Just 250 miles from north to south, ALABAMA ranges from the fast-flowing rivers, waterfalls and lakes of the Appalachian foothills to the bayous and white sand beaches of the Gulf Coast. Away from the water’s edge, agriculture, dominated by pecans, peaches and watermelons, flourishes on the gently sloping coastal plain. Industry is concentrated in the north, around Birmingham and Huntsville, first home of the nation’s space programme, while the farmlands of middle Alabama envelop Montgomery, the state capital. Away from the French-influenced coastal strip around the pretty little town of Mobile, fundamentalist Protestant attitudes have traditionally backed right-wing demagogues, such as George Wallace, the four-time state governor who received ten million votes in the 1968 presidential election, and, more recently Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who in the summer of 2003 was suspended for not obeying a federal court order to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from the rotunda of the state judicial building in Montgomery. While times have moved on since the epic civil rights struggles in Montgomery, Birmingham and Selma – monuments and civic literature celebrate the achievements of the campaigners, and even Wallace renounced his racist views – a visit to Alabama offers a crucial reminder of just how recently those struggles were fought.

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