I used to brag about Alabama.
I was her biggest proponent, her biggest fan.
At college in Evansville, Indiana, I explained to many curious Yankees that most of us were not racist. Most of us did not have family members in the KKK. Most of our family trees had plenty of branches. And yes, we all do pronounce “Mt. Dew” like that and we “cut” the light off. We do not “turn” the light off.
I introduced countless new friends to the beauty that is Mt. Cheaha, Noccalula Falls and Five Points South by the “Goat Fountain” on a Friday night.
I defended Alabama.
I defended her past as ignorance, her present as latent renaissance, and her future as a strong member of the Union — made all the stronger by what she had overcome.
I fully believed she had taken Neil Young’s advice to heart. She was well on her way to getting that Cadillac’s wheel out of the ditch.
How it hurts to realize I was wrong.
Growing up, I had a Confederate battle flag on my bedroom wall. I did not realize everything it meant or all it stood for when I was 8 years old. I thought it looked cool. It was on the roof of the General Lee.
To my young eight years it represented being happy about where you were from.
I was happy I was from Alabama. I was happy I lived in Tuscaloosa. Granted, I was 8 and had never been from anywhere else. But to me, that flag represented something that made me, my family and my friends unique.
Any time I saw a map, I would look for Birmingham and then just to the west. That, I knew, was where you would find Tuscaloosa.
In fourth grade, I learned Alabama history at University Place Elementary School. I took the Confederate battle flag from my wall and threw it away.
But I was still happy about where I lived, where I was from. Alabama had done some horrible things. But we didn’t any more, right? Surely we had learned from our mistakes. That changed my joy to pride. She overcame the shame of her past. She was stronger from her journey and her future was bright. We could only go up from here.
But we did not. We have not.
Our elected officials continuously and actively reject
everything that could provide the most benefit to the most people.
They have made it painfully and nationally obvious that they care nothing about their constituents’ education, voting rights, health care, and — most recently — personal privacy and abortion rights.
Unencumbered by a thought process, they press forward in a spectacularly shameless and brazen stampede toward engraving Alabama on the wrong side of history. And to think, at one point we had a chance.
But maybe we still do have a chance. The peculiar thing about history is that it keeps going. Alabama has made it through worse than what she faces now and I will not give up on her.
I will not give up on her because I know the people of
Alabama and they are stronger and more resilient than the sad, short-sighted and ultimately inconsequential lawmakers who have enshrined only themselves to the wrong side of history.
They are the people who raised me in their village. In Tuscaloosa. In Sylacauga. In Anniston.
They are the people who applauded a man proposing to his future husband in a Waffle House.
They are the people who welcomed the son of an exiled African bishop.
They are the people who walked from Selma to Montgomery.
And they are the people who shall overcome. Again.
It feels endearing to refer to Alabama as “she.” But Alabama is “we.” We are all responsible for our Alabama. Just as we are all responsible for our Tennessee, for our Indiana, our Maine, our Alaska. We are all responsible for our Washington, D.C.
We are all responsible, and only as we shall we overcome.