Tales of Tuscaloosa: Tuscaloosa’s Newspaper History— “A Journalistic Pastiche” Featured

The flags of several antebellum (pre-Civil War) Tuscaloosa newspapers. The flags of several antebellum (pre-Civil War) Tuscaloosa newspapers.

It was the first Tuesday in April of 1865, and a detachment of Federal troops swept into Tuscaloosa. They proceeded to burn and in some cases loot stores, factories, warehouses, the University of Alabama, and the river bridge. Some would even claim they pried open crypts in Greenwood Cemetery looking for hidden valuables. Twenty-two years later, an article in The Tuscaloosa Times revealed that the Federals had also destroyed a complete set of files of the Alabama State Intelligencer, an influential early newspaper during Tuscaloosa’s years as State Capital. The troops not only devastated the city, but also destroyed part of Alabama’s history.

The Intelligencer was a predecessor of the Independent Monitor, one of two newspapers that emerged from a journalistic pastiche. Indeed from 1819 until 1833 nine weeklies were published, albeit not at the same time. The first were the Tuscaloosa Republican, the American Mirror, and the Alabama Sentinel—all published before Tuscaloosa became the state capital. During the capital years (1826 until 1846), a dizzying assortment of 13 papers emerged, merged, or disappeared.

The Independent Monitor’s rival was The Tuscaloosa Observer (the descendant of the Flag of the Union and other newspapers). Their differences were political. The Monitor was strongly Whig, whereas the Observer was unabashedly Democratic. These papers took wildly different stands on the issues of the day. For example, the Observer favored the Mexican War, and later secession, and it opposed import tariffs. The Monitor took opposite stands. The Observer persevered through the Civil War, while the Monitor temporarily suspended publication. On December 30, 1871, it was announced that the former rivals would merge to become The Tuscaloosa Times. After nearly a half century, most of Tuscaloosa’s early newspapers had coalesced into a single entity. 

The Times’ near monopoly lasted only four years. A strong competitor stepped forward in 1875. The Tuskaloosa Gazette sought to distinguish itself by even using the alternative spelling of the city’s name. The Gazette became an enthusiastic promoter of a New South vision of Tuscaloosa, supporting land development, industries, railroads, and local public transportation. Both newspapers expanded to daily editions competing with each other and out-of-town rivals—especially those from the emerging metropolis of Birmingham. In the first years of the 20th century, the Times and Gazette merged to become the Tuscaloosa Times-Gazette

There were other mostly short-lived newspapers founded in the post-Civil War era and early 20th century. African Americans owned The Tuscaloosa American and The Tuskaloosa Chronicle. The Farmer’s Alliance and later Populist Party were promoted by The Tuscaloosa Vindicator and The Tuskaloosa Journal. Some others included The Northport Herald and The Tuscaloosa Sun. 

The West Alabama Breeze, published from 1889 until 1928, moved to Tuscaloosa after a devastating fire destroyed much of downtown Northport. One of its longtime editors, John Bealle, was a Baptist minister who frequently served as a substitute or part-time pastor at many rural churches scattered across Tuscaloosa County. His newspaper often utilized rural correspondents who submitted columns or newsletters with titles such as “Sipsey Turnpike,” “News from Cottondale,” “Binion’s Creek,” “Agrestic,” “Big Hurricane,” and “From Ralph’s Rounder.” By concentrating on local news from the far-flung corners of the county, he built a strong base of subscribers. Occasionally, he would even note that some readers had bartered for their subscriptions with fresh produce or a cured ham that was greatly enjoyed by his numerous children, or the Little Breezes as he called them. 

During Tuscaloosa’s first century, there was a confusing array of perhaps 30 or more local newspapers whose fortunes were in an almost constant state of flux. Each espoused a particular political party or doctrine and attempted to appeal to as many subscribers as possible while competing for advertisers. In 1908, the Times-Gazette Publishing Company was purchased and renamed, thus creating The Tuscaloosa News, a lineal descendant of many of these early papers and the only local daily that survived into the twenty-first century.  

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Druid City Living (DCL) is Tuscaloosa, Alabama's premier community newspaper, covering the great people, places and activities of the area.



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