Since I decided that my next project would be a place study on my Country South by storying my great-grandmother Jeffreys’ life, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about Alabama, my state. One book, Dixie’s Forgotten People, by Alabama native and Auburn professor (I can forgive him for that) Wayne Flint, is what I would call an objective account of Alabama’s poor whites. He talks about both their rich culture and the racist thoughts and acts. I learned a lot from Flint’s book–like my people were most likely southern Appalachian–a particular kind of “Southerner,” having a whole unique heritage. I had always thought of Appalachian people as being from the mountains of West Virginia or East Tennessee, but these are my people. I am theirs.
Another book I picked up was Alabama Getaway by Allen Tullos. He is an American Studies scholar who exhorts Alabama to distance itself from its “Heart of Dixie” brand name. For him, this monicker is code for nostalgia for a plantation mentality, that includes Jim Crow, George Wallace, and Confederama. I won’t disagree with him; “Dixie” is like the Biblical offending eye–holding onto it does a lot more harm than good. Still, Getaway, Alabama (as it could also be called) is hard to read if you are a white Alabamian looking for a reason to publicly love your state.
Part of the problem is that Alabama has never done enough to stand out. And not being Mississippi is not enough. Even my pal and fellow Alabamian feminist Mab Segrest claims to prefer Georgia because there’s just not that much “to” Alabama. While I can see her point, I think we need to dig a little deeper.
I think a place to start is to think of a really good replacement for “Heart of Dixie.” Our official state motto is: We dare defend our rights. This is almost as bad, as it practically conjures George Wallace in the school house door. The current slogan on auto tags is “Sweet Home Alabama,” which I really like as a white Alabamian. The Leonard Skynard Southern rock song is like the state anthem, especially since the band is like Alabama’s Buddy Holley, lead singer perishing in a plane crash at the height of their popularity. But, it may not be sweet and homey to everybody. I think we will probably do better to just stick to the land itself.
Minnesota has already taken the 10,000 lakes slogan–even though Alabama has an awful lot of lakes, rivers, and streams. But if we put anything about water, Minnesota would cry foul. And, hunting and fishing are major activities because of the forests and wooded areas. Louisiana already claims that it is a Sportsman’s Paradise, so that one’s out. I always liked the tags and signs at the state lines that said “Alabama the Beautiful.” I never understood why they would change that, probably paying a consulting firm a quarter million dollars to say there is some benefit of replacing it with “Stars fell on Alabama”–on the tags, anyway. I don’t much understand what that means. I know it was a love song. But, my daddy is already concerned that a meteor is headed directly for earth, and NASA confirms about a million pounds of space trash is out there. I don’t think we ought to draw attention to falling objects.
So, until somebody more creative than I am can think of the perfectly appropriate slogan, I am sticking with Alabama the Beautiful. From the highland rim of my Appalachian ancestors to the Coastal Plains where my daughter lives now–and everywhere in between, there is great natural beauty to be found in my state. And, I have eternal hope that the people who inhabit this place can shape up and behave ourselves and maybe make Alabama a state that has to narrow down its choice of slogan instead of stretch to come up with one.
More on this later.