1981 was the 110th year after the founding of the city of Birmingham.
- February: Scott Richards debuted on WBRC 6.
- April: The Birmingham Police Department cracked down on roller-skaters on Highland Avenue.
- April: Faith Chapel Christian Center was founded in Wylam by Michael Moore.
- April: Partners in Neighborhood Growth was founded.
- May 31: "Don't Look Back" told the story of Satchel Paige on ABC.
- August 1: Alan Hunter debuted as one of MTV's five original VJs.
- August 15: Mother Angelica launched the Eternal Word Television Network.
- October 31: Willie Mays Day was celebrated with a parade and a presentation of the key to the city at halftime of the Magic City Classic.
- December 30: The Crittenden Building was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
- A new Birmingham City Council was seated.
- Alvin A. DuPont took office as Mayor of Tuscaloosa.
- Festival of Arts Salute to Mexico.
- Sloss Furnaces were designated a National Historic Landmark.
- Gimme a Break! starring Nell Carter debuted on television.
- WAPI-FM started broadcasting an album rock format under the name 95 Rock.
- The band the Calton Phillips Group formed.
- Three ballet programs combined to form Alabama Ballet.
- The Personnel Board of Jefferson County began operating under consent decree.
- William Wilson founded the Amistad Mission.
- Brownville voted to be annexed into Birmingham.
- Smith Middle School changed from a K-8 school to grades 6-8.
- A fire damaged Jess Lanier High School, destroying the library.
- The Homewood High School Marching Band made their second appearance in Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
- Pizitz constructed its final Enchanted Forest for Christmas.
- September: Buffalo Rock Company added Grapico to its stable of brands.
- December 31: Brothers Music Hall closed after a final show by Hotel.
- Plitt Theatres of Chicago closed the Alabama Theatre and sold it to Cobb Theatres.
- Summit Medical Center was licensed in Birmingham.
- Gus Kanellis and Maria Kanellis founded Costa's Famous Bar-B-Que.
- SouthTrust Corporation was formed.
- Colonial Bank was founded by Bobby Lowder.
- Ingalls Iron Works sold its sites to Trinity Industries.
- William Riley and other partners purchased Moore-Handley, Inc.
- The first Bob Baumhower's Wings Sports Grill opened in Tuscaloosa.
- The original Full Moon Bar-B-Que opened in Southside.
- Harbert Construction sold its coal operations to Standard Oil for $400 million.
- Southern Life & Health Insurance was sold to Standard Security Holding Company of New York.
- Jimmy Cho opened the Great Wall Chinese Restaurant on Valley Avenue.
- WQMS-AM, "The Source", went on the air in Alabaster.
- Don Murdoch founded Highland Music.
- Camp Fire USA began leasing Camp Fletcher near Bessemer.
- Air New Orleans was founded in Florida.
- William Bridgers became dean of the UAB School of Public Health.
- Martha Gaskins was appointed to the Birmingham Board of Education.
- James Kallam became president of Southeastern Bible College.
- James Kirklin joined the UAB faculty.
- Louis LeVaughn retired as principal of Shades Cahaba Elementary School.
- Willie Arrington was elected to his first term on the Alabaster City Council.
- Ralph Cook was appointed to the Jefferson County Circuit Court.
- Jay Glass became deputy coroner of Jefferson County.
- John Godbold became chief judge of the Fifth Circuit United States Court of Appeals.
- Earl Hilliard took office in the Alabama Senate.
- Judge Robert Vance was assigned to the newly created 11th Circuit United States Court of Appeals.
- David Craig became pastor of Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church.
- Paul Donnelly and then Patrick Murphy became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church.
- Marija Lunetti experienced her first vision of Mary.
- Bernard Williams became pastor of Mount Moriah Baptist Church.
- May 16: Carl Lewis ran the 100-meter sprint in 10.00 seconds.
- June 20: Carl Lewis set the low-altitude long jump record.
- August 19: Terry Francona made his Major League debut with the Montreal Expos.
- October: Alabama A&M defeated Alabama State 13-3 in the Magic City Classic at Legion Field.
- November 28: Bear Bryant became college football's winningest coach, earning his 315th victory when the Alabama Crimson Tide beat Auburn 28-17 in the Iron Bowl.
- The Birmingham Bulls folded.
- Bobby Allison won the Winston 500.
- A new Birmingham Barons baseball team took the field at Rickwood Field.
- The Alabama Crimson Tide football team won the Southeastern Conference Championship.
- Ron Bouchard was the surprise winner of the Talladega 500.
- The UAB Blazers men's basketball team won a conference championship.
- "Calling All Sports" hosted by Eli Gold debuted on WERC-AM.
- Pat Dye became head football coach of Auburn University.
- See also: 1981 Birmingham Barons
- Bill Elder became pastor of the St Charles Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans.
- Fannie Flagg published her first novel.
- Joey Kennedy began working at The Birmingham News as a sports copy editor.
- Frank Makosky became the new head of the Weather Forecast Office Birmingham.
- David Nathan joined the Birmingham Fire & Rescue Service.
- Ted Tibbs took charge of the Birmingham Music Club.
- Mike Walker joined the Birmingham Police Department.
- February 18: Matthew Maniscalco, baseball player
- March 3: Bulwagi, Birmingham Zoo elephant
- March 11: Adam Bonner, baseball player
- April 19: Earl Cochran, Jr, football player
- April 22: Travis Beech, baseball player
- June 15: Saleem Rasheed, football player
- July 27: Brandon Davis, community activist
- September 10: Connor Robertson, baseball player
- October 28: Noah Galloway, soldier, athlete, and motivational speaker
- November 1: Evan Mathis, football player
- November 2: Roddy White, football player
- November 3: Karlos Dansby, football player
- December 12: Ronnie Brown, football player
- December 31: Jason Campbell, football player
- Jeremiah Haswell, engineer
- Rachel Higgins, artist
- Alexa Jones, television hostess
- Mike Mahon, businessman and community activist
- Brandon McCray, businessman
- Nancy Stricklin, author and filmmaker
- Carla Jean Whitley, editor of Birmingham magazine
- Anthony Williams, Jr, reality show contestant
- Randall Woodfin, attorney
- Eytan Yammer, rabbi
- Rica Lewis-Payton graduated from Talladega College with a bachelor's degree in economics.
- Connie Rowe graduated from Walker County High School
- Annetta Verin earned her juris doctorate at the Howard University School of Law.
- Alabama Academy of Honor: Houston Blount
- Alabama Business Hall of Fame: James Comer, A. G. Gaston, Robert Jemison Jr, and Isadore Weil
- Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame (15 inductees)
- Alabama Sports Hall of Fame: Bill Battle III, Frederick Davis, Monte Irvin, Fob James, Joe Namath, Pat Sullivan, and Arthur White
- Birmingham City Championship (chess tournament): Stuart Rachels
- BSC Sports Hall of Fame established
- Miss Alabama: Phoebe Stone
- Miss Samford: Susan Palmer
- National Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award in Literature: Gail Godwin
- Outstanding Young Banker: Dan Puckett
- March 26: Carl Bottenfield, retired U.S. Steel executive and former Jefferson County Board of Education member
- May 15: Walter Gewin, federal circuit court judge
- May 30: Howell Vines, author
- June 1: Jimmy Murphy, singer-songwriter
- June 7: Clarence Baldwin, pastor
- December: Ed Ramage, Presbyterian minister
- See also: List of Birmingham homicides in 1981
- Southtown Court murals by Vance Wesson
- Wendy Holcombe starred in the television movie "Wendy Hooper, U. S. Army"
- The Narrative of Hosea Hudson: The Life and Times of a Black Radical by Hosea Hudson and Nell Irvin Painter
- Styling Your Face by Way Bandy
- September: Springville Road Library
- Arlington Business Center
- Bill Battle Coliseum
- Covenant Presbyterian Church
- Iron & Steel Museum of Alabama
- South Central Bell Alabama Operations Center
- Striplin Field
- UAB's Tidwell Hall was renovated for use by the UAB School of Public Health.
- Vestavia Hills Baptist Church fellowship hall and adult classroom building
- Wenonah High School gym
- "Moon Over Homewood"
- "Panama City Bleach"/"This World is Killing Me" single by Jim Bob & the Leisure Suits
- Punk band the Ether Dogs was formed.
In 1981, 52 American hostages in Iran were freed after 14 months. Walter Cronkite retired as CBS's anchorman. Ronald Reagan became the oldest elected American president and was later shot in a failed assassination attempt by John Hinckley, Jr. NASA launched the first Space Shuttle. Andrew Lloyd Weber's Cats debuted in London. Pope John Paul II was critically injured by an assassination attempt. Prince Charles and Lady Diana were married. Three walkways collapsed at the Kansas City Hyatt Regency hotel. IBM introduced the Personal Computer. Sandra Day O'Connor became the first female Supreme Court Justice.
Notable 1981 births include Eli Manning, Elijah Wood, Justin Timberlake, Paris Hilton, Hayden Christensen, Beyoncé Knowles, Jennifer Hudson, and Britney Spears. Notable deaths in 1981 included Bob Marley, George Walsh and Natalie Wood.
The top films were Raiders of the Lost Ark, On Golden Pond, and Superman II. Chariots of Fire was Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Top pop singles included Kim Carnes' "Bette Davis Eyes", Diana Ross & Lionel Richie's "Endless Love", Olivia Newton-John's "Physical", and John Lennon's "(Just Like) Starting Over".
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