By David Glenn Cox
I loved and miss living in the South. The sun is warm, and the beaches are calling. There is a frankness softened with humor. “Hey, where’d you get that ugly hat? You trying to join a fraternity or somethin?” The harshest criticism polished down with “God love him” or “Bless his heart.” One of my favorites is “Damn your time.” To damn one’s existence in the universe for intersecting with my position in the universe in the space time continuum. And they say we aren’t intellectuals; Stephen Hawking would like that one. I can almost hear him say it with his computer voice, “Damn your time.” I have lived all over this country and haven’t found Nirvana yet, except on the FM radio.
At least a hundred miles west of Fargo the bus rolls into this one traffic light town on a Saturday night. Four or five lit business signs, a feedstore and a bar. This guy gets up behind me and moves towards the door and as he passes says, “God, I love this town.” It is the emotional attachment and not the geography as many a war has been fought over ground not worth snuff. It’s not my business to tell him this is a one-horse pimple of a town on the back side of nowhere and anyone with two legs a bicycle and good sense would peddle their ass away from there. He was willing to ignore all flaws, no theater or symphony or fire hydrants.
Montgomery, Alabama, was repressive and prone to self-inflicted wounds. For the same reason, the original Dairy Queen’s had two windows. It wasn’t just that the government were racists. It was that their racism had been called to account before the public bar. In a spasm of anger, they respond with even more racist behavior. In 1950, Atlanta, Georgia, and Birmingham, Alabama, were sister cities both having populations around 500,000. Atlanta had Mayor Hartsfield who said, “Atlanta was a city too busy to hate.” Birmingham had Bull Connor and still has a population around 500,000.
Cleveland Avenue traverses’ Black neighborhoods in West Montgomery. It took the Black City Councilmen nearly a decade to have a stretch of Cleveland Ave. renamed Rosa Parks Drive. Rosa Parks did live in Montgomery and was notable, it’s not like they wanted to rename it after some obscure fifteenth Century French Poet. No White people would be harmed in the renaming of a street, but the White majority on the council were making it as clear as possible. We won’t work with you; we won’t help you, and we will fight to the death over how many times you can use the pencil sharpener.
My friend who lived in Selma, famous for its racist history told me about the saga of the Honda Lock Company. As you can imagine, attracting industry to Selma is kind of like opening a Vegan restaurant in Cannibal country. Several executives visited the site and approved it and the company opened manufacturing door locks for Honda cars. The Japanese Honda executives came to town and were invited to the Country Club for a round of Golf and a steak dinner. After the dinner and the celebratory toasts some of the Japanese executives mentioned what a good time they’d had and had inquired about joining the country club. As if a giant turd had just exploded in the room, they were told they couldn’t join because…well, you know why. Last I heard, the Honda Lock Company was in Tennessee someplace.
Montgomery was they only city I ever lived in with an Occupation Headquarters. The worst kept secret in town. The water works office is former Union Occupation Headquarters. A legacy of being told what to do at gun point by people far, far, away. You begin to see, that George Wallace standing in the doorway at the University of Alabama might have looked like a stupid futile gesture to most of the country. To the folks at home, it was the least he could do. If they push, we push back no matter the issue. A White sheeted Robin Hood fighting the evil Yankee sheriff. Still mentally occupied, still mentally fighting the occupation.
After being warned the water system in Jackson, Mississippi, has collapsed for part of the town after winter storms. Want to guess which part of town? The Black Mayor had warned of the danger while seeking funds to rebuild the system from the state and the White Governor responds, “Maybe if you collect some of those delinquent water bills you wouldn’t need the money.” Stop. If you go all day and meet a variety of people in your travels, you will not meet another such corn-fed, inbred assholes as Governor Tate Reeves.
“You know Governor, Jackson would be a great site for our two-billion-dollar auto factory, but I couldn’t possibly build a factory anywhere the electrical grid or drinking water is sketchy.”
While the Governor harrumphs and plays with himself the tourism and travel industry face palms. “This Summer visit beautiful Mississippi (Bring your own water). “Okay, Governor Tate. For the Grand Prize and billions of dollars in lost tax revenues, can you give Mississippi another black eye!” Genuine 1950s style American racism. “Hey you! Get away from that lunch counter!”
I really admired Jamie Harrison’s South Carolina platform. You know if we could get past flags and statues and the racist past. Maybe, just maybe we can work together towards building something really great. Before I left Montgomery, they were fighting against building a Civil Right’s Museum. That section of history you wish to glorify which is their darkest hour and makes them all look like monsters and assholes. Like that photo of the time, you passed out drunk and we shaved off your eyebrows and let the children color your face with permanent markers. Their racism brings their poverty, and their poverty brings their racism and try as they might, it won’t wash away. “Well, if the Damn Yankee’s is for education…We’s agin it!”
“Fix their water supply! Didn’t we just fix it back in 1987?”
“Stupid is as stupid does,” – Forrest Gump