It has been 49 years since I got my degree at Auburn University. I’ve spent 47 of those years in Alabama. Considering my roots, this does not seem odd or unusual to me.
My ancestors have been here for nearly 200 years. Three great-grandfathers served in the Civil War. One never came home, another was discharged at Appomattox, Virginia. My kin were Lees, Stuarts, Rogers and Paulks.
They survived by plowing and planting the sandy soil of Covington and Butler counties and by pulling one end of a crosscut saw until sweat puddled in their boots. They lived in dog trot houses with a dug well out back and went to Primitive Baptist churches. They were neither landed nor learned. One of my grandmothers could neither read nor write. They dipped snuff and had an occasional drink of something besides water and when the weather was right, they listened to their dogs tree possums and coons. They butchered hogs when mornings were frosty and hung slabs of bacon in their smokehouse.
And today they rest in plots of earth called Bushfield and Elizabeth and Moriah and Fairmont. Their blood also runs through my brother and sister, both of whom live in North Carolina. A team of oxen couldn’t drag either back to Alabama.
But being just plain stubborn or hard-headed, I’ve stayed. Always with the hope that the day might come when the people of Alabama might be wise enough to elect the political leaders they deserve. But for reasons I have never been able to comprehend we’ve allowed ourselves to listen to the wrong voices. Voices that played to our most basic fears and insecurities and turned us one against another. White against black. Rich against poor. Region against region. Country against city.
There are good people in Alabama. I meet them every day. Many of them work in schools, spending their own money so a less fortunate child will have a snack when their classmates do. Principals who are at school to greet children getting off buses and who lock their office door after the sun has set. People who still believe it is better to give than receive. People who sing in a church choir and work with Cub Scouts and Pee Wee football teams.
The cold, hard truth is that we’ve come to a juncture in the life of Alabama where our “leadership” is anything but. Montgomery is in shambles. The quest for greed, the thirst for power, the personal agendas far overshadow any pretense of doing what is right and honorable and in the best interest of the majority. Recently a veteran of the legislature told me they are embarrassed that people know what they do.
Our governance now seems more reality show than anything else. Honey Boo Boo may show up at the Statehouse any day now.
We will soon try for the third time this year to cobble together a General Fund budget. One of the most prominent ideas floating around is to take millions from the education Trust Fund to prop up the General Fund — even though education has not been adequately funded since 2008. And irony of irony, the cost for the special session will be paid for with education dollars.
But not once have I heard any of our “leadership” say, “What do we need to do to come up with long term solutions?” Who has shown the fortitude to assemble all the “players” in the same room and have a, as we say, “come to Jesus” meeting?
I have no doubt that were these Biblical times, we would now be organizing a march of six days around the Alabama Statehouse as the people of Israel did when Jericho stood in their way.
And today I think of my ancestors and their struggles. I think of daddy helping grandpa clear ground with mules and axes. I think of grandma picking cotton ‘til she had to go prepare lunch on a wood-burning stove before returning to the field.
My family ate fried chicken on Sunday and went to work on Monday building houses, cutting meat at a grocery store, laying ceramic tile and stacking peanuts.
I think of how our “leadership” is betraying them and their work. And I weep for Alabama.