Tears and Laughter:
September 1, 2017 | View PDF
How to live in a county that is dying
Prior to reading the interview with respected historian Wayne Flynt on Al.com, I knew that the Black Belt has its challenges.
I knew, because I started writing about them when it became clear years ago that many of the most challenging issues were never making it across the Wilcox County line. The poverty level and unemployment rate are well-reported, but
political corruption, poor leadership, and candidates winning elections through
illegal absentee voting have also helped to stall an already failing economy. It has created and fueled a subculture of people with just enough education to know
hustling pays more than a low-skill, minimum wage position.
Even in writing about it on a continual basis, I allowed for the possibility circumstances could change, or that I was wrong about it. But, nope. Once Wayne Flynt is quoted as saying it, it is difficult to pretend the words aren’t true. He said Wilcox is one of Alabama’s dying counties, and that Kay Ivey knows it too.
He calls her Kay.
Specifically – in reference to Black Belt economic development strategies – he said, “Kay understands that the black population in Alabama is trending up and the white population going down, and the Black Belt is dying. Unless we want to bury 14 or 15 counties in central Alabama things have to change. Education has to get better. White people and black people have to start talking together to make the Black Belt more attractive so every 18-year-old
doesn’t dream of the day he or she can graduate high school and go someplace else.”
He continued, “It is impossible to stabilize those counties from essentially dying. Some are smaller than they were in 1860, which is hard for people to comprehend when I say that, but it’s true.”
We live in a county that is dying on the vine. Flynt said we don’t have to acknowledge it, but that we must know, by the circumstances of our lives.
In other words, by continuing to live in a place that is dying, we accept certain truths about our circumstances, even if we refuse to admit it. I don’t know any more if we are in denial, or if we just don’t believe in dwelling on things we can’t change.
It is hard to paint a pretty picture of a place this is mostly poor and uneducated. Maybe that is why we hold tight to what we do have – heritage, home, and one another. We still pass around old recipes and the latest baby. We keep our traditions and trinkets from the past – our footed punch bowls, rusted farm tools, and jelly jars filled with buttons from clothes old family wore.
We value garden spots, fishing holes, and fields of hay. We hunt most everything that roams and flies. We like fires. If there is no fireplace, then outside in a bare spot works too. Not so much in the summer, but as soon as the first cool nights arrive, we build fires just for the pleasure of sitting around them talking, and telling stories that take us back through time.
It is a mystery even to us sometimes what keeps us bound to a land so simple, yet laden with problems. But then again, who could turn away from a place they love when it’s dying. Besides, lot of us wouldn’t know how to live anywhere else. It’s just who we are as people I guess.
Amanda Walker is a blogger and contributor with The Alabama Gazette, AL.com, The Thomasville Times, West Alabama Watchman, and Wilcox Progressive Era. Walkerworld77@msn.com or at https://www.facebook.com/AmandaWalker.