Historic Mobile Preservation Society
The Historic Mobile Preservation Society (HMPS) was founded on March 14, 1935 by a group of concerned civic and social leaders organized by Mrs. E. S. Sledge. The society acts as an advocate for historic preservation and promotes Mobile’s history. The society also serves as a repository for many of Mobile’s historical treasures. The research and study activities of the Historic Mobile Preservation Society are concentrated in the Minnie Mitchell Archives Building. Constructed in 1980, this building, located on the Oakleigh campus, houses our collection of Mobile maps, documents, family papers, photographs, rare books, memorabilia, and artifacts.
Backstory and Context
Mobile, Alabama is located in the mouth of the Mobile Bay and the North-Gulf Coast. Founded as the first capital of colonial French Louisiana in 1702, Mobile was a colony of France, Britain and lastly Spain before its 100th birthday in 1802. Mobile was established as part of the U.S. in 1813 under president James Madison, it left the union, entering into the Confederate States in 1861, to then only later collapse in 1865.
Mobile's location, at the Mobile River and the Mobile Bay on the Northern Gulf of Mexico enable it to be the only seaport in the state of Alabama, playing an essential economic role. Because Mobile is part of the heart of the Gulf Coast, it is home to many museums, symphony orchestras, professional operas, professional ballet companies and a large concentration of historical architecture.
During the 19th century Mobile's plantation economy grew and so did their population. Because of their river location they were a key city for river trade, having navigational access for most of Alabama and a large portion of Mississippi. Buy 1840 the cotton industry in Mobile had become so prosperous they were second to New Orleans in cotton export for the country. With the city so focused on one crop for production the cities economy was always linked directly to the production of cotton. Mobile had a smaller slave-owning population in comparison to some of the inland cities and plantations in Alabama, however it was the slave-trading center of the state until the 1850.
During the Civil War Mobile became a Confederate city. The Union gained control over the Mobile Bay during the Battle of Mobile Bay, on August 5, 1864. Following in April of 1865 three days after the surrender of Robert E. Lee the city surrendered to the Union Army.
Reconstruction began in Mobile after the Civil War and ended in 1874, after the local democrats established control of the city government. The last part of the 19th century was that of an economic depression for the city, showing the value of Mobile's exports dropped from 9$ million in 1878 to only 3$million in 1882.
The beginning of the 20th century brought changes to the city, the Progressive Era. Mobile's economic structure grew as well as its population. World War I, brought manufacturing to the city, making it a increasing vital part to the cities economy. While on the other hand the race relations only got worse, by 1902 the city government passed their first segregation ordinance. The African-American population of Mobile responded with a two-month boycott, but the laws were not changed. After which the white population imposed Jim Crow Laws to maintain superiority.
World War II caused an increase in military effort all across the country, including Mobile, the cities population grew extensively from an influx of workers for the military shipyards and Army Air Fields, in three years from 1940 to 1943 more then 89,000 people moved to Mobile for war effort industries.
In the years following World War II there were changes in Mobile's social structure and economy. Old shipyards became paper mills and chemical plants, while a lot of the military bases were converted for civilian use. African Americans also changed their approach, they amped up their efforts for equal rights and social justice.
The Mobile police force and Spring Hill College were integrated during the 1950s, and unlike the rest of the state of Alabama buses and lunch counters were desegregated buy the early 1960s. In 1963 three African-American students filed a racial case against the Mobile County School Board for being denied admission to Murphy High School. The court ruled that the three students be allowed admission to the school for the 1964 school year, leading to the desegregation of the Mobile County School System. Followed by the Civil RIghts Act of 1964 that led to the end of legal racial segregation.
In 1969 Mobile suffered an economic blow, the Brookley Air Force Base was closed, the economic depression lasting throughout the 1970s. Starting then in the late 1980s the mayor and city council began the "String of Pearls Initiative", an effort to make Mobile a competitive city. Initiating numerous projects and the restoration of hundreds of historic downtown buildings and homes.