MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — You probably know the name Bankhead but much of the work of one of Alabama’s oldest political dynasties has faded from memory. A University of Alabama history professor has a talk in Mobile this week to shed new light on an old family.
Most people in Mobile could tell you where the Bankhead Tunnel is but most would probably be hardpressed to remember who it’s named for–Senator John Hollis Bankhead. He was just one member of the powerful Bankhead family.
“They are the most important forgotten political family. Right. And that’s you know, we know them by their attachment, their name attachment to places,” said University of Alabama History Professor Kari Frederickson. She will be the featured speaker at the History Museum of Mobile’s monthly learning lunch this Wednesday talking about her book “Deep South Dynasty” which chronicles the family’s long time at the levers of power.
“They ruled Alabama and much of the South and crafted legislation that impacted all Americans. You know, for what? 80 some years,” said Frederickson. She says one of the lasting impacts of the Bankhead dynasty is how they worked to modernize the American South.
“John Bankhead Sr. his sons, John Junior, William Bankhead,” said Frederickson. “Their ability to get federal money right these states’ rights conservatives sort of put aside their states’ rights beliefs when it came to getting money for Southern development.” That southern development captured some of the best and worst of the post-reconstruction era–from modernizing roads to making rivers usable for industry to also reinforcing systems of disenfranchisement and white supremacy.