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Jefferson County, Alabama
Map of Alabama highlighting Jefferson County
Location in the state of Alabama
Map of the USA highlighting Alabama
Alabama's location in the U.S.
Founded December 13, 1819
Seat Birmingham
Largest City Birmingham
 - Total
 - Land
 - Water

1,124 sq mi (2,911 km²)
1,111 sq mi (2,877 km²)
13 sq mi (34 km²), 1.1%
 - (2015)
 - Density

595/sq mi (230/km²)
Time zone Central: UTC-6/-5
Named for: Thomas Jefferson
  • County Number 01 on Alabama Licence Plates
  • One of three counties shuffled to the top 3 numbers because of population size.

Jefferson County is the most populous county in the state of Alabama, in the United States. As of the 2010 census, the population was 658,466. Its county seat is Birmingham, which is also the most populous city in the state. Its growth as an industrial city in the 20th century established its dominance.

Jefferson County is included in the Birmingham-Hoover, AL Metropolitan Statistical Area.

In 2011 Jefferson County was $4 billion in debt and declared bankruptcy. This was the second-largest Chapter 9 (municipal) bankruptcy in the United States, after that of Detroit, Michigan in 2013. Jefferson County emerged from bankruptcy in December 2013, following the approval of a bankruptcy plan by the United States bankruptcy court for the Northern District of Alabama.


Tannehill Valley Covered Bridge near McCalla.

Jefferson County was established on December 13, 1819, by the Alabama Legislature. It was named in honor of Thomas Jefferson. The county is located in the north-central portion of the state, on the southernmost edge of the Appalachian Mountains, in the center of the (former) iron, coal, and limestone mining belt of the Southern United States.

Jefferson County has a land area of about 1,119 square miles (2,900 km2). Because of shifts in population, early county seats were established first at Carrollsville (1819 – 21), then Elyton (1821 – 73).

Birmingham was founded about 1871 and in 1873 gained designation as the county seat. It was named for the English city of the same name in Warwickshire. That city had long been a center of iron and steel production in Great Britain. Birmingham was established by the merger of three towns, including Elyton. It has continued to grow by annexing neighboring towns and villages, including North Birmingham.

As Birmingham industrialized, its growth accelerated, particularly after 1890. It attracted numerous migrants, both black and white, from rural areas for its new jobs. It also attracted European immigrants. Despite the city's rapid growth, for decades it was underrepresented in the legislature and could not get its urban needs addressed, as rural counties hung on to their power in the legislature.

Racial tensions increased in the late 19th century as whites worked to maintain white supremacy. The white, conservative Democrat-dominated legislature passed a new constitution in 1901 that disfranchised most blacks and many poor whites, excluding them totally from the political system. Economic competition also raised tensions.

Even after 1950, racial violence of whites against blacks continued, especially as civil rights activities increased in Birmingham. In the 1950s KKK chapters bombed black houses to discourage residents moving into new areas. In that period, the city was referred to as "Bombingham." The city finally agreed in 1963 to integrate public facilities and hire more African Americans, following a non-violent campaign based at the 16th Street Baptist Church and an economic boycott of white stores that refused to hire blacks. Whites struck again: on a Sunday in September 1963, KKK members bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church, killing four young black girls and injuring many individuals. The African-American community quickly rebuilt the damaged church.

Sewer construction and bond swap controversy

In the 1990s, the county authorized and financed a massive overhaul of the county-owned sewer system, beginning in 1996. Sewerage and water rates had increased more than 300% in the 15 years before 2011, causing severe problems for the poor in Birmingham and the county.

Costs for the project increased due to problems in the financial area and to a series of risky bond-swap agreements made by county officials, encouraged by bribes by financial services companies. Two extremely controversial undertakings by county officials in the 2000s left the county with debt of $4 billion, eventually leading to the county declaring bankruptcy in 2011. It was the largest municipal bankruptcy in history at that time. Both the sewer project and its financing were scrutinized by federal prosecutors. By 2011, "six of Jefferson County's former commissioners had been found guilty of corruption for accepting the bribes, along with 15 other officials."

A series of controversial interest rate swaps, initiated in 2002 and 2003 by former Commission President Larry Langford (removed in 2011 as the mayor of Birmingham after his conviction at trial), were intended to lower interest payments. But they had the opposite effect, increasing the county's indebtedness to the point that it had to declare bankruptcy. The bond swaps were the focus of an investigation by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission.

In late February 2008 Standard & Poor's lowered the rating of Jefferson County bonds to "junk" status. The likelihood of the county filing for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection was debated in the press. In early March 2008, Moody's followed suit and indicated that it would also review the county's ability to meet other bond obligations.

On March 7, 2008, Jefferson County failed to post $184 million collateral as required under its sewer bond agreements, thereby moving into technical default.

In February 2011, Lesley Curwen of the BBC World Service interviewed David Carrington, the newly appointed president of the County Commission, about the risk of defaulting on bonds issued to finance “what could be the most expensive sewage system in history.” Carrington said there was “no doubt that people from Wall Street offered bribes” and “have to take a huge responsibility for what happened.” Wall Street investment banks, including JP Morgan and others, arranged complex financial deals using swaps. The fees and penalty charges increased the cost so the county in 2011 had $3.2 billion outstanding. Carrington said one of the problems was that elected officials had welcomed scheduling with very low early payments so long as peak payments occurred after they left office.

In 2011 the SEC awarded the county $75 million in compensation in relation to a judgment of “unlawful payments” against JP Morgan; in addition the company was penalized by having to forfeit $647 million of future fees.

2011 Bankruptcy filing

Jefferson County filed for bankruptcy on November 9, 2011. This action was valued at $4.2 billion, with debts of $3.14 billion relating to sewer work; it was then the most expensive municipal bankruptcy ever in the U.S. In 2013 it was surpassed by the Detroit bankruptcy in Michigan. The County requested Chapter 9 relief under federal statute 11 U.S.C. §921. The case was filed in the Northern District of Alabama Bankruptcy Court as case number 11-05736.

As of May 2012, Jefferson County had slashed expenses and reduced employment of county government workers by more than 700.

See also: National Register of Historic Places listings in Birmingham, Alabama, National Register of Historic Places listings in Jefferson County, Alabama, and Properties on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage by county (Jefferson–Macon)


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 1,124 square miles (2,910 km2), of which 1,111 square miles (2,880 km2) is land and 13 square miles (34 km2) (1.1%) is water. It is the fifth-largest county in Alabama by land area. The county is home to the Watercress Darter National Wildlife Refuge.

Adjacent counties


Historical population
Census Pop.
1830 6,855
1840 7,131 4.0%
1850 8,989 26.1%
1860 11,746 30.7%
1870 12,345 5.1%
1880 23,272 88.5%
1890 88,501 280.3%
1900 140,420 58.7%
1910 226,476 61.3%
1920 310,054 36.9%
1930 431,493 39.2%
1940 459,930 6.6%
1950 558,928 21.5%
1960 634,864 13.6%
1970 644,991 1.6%
1980 671,371 4.1%
1990 651,525 −3.0%
2000 662,047 1.6%
2010 658,466 −0.5%
Est. 2015 660,367 0.3%
U.S. Decennial Census
1790–1960 1900–1990
1990–2000 2010–2015


According to the 2010 United States Census, residents of Birmingham identified as the following:

  • 53.0% White
  • 42.0% Black
  • 0.3% Native American
  • 1.4% Asian
  • 0.0% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander
  • 1.1% Two or more races
  • 3.9% Hispanic or Latino (of any race)


As of the census of 2000, there were 662,047 people, 263,265 households, and 175,861 families residing in the county. The population density was 595 people per square mile (230/km2). There were 288,162 housing units at an average density of 259 per square mile (100/km2). The racial makeup of the county was 58.10% White, 39.36% Black or African American, 0.21% Native American, 0.90% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 0.59% from other races, and 0.80% from two or more races. About 1.55% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

The largest self-reported European ancestries in Jefferson County, Alabama are English 9.7%(64,016), "American" 9.6%(63,015), Irish 8.6%(56,695), German 7.2%(47,690). Those citing "American" ancestry in Alabama are of overwhelmingly English extraction; however, most English Americans identify simply as having American ancestry because their families have been in North America for so long, in many cases since the 17th century. Demographers estimate that roughly 20–23% of people in Alabama are of predominantly English and related British Isles ancestry. There are also many more people in Alabama of Scots-Irish origins than are self-reported.

There were 263,265 households, out of which 30.80% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 46.10% were married couples living together, 17.20% had a female householder with no husband present, and 33.20% were non-families. Nearly 28.70% of all households were made up of individuals, and 9.90% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.45, and the average family size was 3.04.

In the county, the population was spread out with 24.80% under the age of 18, 9.60% from 18 to 24, 29.70% from 25 to 44, 22.30% from 45 to 64, and 13.60% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females, there were 89.20 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 84.50 males.

In 2007 Jefferson County had the highest rate of syphilis cases per 100,000 in the US, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The median income for a household in the county was $36,868, and the median income for a family was $45,951. Males had a median income of $35,954 versus $26,631 for females. The per capita income for the county was $20,892. About 11.60% of families and 14.80% of the population were below the poverty line, including 20.20% of those under age 18 and 12.70% of those age 65 or over.


Birmingham bus station Nov 2011
Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority Station in Birmingham.

Major highways

  • I-20 (AL).svg Interstate 20
  • I-22 (AL).svg Interstate 22
  • I-59 (AL).svg Interstate 59
  • I-65 (AL).svg Interstate 65
  • I-459 (AL).svg Interstate 459
  • US 11.svg U.S. Route 11
  • US 31.svg U.S. Route 31
  • US 78.svg U.S. Route 78
  • US 280.svg U.S. Route 280
  • US 411.svg U.S. Route 411
  • Alabama 5.svg State Route 5
  • Alabama 25.svg State Route 25
  • Alabama 75.svg State Route 75
  • Alabama 79.svg State Route 79
  • Alabama 119.svg State Route 119
  • Alabama 149.svg State Route 149
  • Alabama 150.svg State Route 150
  • Alabama 151.svg State Route 151
  • Alabama 269.svg State Route 269


AMTRAK passenger service is provided by the Crescent, which stops in Birmingham. Freight service is provided by BNSF Railway, CSX Transportation, Norfolk Southern Railway, Alabama & Tennessee River Railway, and Birmingham Terminal Railway (formerly Birmingham Southern Railroad). There is also one switching and terminal railroad, Alabama Warrior Railway.

Air travel

Birmingham is the location of the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, which provides service, either direct or connecting, to most of the rest of the United States.




Census-designated places

Unincorporated communities

Former Towns

  • Elyton (former Jefferson County Seat, now a neighborhood in Birmingham)
  • Ensley (former town, now a neighborhood in Birmingham)
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