1961 was the 90th year after the founding of the city of Birmingham.
- The first senior class at Banks High School graduated.
- The 117th Tactical Reconnaissance Group was activated during the Berlin Crisis.
- Sun Ra moved his Arkestra from Chicago to New York City.
- Dorothy Love Coates reformed the Gospel Harmonettes.
- The Downtown Action Committee was created.
- The Lane Park Committee was created by Mayor Jimmy Morgan to oversee development of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.
- Birmingham Festival of Arts: 1961 Salute to the South
- Children's Hospital formed an agreement with UAB Hospital and the UAB Department of Pediatric Medicine.
- Kel Osbourne left "The Primes", leaving Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams to form "The Elgins", which signed with Motown Records and became The Temptations.
- The Cumberland School of Law relocated from Lebanon, Tennessee to Samford University.
- Ben Morton donated a group of Tang dynasty ceramics to the Birmingham Museum of Art Asian collection.
- A 1961 Birmingham comprehensive plan called for massive redevelopment of the City Center with elevated pedestrian skyways.
- February 8: The Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company closed its Docena mine.
- February 20: Floodwaters engulfed areas of Mountaindale in Crestline
- May 30: 1961 Birmingham mayoral election: Art Hanes defeated Tom King and succeeded Jimmy Morgan as President of the Birmingham City Commission.
- Woodlawn Elementary School closed.
- July 8: The 20th Special Forces Group was organized at the Homewood National Guard Armory.
- August 11: Phantini the Mentalist drove police chief Jamie Moore and Mayor-elect Art Hanes from Birmingham City Hall to the Thomas Jefferson Hotel while wearing a blindfold.
- August: the first Ball of Roses was held at the Country Club of Birmingham.
- October: A group of pilots from the 106th Bomb Squadron (Light) participated covertly in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.
- October: 1961 Alabama State Fair
- November 11: Jones Valley High School was destroyed by arson.
- December 25: Light snow flurries fell on Birmingham at Christmas.
 Civil Rights Movement
- January: Birmingham Police detectives began recording mass meetings of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights.
- * February 6: Fred Shuttlesworth's car was impounded as part of the judgment against him in the case later overturned as New York Times Co. v. Sullivan.
- February 17: The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled against segregated facilities at the Birmingham Terminal Station.
- May 4: Freedom Riders departed from Washington D.C. en route to New Orleans on Trailways and Greyhound buses.
- May 14: Freedom Riders were attacked at the Birmingham Trailways Station.
- May 15: U. S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy was unsuccessful in attempts to negotiate safe passage for the Freedom Riders out of Birmingham.
- May 17: Fred Shuttlesworth was arrested for failure to obey a Birmingham Police officer.
- May 18: "Who Speaks for Birmingham?", a documentary by Howard K. Smith, aired on CBS
- August 1: ACMHR founder Fred Shuttlesworth moved his family to Cincinnati, Ohio.
- September 23: The Interstate Commerce Commission issued rules prohibiting segregation of interstate passengers, effective November 1.
- October 24: Judge Harlan Grooms ruled that Birmingham parks must be integrated. Rather than comply with the order, the Birmingham City Commission closed all parks.
- December: Frank Dukes drafted a statement, "This We Believe", signed by hundred of Miles College students.
- WBRC switched from the CBS network to ABC.
- WAPI-TV picked up CBS programming along with NBC, favoring NBC's news broadcasts.
- Ed Boutwell founded Boutwell Studios at his home.
- The Newhouse Broadcasting Corporation purchased WAPI-AM.
- Bromberg's acquired Montgomery's Ruth & Sons Jewelers.
- Ingalls Iron Works sold its shipyard business to Litton Industries.
- Van Keuren, Davis and Company became Davis Speake & Thrasher architects.
- Architects Pembleton and Mims became Mims and Gaunt.
- The architecture firm of Poole, Pardue and Morrison was formed.
- Architect David O. Whilldin retired from practice.
- Kenneth Daniel was promoted to executive vice-president at ACIPCO.
- WJLD-AM was upgraded to 1000 watts in the daytime and 250 at night.
- Birmingham View Company, one of the city's first professional photography studios, closed.
- Krown Kredit opened on 3rd Avenue North
- Holland House restaurant took over the former Michael's-in-the-Mall location at Eastwood Mall.
- June 18: Saint Mark United Methodist Church held its first service at Berry High School.
- September 24: Saint Mark United Methodist Church adopted its charter.
- The 1961 Alabama Crimson Tide football team went 11-0 and defeated Arkansas In the Sugar Bowl to claim a national championship.
- The 1961 Auburn Tigers football team went 6-4.
- 1961 Iron Bowl: Alabama 34-Auburn 0
- The 1961 Birmingham Barons played a final season in the Southern Association.
- Shorty White became the head football coach at Banks High School, winning a city-wide championship in his first year.
- Banks High School also won city-wide championships in basketball and baseball.
- Willie Scoggins became head basketball coach at Hayes High School.
- 56-year-old Satchel Paige pitched 25 innings with the AAA Portland Beavers.
- Sam Hairston began his scouting and coaching career with the Chicago White Sox.
- Bart Starr led the Green Bay Packers to an NFL Championship.
- Lum Harris managed the Baltimore Orioles.
- Tennis player Ed Terrell earned the #1 singles and doubles ranking in Alabama.
- Shreveport's Paul Seitz started on the mound for Rickwood Field's first racially-integrated game.
- Lee May signed with the Cincinnati Reds.
- Ted Kubiak signed with the Kansas City Athletics.
- The Futuristic Sounds of Sun Ra, album by Sun Ra and his Arkestra
- Wayne Rogers starred in ABC's Stagecoach West.
- Birmingham magazine was relaunched.
- Unidentified jazz album by Country swing star Hank Penny
- "Bozo the Clown" debuted on WBRC with Bart Darby as host.
- The Birmingham Grotto published its final edition of Cavea Novea.
- "Oogsy-Moo"/"Locomotive" and "Are You Alright?" singles by The Premiers
- Betty Lou Gerson starred as Cruella De Vil in 101 Dalmations.
- Marion Worth's single "I Think I Know" peaked at #7 on the country charts.
- The Moviegoer, National Book Award-winning novel by Walker Percy.
- Revolutionary Road, National Book Award finalist by Richard Yates.
- March 13: Pizitz Roebuck Plaza
- Birmingham Fire Station No. 18 in Pratt City
- Manoir Minette on Old Leeds Road
- A 9,000-seat upper deck was installed at Legion Field.
- An F-86D SabreJet was installed on the roof of Banks High School.
- Phillips High School gymnasium
- Tuxedo Court housing project
- John Carroll Catholic High School athletic complex on Montclair Road
- Crow Building on 6th Avenue North
- Newberry's renovations
- Gulf Building at 2151 Highland Avenue
- Lewis Smith Dam on the Black Warrior River in Walker County, forming Smith Lake
- Weiss Dam on the Coosa River in Cherokee County, forming Weiss Lake
- The 15-story Sheraton Motor Inn on Highland Avenue
- The west-side stands were completed at Samford University's Seibert Stadium.
- New 4-story Children's Hospital at 1600 7th Avenue South
- Paved 1/4-mile track at the Birmingham International Raceway
- A second wing of Hayes High School was completed.
- Putnam Elementary School
- W. J. Christian School
- Avondale Regional Library at Avondale Park
- Green Acres Baptist Church new sanctuary
- Greater Shiloh Baptist Church new sanctuary
- Central section of Mountain Brook Shopping Center with Britling By The Brook cafeteria
- Treadwell Barber Shop
- Modernization of Vaughan-Weil, Krown Kredit and Epp's Jewelry storefronts on the 1800 block of 3rd Avenue North (Block 72)
- Addition to the Purcell Wing at Carraway Hospital.
- Second addition to Roebuck Shopping Center
- Bowl-O-Bama bowling lanes at Roebuck Plaza Shopping Center
- Rectory at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Cullman
- Oliver Adams joined the Bessemer Police Department.
- Gene Bartow began his coaching career at Central Missouri State University.
- Frank Bettencourt left the Jan Garber Orchestra to start his own group.
- Thomas Brigham was founding president of the Birmingham Ski Club.
- Martin Buerger succeeded Hans Reuter as Pastor of First Lutheran Church.
- Alice Chalifoux succeeded Carlos Salzedo as director of the Salzedo Summer Harp Colony in Camden, Maine.
- Bernard Feld, Jr succeeded Julian Aland as President of Temple Emanu-El.
- Karl Friedman succeeded Sidney Ziff as President of Temple Beth-El.
- Roland Frye was made a researcher in residence at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C.
- Harley Gilmore was appointed to the Hueytown Municipal Court.
- John Grenier chaired the Alabama Young Republicans.
- Angela Hernández began a 30-year career at the University of Montevallo.
- Basil Hirschowitz was naturalized as an American citizen.
- A. D. King became pastor of the First Baptist Church of Ensley.
- Martin Luther King, Jr dubbed Odetta the "Queen of American folk music"
- Ida Moffett was appointed to the United States Surgeon General's Consulting Group on Nursing.
- Joe O'Donnell joined the staff of Birmingham magazine.
- Lucius Pitts succeeded William A. Bell as president of Miles College.
- V. C. Provitt succeeded Fred Shuttlesworth as pastor of Bethel Baptist Church.
- Henry Stanford announced his resignation from the presidency of Birmingham-Southern College.
- Earl Stallings succeeded J. T. Ford as pastor of First Baptist Church of Birmingham.
- January 15: Jeremiah Castille, NFL football player
- January 25: Claude Cotten, artist and community volunteer
- February 25: Davey Allison, NASCAR driver (died 1993)
- April 4: Shane Corn, blogger and radio personality
- April 12: Jimbo Wood, radio personality
- April 17: Rebecca Luker, Broadway singer
- May 20: Brian Tribble, singer and music minister
- July 1: Carl Lewis, Olympic track and field medalist
- September 25: Allen Treadaway, Alabama State Representative
- September 29: Eddie Phillips, NBA basketball player
- October 20: Mark Reynolds, drummer
- December 28: Gene Chizik, football coach
- December 30: Brian Glusman, rabbi
- Keith Aaron, president of the Arlington-West End neighborhood
- Gary Chapman, artist and UAB professor
- Will Cotchery, basketball coach
- Lolly Lee, singer
- Kenneth Livesay, former CIO for HealthSouth
- Drew Mays, ophthalmologist and Van Cliburn competition-winning pianist
- Jeff Roberts, photojournalist
- Bob Roller, athletics director for Samford University
- Sheila Tyson, accountant and community activist
- Janie Lee Wallace, daughter of George and Lurleen Wallace
- Stuart Whitehurst, auctioneer and appraiser
- Mark Wilson, Jefferson County Health Officer
- Film director John Badham earned his B.A. in philosophy at Yale University.
- Dermatologist Robert Bentley graduated from Shelby County High School.
- Civil Rights leader James Bevel graduated from the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tennessee.
- Robert Carter completed a master's degree in education at Alabama State University.
- Judge U. W. Clemon graduated as valedictorian of his class at Westfield High School.
- Novelist William Cobb earned his bachelor of arts at Livingston University.
- Judge Ralph Cook graduated from Wenonah High School.
- Engineer Garry Drummond earned his civil engineering degree at the University of Alabama.
- Historian Wayne Flynt graduated from Samford University.
- Architect Joseph Giattina, Jr earned his bachelor of architecture at the University of Notre Dame.
- Civil Rights leader James Orange graduated from Parker High School.
- Journalist Karl Seitz graduated high school in Troy, Pike County.
- University of Montevallo president John W. Stewart earned his doctorate of education at Florida State University.
- Judge Scott Vowell from the University of Virginia School of Law.
- Attorney J. Bryan Whitworth completed his degree at the University of Alabama School of Law.
- B. J. Baker to jazz guitarist Barney Kessel.
- Sculptor John Rhoden won grants from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundations.
- Miss Alabama: Delores Hodgens
- Miss Samford: Janette Weaver
- Mr Crestwood: Doyle Edwards
- Birmingham Festival of Arts Award for Industrial Architecture: Fritz Woehle for Pilgrim Church
- January: George Bender, caterer and restaurant manager
- April 10: Architect Harry Pembleton
- June 30: Baseball player Dizzy Dismukes
- October 9: Richmond Beatty, literary scholar and biographer
- October 15: Joseph Zoettl, creator of Ave Maria Grotto
- November 22: Shopkeeper Gus Jebeles
- Miles College president William Bell
- See also: List of homicides in 1961
In 1961, the U.S. severed diplomatic relations with Cuba. John F. Kennedy succeeded Dwight Eisenhower as President. The Beatles began performing at the Cavern Club. Lawrencium was first synthesized. The Peace Corps was established. Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space. The Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba failed. Alan Shepard became the first American in space. President Kennedy announced his goal to put a man on the Moon before the end of the decade. The Antarctic Treaty went into effect. Roger Maris beat Babe Ruth's single-season home run record. Mattel introduced Barbie's boyfriend, Ken.
Top grossing films of 1961 included West Side Story, One Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Guns of Navarone, El Cid, Splendor in the Grass, and Breakfast at Tiffany's. West Side Story also took Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director (Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins), Best Supporting Actor (George Chakiris), and Best Supporting Actress (Rita Moreno). Best Actor went to Maximilian Schell (Judgment at Nuremberg) and Best Actress went to Sophia Loren (Two Women).
Notable books published in 1961 included Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford, James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison, and Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein. The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction went to To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
Popular music in 1961 included "Runaround Sue" by Dion, "Runaway" by Del Shannon, "Stand By Me" by Ben E King, "Big Bad John" by Jimmy Dean, and "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" by The Tokens. Grammy Awards went to Percy Faith for "Theme From A Summer Place" (Record of the Year), Bob Newhart for The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart (Album of the Year and Best New Artist), and Ernest Gold for "Theme of Exodus" (Song of the Year).
Notable births in 1961 included actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus; hockey player Wayne Gretzky; singer Vince Neal; journalist George Stephanopoulos; singer Susan Boyle; comedian Eddie Murphy; comedian George Lopez; basketball player Isiah Thomas; actor George Clooney; basketball player Dennis Rodman; musician Enya; actor Michael J. Fox; musician Boy George; Diana, Princess of Wales; singer Toby Keith; actor Woody Harrelson; President Barack Obama; guitarist The Edge; journalist Bob Woodruff; singer Billy Ray Cyrus; actress Heather Locklear; film director Peter Jackson; singer k.d. lang; actor Ralph Macchio; actress Meg Ryan; author Ann Coulter; and radio host Sean Hannity.
Notable deaths included physicist Erwin Schrödinger, King Mohammed V of Morocco, conductor Sir Thomas Beecham, actor Gary Cooper, psychiatrist Carl Jung, inventor Lee De Forest, writer Ernest Hemingway, baseball player Ty Cobb, comedian Chico Marx, and humorist James Thurber.
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