Alabama already has enough of a reputation for being a seedbed of ignorance and the butt of almost every redneck joke you can think of. While there are many fine people that live here, there are amongst us some of the worst that I have seen and they are not helping the rest of us bring a better reflection to Alabama’s already tarnished image. On the state level there exists an absence of continuity in due process due to the lack of inclusion of all of the residents in matters of state constitutional government. One of the objectives that the framers of the state constitution held was to localize all power in the state capitol of Montgomery. Thus, whenever there’s a problem, those in Montgomery amend the constitution as they see fit. This arrangement is allowed to continue for two main reasons.
The first reason is apathy. While there are issues that are important to Alabamians, there are rarely statewide debates. Thus, in allowing the state legislators to make the majority of decisions that effect the lives of Alabamians, we have ended up with the longest state constitution in the United States, some twelve times longer than any other state constitution, and the most invasive state-level interference in the private life of any other American citizen. Last time I checked, it had 799 amendments which covered topics such as bingo, mosquito control, catfish, soybeans, dead farm animals, beaver tails and prostitution. Did you know that it is illegal in Alabama to buy a dildo? Seriously.
The second reason is tradition. Southern tradition, to be exact. It is no secret that another objective of the Alabama State Constitution was to remove the voting rights of African-Americans. It worked, too. In the two years that passed between the 1901 framing of the constitution and the end of 1903, the number of African-American citizens registered to vote had dropped from 181,000 to less than 4,000. Yes, these restrictions were overturned later in Federal court, but there is lingering evidence of this embarrassing legacy. Alabama has a long history of excluding those who are not both White and Christian, and our constitution glaringly continues to reflect this.
Alabama is a physically beautiful place with rolling hills, scenic lakes and abundance of hardwoods. There are many times I am taken aback by the sudden appearance of miles-long vistas as I round a curve. I simply marvel at the scenery stretched out before me. I sometimes wonder why such beauty should be settled in such a dark history and in a place where racism and bigotry are still so very deep-seated and segregation is still the unofficial law of the land, in spite of what the courts have decided. There are towns that have been literally split in half by a main highway, one side almost completely black, the other side almost completely white and somewhere in the towns past the black side has usually been given a different name.
Alabama is no stranger to controversy, particularly racial controversy, and like most racism and bigotry in this part of the country it is largely justified by Christian Scriptures. The belief that black people are the cursed descendant race of Ham, son of Noah, is based on Genesis 9:20-27. It is the most common reason given for the disdain of African Americans and had been taught in Sunday Schools here in the south until relatively recent times. Sometimes known as “The Curse of Ham”, this belief was combined with the general biblical approval and support of slavery. Through a series of unfortunate events, this combination caused the non-Christian, African “savages” to be perfectly suited for slavery by the God-fearing White Southern population. What is ironic is that evolution has proved that we are all of African ancestry.
It is a travesty that biblically inspired and supported racism continues to inspire untold incidents of extreme violence, discrimination and false accusations against African Americans and minorities all across the country. It is, however, more evident and widely occurring here in the deep South. Although Alabama is widely known for incidents like the trial of the Scottsboro Boys in 1931, the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Church, and the beating of 600 marchers led by Dr. Martin Luther King at Selma, also in 1963, there still exists here a deep seated hatred for black people. And it has resulted in a deep hatred of White people by many in the black population as well. Violence does, indeed, beget violence.
The political legacy in Alabama doesn’t help matters, either. It includes George Wallace, former four-term Governor who’s famous quote, “In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever”, still rings true for many of our state citizens. It was Wallace who stood at the entrance of the Foster Auditorium at the University of Alabama in 1963 to block African American students from attending. Wallace was so desperate for Alabama to remain segregated he was quoted as saying, “The President (JFK) wants us to surrender this state to Martin Luther King and his group of pro-communists who have instituted these demonstrations”. What remains truly amazing as that he was re-elected four times, as recent as 1983. Oh, and before anyone bothers to enlighten me to the fact that Mr. Wallace became a born-again Christian, apologized and began appointing black people all willy-nilly during his final term, please refer to his famous speech in response to the passage of the Civil Rights Bill where he said, “We still read the bible in Alabama schools and as long as I am governor we will continue to read the bible no matter what the Supreme Court says”. In fact, In 1996, when asked by a reporter which contemporary American political figure he most admired, he paused thoughtfully for a moment, smiled, and said, “Myself.”
But past is past, right? Well, consider that while a majority of the nation moves forward in areas of education and tolerance, there remain a few Southern holdouts that insist on staying firmly put in the 1950’s (and earlier) and Alabama is one of them. The chief catalyst of these holdouts remain Christianity, and in the name of Christianity Alabama is made to look like a court jester and class clown with much of the rest of the nation laughing in mock gestures at the back-woods, hick town mentality that has put us at the butt end of some very unflattering jokes.
In spite of isolated incidents that spike other southern states into the national spotlight every now and then, Alabama remains the steady bulwark for intolerance and defiance to the First Amendment as well as the Civil Rights act of 1964, of which it should actually be very sensitive to, given it’s less than shining historical involvement. Fully eighty-four percent of Alabamians claim to be Christian and the voting records reflect the desire for the state as a whole to be Christian run, Christian led and Christian ruled, which only proves that eight out of ten of us prefer to keep our heads firmly planted up our Christian asses.
Amongst our 2010 candidates for Governor is the illustrious Judge Roy Moore, the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama who was removed from his post because of his refusal to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from the state courthouse in spite of a direct order from a Federal judge. He is running again on a platform of “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” and is backed by Joyce Meyer, James Dobson, D. James Kennedy (who is dead, by the way), Ann Coulter and Michael Farris and his campaign endorsers include World Net Daily. How’s that for a veritable who’s who of right wing nut jobs?
Another wonderful example of tolerance in a gubernatorial candidate is Tim James, who is convinced that multiculturalism at the Department of Motor Vehicles will destroy Alabama. He argues that the government is wasting too much money on translating DMV materials. He says, “this is Alabama; we speak English.” Of course, he does have a point, however fucked up it might be, because in 1990 the Alabama State Constitution was, once again, amended to declare English to be the state’s official language. So, technically, the state offering translations of anything in any language other than English is illegal. Nice… I guess he figures we don’t need Mexicans to pick our cotton, seeing as how we still got so many negroes and all…
Mr. James is nothing more than another dyed-in-the-wool Christian fundamentalist who would see Alabama’s growth thwarted along the same lines as Judge Moore, keeping us firmly planted in ignorance and bigotry. In fact, the very first link on his website goes to an organization named “The Faith and Family Values Coalition, where Tim touts that he was raised in a family with a deeply religious mother and a father and that experience has greatly influenced him. He further states his belief that the answers to life’s most complex issues are found through “Biblical values”. He warns that First Amendment decisions like the removal of state sponsored Christian prayer in public schools puts the country at risk of losing our freedom because of a failure to believe in the Christian god. His ignorance in our National history is added to his Christian arrogance by way of his belief that we were founded as a Christian Nation, which has been proved false a multitude of times.
It saddens me as a resident here that there is so much ignorance, racism, bigotry and hatred still permeating our way of life, our politics and our educational system. Christianity runs the roost here in Alabama and it is no accident or coincidence that this state is lacking in so much that is taken for granted in other, more progressive states that enjoy a better quality of life, a higher percentage of high-school graduates and an overall tolerance of other cultures.
People like Judge Moore, Tim James, George Wallace and the like have been running this state from the governors office all the way down to local offices for decades on end and until Alabamians are dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21sts century, we will remain right where we are, and where we are ain’t nothing to brag about. We have not only one of the lowest percentages of graduating high school seniors in the nation, but some of the worst personal health statistics and one of the worst reading scores in the nation.
As far as science education goes, we are laughably one of the only states left in the nation that still has stickers on their textbooks that warn against evolution as being a “controversial theory” with no factual evidence and that it tries to “explain the origin of living things”, which has nothing at all to do with evolution. Idiotic ignorance seems to prevail in many areas of life here in Alabama.
Perhaps one day Alabama won’t be synonymous with the worst that the United States has to offer and that the otherwise good people of this state will understand that the Civil War is over, god ain’t all he’s cracked up to be and tradition is not always something to be proud enough of to maintain. Maybe then we will begin to enjoy the level of health, education and welfare that is enjoyed by others in this nation, and perhaps even set an example that Texas, South Carolina, Georgia and Kentucky can follow.
But until then, paddle faster. I hear banjo music…