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(October 2000)

Home:  >Browse Listings   >Authors   >Higginbotham, Jay

Jay Higginbotham

Jay Higginbotham

Jay Higginbotham is a prize-winning author and founder of the Mobile Municipal Archives. Born July 16, 1937, he grew up in Mobile and Pascagoula. Descended from one of the Deep South’s most illustrious families, one which includes the Ambassador Pierre Soulé and the French impressionist Edgar Degas, he is a descendant on both his father’s and mother’s side of the founders of Mobile in 1702. After graduating from Ole Miss in 1960, Higginbotham attended the City College of New York and the American University in Washington, DC. Serving briefly as Assistant Clerk of the Mississippi House of Representatives, he taught for several years in the Mobile Public Schools, dividing his time between teaching, traveling and writing. In 1973, he became head of the Local History Department of the Mobile Public Library. Several years later, he organized the Mobile Municipal Archives and became its first director..

In the 1960’s he traveled through forty-two countries in Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America. After a trip around the world in 1966, during which he climbed Mt. Fuji in Japan, crossed Asia on the Trans-Siberian Railway, scaled Mt. Olympus, and swam the Nile River, he began his writing career, the result of which has been seventeen books and numerous articles in newspapers, magazines and journals. He has received five literary awards, including the Gilbert Chinard Prize, the L. Kemper Williams Prize, and the Alabama Library Association Award.

His Old Mobile (1977) became a classic in Southern history, receiving praise in a number of scholarly journals, including the Journal of American History, the American Historical Review, Revue Historique (Paris), the Geographical Journal (London) and the Revista de Historia Militar (Madrid). His Fast Train Russia was first published in the USSR in 1981, and the American edition (Dodd, Mead, 1983) was enthusiastically received in such publications as The New Yorker, the Christian Science Monitor, Kirkus Reviews and the Library Journal.

Other of his works — poems, speeches, essays and articles — have been translated into 27 languages, including Arabic, Japanese and Chinese, and have been sold and distributed in 128 countries.

Shortly after the American publication of Fast Train Russia in 1983, Higginbotham joined the international peace movement and returned to Russia. After meeting with Giorgi Arbatov, Premier Chernenko’s chief advisor, and speaking on Radio Moscow and Soviet national television, he donated blood on Sputnik Day and made a widely circulated statement for peace in a public ceremony broadcast worldwide.

The following year Higginbotham returned to Russia as a guest of Progress Publishers (which subsequently published two of his books) and made 37 speeches advocating reconciliation in a whirlwind tour across Russia from Vladivostok to Brest. His Fourth Of July speech in Khabarovsk — “America Enlightening the World” — was broadcast throughout Russia and the Far East and his “Letter To President Reagan” was published in Moscow News and numerous international publications.

On his 1984 trip to Russia, Higginbotham met and became friends with Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko. Yevtushenko later visited Higginbotham several times in Mobile, and together they appeared in concert in numerous Southern cities.

Before leaving Russia in 1986, Higginbotham spoke to the City Council of Rostov, out of which came a remarkable but controversial sister-city relationship between Mobile and the Black Sea port.

In June 1993, Higginbotham traveled to Havana and met with Mayor Pedro Chávez and other city officials. Returning to Mobile, he organized and became president of the Society Mobile-La Habana, after which Mobile and Havana became the first sister city between municipalities in Cuba and the United States. Later, he addressed the Cuban mission at the United Nations in New York, as well as the U.S. Congress, spoke on radio Havana and addressed the VI Ibero-American Solidarity Convention in Havana.

In addition to his writings and efforts in behalf of world peace, Higginbotham has been active in Mobile’s community affairs, having worked extensively with the Red Cross and having served as chairman of numerous boards and commissions, including the Old Mobile Project, Friends of Freedom, the Mobile Assembly of Sages and Savants, the Old Shell Road PTA, and the Mobile Tricentennial, Inc., of which he was founder and first president. In 1995, he addressed the World Future Society in Atlanta on the subject of “Reshaping the Olympics,” after which he was interviewed on CBS. He has appeared on NBC’s Today Show and Real Life programs as well as on radio and TV programs in Canada, Cuba, Argentina, and throughout Europe and Asia.

In 1991, he was awarded the Mobile Scroll of Merit Award. He has written for the Encyclopedia Britannica, for Funk & Wagnall’s and is listed in Contemporary Authors, Outstanding Young Men in America, Who’s Who in America, International Authors and Writers Who’s Who, and the Dictionary of International Biography.

(Article first posted February 2002)

Related Links & Info

This page, “Where is Mauvila,” discusses some of the possible locations of the battle of Mauvila, which took place on Oct. 18, 1540, between Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto and Indian chief Tascalusa. Higginbotham’s book Mauvila is the first complete book on the battle, described by some historians as the most decisive conflict in North American history.


  • Brother Holyfield. New York: Thomas-Hull, 1972.

  • The Mobile Indians. Mobile, Ala.: Colonial Books, 1966.
  • Family Biographies: Brief Portraits of Some Ancestors and Members of the Higginbotham Family of Pascagoula. Mobile, Ala.: Colonial Books, 1967.
  • The Pascagoula Indians. Mobile, Ala.: Colonial Books, 1967.
  • Pascagoula: Singing River City. Mobile, Ala.: Gill Press, 1968.
  • Mobile: City by the Bay. By Jay Higginboth. Edited by Cathy Patrick. Mobile, Ala.: Azalea City Printers, 1968.
  • The Journal of Sauvole: Historical Journal of the Establishment of the French in Louisiana. By M. de Sauvole; translated and edited by Jay Higginbotham. Mobile, Ala.: Colonial Books, 1969.
  • Fort Maurepas: The Birth of Louisiana. Mobile, Ala.: Colonial Books, 1969.
  • A Voyage to Dauphin Island in 1720: The Journal of Bertet de la Clue. Translated by Jay Higginbotham. Mobile, Ala.: Museum of the City of Mobile, 1974.
  • Old Mobile: Fort Louis de la Louisiane, 1702-1711. Mobile, Ala.: Museum of the City of Mobile, 1977.
  • Fast Train Russia. 1981. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1983.
  • Autumn in Petrishchevo. Moscow: Progress, 1987.
  • Discovering Russia: People and Places. Moscow: Progress, 1989.
  • Man, Nature and the Infinite: Random Thoughts and Impressions from the Journals, Interviews, Letters, Speeches, and Notebooks of Jay Higginbotham, 1961-1997. Mobile, Ala.: Lighthouse Books, 1998.
  • Mauvila. Mobile, Ala.: A. B. Bahr/Factor, 2000.


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