Some Other News from Around the Deep South #7

Welcome to the seventh installment of “Some Other News from Around the Deep South,” a look at a few stories from the region that may not have gotten as much coverage.

Let’s begin on a bright note, shall we? Over in Georgia, as a nice counterbalance to the ultra-conservative government-shutdown story I wrote about last time . . . the online site for the Athens Banner-Herald reported on January 23 that the state’s Democrats have an ambitious agenda of social and political progress. Among their stated goals are: increased education spending, doubling the state’s minimum wage, growing the Medicaid program and “automatic voter registration.”

Because the national media tends to oversimplify Deep Southern politics into the region’s propensity to support conservative candidates in national elections, we all get lumped together as “red states,” but that view neglects the significant currents of progressive ideas that never do seem to muster majority support. Granted, most of these progressive measures don’t succeed in state houses and governor’s offices, but we tend to ignore that they often lose by only a small or even slim margins. There are a lot of people, in Georgia and outside of it, who are pulling for these Georgia legislators make that leap! And this next story explains why . . .

Also on January 23, the Washington Post online ran a blog titled “A surprise map of where it’s hardest to escape poverty in America,” and the state of Georgia ranks at #1. The study discussed here offers a geographic depiction of the likelihood that a child’s future income will be the same as his or her parents’ income— meaning that if a child is born poor then he may well stay poor his whole life. In 40 of Georgia’s counties, generational poverty remains constant. Which states round out the top-five? All in the South, two in the Deep South: #2 North Carolina, #3 South Carolina, #4 Mississippi, and #5 Virginia. The blog offers readers the opportunity to zoom in on the map and check on their own counties. In central Alabama, where I live, the band of dark blue (the bad color) is obvious as it threads through the Black Belt.

Moving over to Mississippi, the Clarion-Ledger reported on January 22 that the acting police chief of Greenwood went ahead and retired out of frustrations with the city’s mayor. What’s odd about that? Here were his some of his outgoing comments about the mayor, from the article:

“I’ll leave you with these words: Antichrist, Beelzebub, deceiver, destroyer, liar, seven heads and ten horns on Satan, the Devil himself. That’s the Carolyn McAdams I know!” Langdon concluded. “Have a good day.”

Aside from that story about one town’s personality conflicts, the Clarion-Ledger online also ran a blog on January 22 about an African-American politician with the following headline: “Bill Marcy compares Democrats to Nazis, switches to Democrat, runs for Senate.” This semi-comical yet bizarrely real piece, which is accompanied by childish stick drawings, explains that apparently Marcy was once a Republican, now wants to ally African Americans and Tea Party conservatives to elect a conservative Democrat (him) to US Senate. The blogger, Brian Eason, acknowledges that it could be brilliant election strategy— if it works . . . which it probably won’t.

It would be really hard to summarize these two Clarion-Ledger stories effectively. Go read them. The Greenwood police chief story has video, too.

Swinging back east, over in South Carolina, the latter-day re-examination of pre-Civil Rights events continues on the case of George Stinney. (This story has received national attention.) In 1944, Stinney was executed in South Carolina’s electric chair at age 14. He had been convicted of killing two white girls in Alcolu, South Carolina where they all lived. Alcolu is an isolated small town southwest of Columbia.

The New York Times report from late January details many of the reasons that Stinney’s execution is troubling. On top of the questionable decision to execute a child so young, records of the 14-year-old’s confession have been lost. Also, the jury convicted him in a matter of hours, which makes us wonder about the fairness of the trial and impartiality of the jury. Adding up what we know about the Jim Crow-era Deep South, the unlikelihood of a fair trial for a black teenager accused by white law enforcement officers of killing two white girls and tried in front of an all-white jury . . . Stinney’s trial has to be questioned, even if it was seventy years ago, and even he was put to death.

Finally, back in modern-day Mississippi, The Guardian reported in mid-January about the real possibility that Mississippi will face an astounding healthcare crisis because of  its high obesity rate (34%) and the fact that one-in-five of its residents have no health insurance. The article explains these two sets of facts:

Mississippi has long been the state with the highest obesity rate in the United States, dropping only slightly in the latest government survey to second place to Louisiana where 34.7% of the population is now obese, compared with 34.6% in Mississippi. Thirteen states, mostly in the south, have obesity rates of more than 30%.

and

Mississippi does not have the healthcare services in place to cope [with a potentially huge diabetes problem] and 19% of the population, around 275,000, are uninsured – almost one in five. The state has turned down federal money for Medicaid expansion, which would have made somewhere between 200,000 and 400,000 more people eligible. It has the lowest rate of physicians to patients in the United States.

We may have begun this seventh installment on a brighter note, but these sad facts don’t allow me to end on one.

The Deep South is always covered up in newsworthy goings-on, but many of the stories are too complex and dismal for a quickie on the nightly broadcasts. Both Alabama and South Carolina are facing problems caused by conditions in their prison systems. Debates rage around the region about whether to expand Medicare under the Affordable Care Act and whether to implement or repeal the Common Core standards for schools. There’s never a shortage of things to talk about.

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