Once again, I’m here to offer some perspectives and news stories around the Deep South that you may have missed in the daily news cycles that have been focusing on the Newtown shootings, the fiscal cliff, Christmas shopping trends, the troubled Middle East, and whatever scandals and crimes that your local media is busy covering . . . and oh yeah, Happy New Year!
I wrote briefly in my last post about Rep. Tim Scott from South Carolina being appointed to the US Senate, making him the first African-American senator from the South since Reconstruction, which ended in 1877. In December, South Carolina’s governor Nikki Haley appointed Scott to fill the seat being vacated by Sen. Jim DeMint, who is leaving the Senate for a job at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank. On December 24, The New Yorker posted a blog by Kalefa Sanneh, ” Tim Scott and the Case of the Black Republican,” which points out that we will know how black (and white) South Carolinians actually feel about Senator Scott in about two years: “in 2014, when South Carolina holds its special election, black voters in the state will get a chance to decide whether Scott shares their priorities or not. If they vote against him, he may well carry the state, regardless. (South Carolina is about sixty-six per cent white.) In that case, the Republican Party might find that it has diversified its congressional delegation without significantly diversifying its electorate.”
Also in national politics, we move from the only black Republican in Congress to the opposite end of the spectrum. Jim Barrow, the only white Democrat from the Deep South, won re-election in November. Back in late October, about two weeks before the election, the American Prospect online was prematurely foreshadowing the end of the line for the conservative Democratic US Representative from Georgia in their article, “White Democrats Disappear from the Deep South,” which relays this fact: “Barrow was always conservative—National Journal rates him as the eighth-most conservative Democrat in the House—but in this election, he’s got to really turn on the juice if he’s going to survive.” The Augusta Chronicle reported the story of Barrow’s re-election this way:
Barrow had an uphill battle in defending his seat. The 12th District was redrawn by Georgia Republicans last year for the second time in his eight-year tenure, this time excluding his Savannah Democratic base and replacing it with most of Republican-leaning Columbia County and the remainder of Richmond County.
Barrow seems to be the last of a dying breed: the white conservative Southern Democrat. If it were possible to go back a hundred years and tell the Democrats of the Solid South that there would only one of their kind left in Congress, they probably would laugh out loud. And frankly, those same men would laugh equally loud if they were told that black people someday would be disinclined to vote Republican, the party of Lincoln.
The end of the year also brought developments that allowed the saga to continue for the immigration laws in Alabama and Georgia. In November, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked certain portions of Alabama’s immigration law, often called HB56, and then refused to hear re-arguments from the state’s attorneys, who disagreed with that decision. According to a November 27, 2012 article on al.com: “A federal court today turned down Alabama’s request that it rehear a decision that blocked the part of Alabama’s immigration law that required public schools to collect immigration status information on new students.”
Yet, in December, an injunction was lifted that allowed enforcement of controversial portions of Georgia’s similar immigration law. On December 12, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported this online:
On Tuesday, a federal judge lifted a preliminary injunction he had issued against the law last year. U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash lifted the injunction after the state appealed successfully to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. Civil and immigrant rights activists had sued to block the law, saying it is pre-empted by federal law and is therefore unconstitutional.
And also this:
Georgia’s law gives police the option to investigate the immigration status of suspects they believe have committed state or federal crimes and who cannot provide identification or other information that could help police identify them. It also authorizes police to detain people determined to be in the country illegally and take them to jail.
So, while Alabama does not have the leeway to look into the immigration status of school children, Georgia law enforcement officers do have the leeway to choose whether to look into the immigration status of someone they have detained for other reasons.
Moving from man-made difficulties to natural ones, the Mississippi River’s historic low water levels are causing economic anxiety all over everywhere. In reports that range geographically from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer to the Chicago Tribune to the Atlantic, the possible inability of barges to navigate that route means bad news for a lot of folks, especially Midwestern farmers. At its southern end, the Mississippi River forms the borders between Mississippi and Louisiana and between Tennessee and Arkansas. If you’ve ever doubted the importance of the Mississippi River, an AP wire story from December, “Museum provides education about lower Miss. River,” about a Vicksburg museum, explains: “The Mississippi and its tributaries drain 41 percent of the U.S. and parts of Canada, comprising the world’s third-largest watershed. The portion called the Lower Mississippi runs about 1,000 miles, from Cairo, Ill., southward past New Orleans.” No one in the US can do without Big Muddy.
In sad news, poet and creative writing teacher Jake Adam York has died. York, who was only 40 years old, died of an apparent stroke in mid-December. Jake York had grown up in northern Alabama and had attended Auburn University, before moving away from the South. He was an award-winning with poet with a stellar list of publication credits and had recently been awarded a creative writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. The Denver Post relayed this about his Southern upbringing:
York grew up in Gadsden, Ala., the son of a steel worker and a history teacher. He and his brother, Joe, shared a bedroom in the family home on a remote wooded road. The walls were plastered with posters of LL Cool J,Run DMC and other rappers. At night, York fiddled with his radio to catch a distant R&B station.
“This is a 15-year-old kid in northeast Alabama in 1988, where white boys didn’t listen to rap,” Joe York said. “But he did, and he loved it. Listening to those guys really tapped into his love of playing with language. He went to college to become an architect, but after two quarters at Auburn — and he was an A student — he became more interested in the architecture that holds our lives together.”
Southern literary circles will miss Jake Adam York very much and will deeply regret missing out on the work he would have done during his NEA fellowship.
Finally, in my browsing, I found two pieces worth recommending, but which didn’t really fit into what I would call news. One new and one a little older. The first, an editorial in The Daily Beast titled “Why The South Loves Its Guns” takes a rural Texas slant on the Newtown shootings by tying Southerners’ love affairs with the weapons to reasons that gun control legislation will be difficult. It’s definitely worth reading. The other is a 2010 editorial in the Guardian (from the UK), “Deep Prejudice about the Deep South,” written by a woman of Pakistani descent from Lousiana who defends the South. Even though it is two-and-a-half years old – from May 2010 – this piece is also worth reading, just for its reminders of facts like this one: “This scorn must be because we don’t contribute to the country’s greater good then. But 35% of active-duty military come from the south. Of the US troop casualties in Afghanistan, 47% were from the south, and from Iraq, 38%.”
See y’all in a few weeks. Next time, I’m offering a belated look at 35th anniversary of Smokey and the Bandit, which features a zany high-speed look at the late 1970s Deep South.