According to historian and author Dr. Kenneth Johnson, "a comprehensive history" of Muscle Shoals in Northwest Alabama has never been written. Yet, in this carefully researched study of the region known as the Tennessee Valley, Dr. Johnson has certainly come closest to fulfilling this long awaited undertaking. Straightforward and unpretentious, Johnson not only reveals the historical significance of the Muscle Shoals area, but he is also a captivating storyteller. His Muscle Shoals History is a combination of textbook accuracy and campfire romance, a volume that will not only entertain local citizens, but will also appeal to history lovers everywhere.
Dr. Johnson tells his story chronologically, beginning with the first occupants of Northwest Alabama - Native Americans and early white settlers - and the inevitable clashes between them. After laying this historical foundation, Johnson describes the establishment of major landmarks and cities in the area during the antebellum period. National issues, such as slavery, religion, and education, are explored. Along with most of the South, the Muscle Shoals area was directly affected by the Civil War and Johnson vividly portrays how the war influenced and altered conventional life temporarily as well as permanently in the Tennessee Valley. Johnson wraps up his historical narrative with the changes in growth during the post-Civil War years and how the Muscle Shoals area transformed economically, socially, and culturally.
Perhaps Johnson's most engaging characteristic is the attention given to all aspects of "ordinary" life woven throughout his historical research. Although Johnson does not skimp on the larger issues that faced the American inhabitants of Northwest Alabama, he also features engrossing stories of local consequence: travel, sports, education, holidays, etc. These stories are charmingly told in various chapters, for example, "Advice for Rural Women in the 19th Century," and "The Lauderdale County Fair." History buffs will be delighted with the tales of the famous and infamous who left their footprints permanently embedded in the rich soil of the Tennessee Valley: David Crockett, Andrew Jackson, Jesse James, and Jesse Owens, to name a few. Johnson's Muscle Shoals History, therefore, offers a unique and impressive two-fold perspective: the historical importance of the Tennessee Valley area from a national point of view and the personal significance that same history has on its local citizens.
Adjunct Instructor of History
Columbia Community State College