Bush 78%. In 2008, John McCain won this district, 77%-22%.