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Alabama: The more things change, the more they stay the same

If you want to know the truth about it, planning a trip to Birmingham to attend the annual conference of the National Association of Black Journalists conjured mixed emotions.

On one hand, I was looking forward to a vibrant conference, seeing old friends from my G.I. neighborhood, Eric Calhoun and cousin Cindra Johnson.

But there was just something ominous in my expectation that was undeniable. In Alabama, right next door to my birthplace, the state of Mississippi, something about the past and the present of that southern state was chilling.

Recall the bloody and deadly Selma march. Envision Alabama Governor George Wallace, standing on the steps of the state university vowing to personally prevent admission of the first Black student. Alabama. Remember one of the most vicious and bigoted law enforcement leaders of the south in history, Bull Connor… Alabama.

The history of the state is riddled with bitter racial confrontation. The Montgomery Bus Boycott. Alabama. The atrocious killing of four girls attending Sunday School and two who died later, Birmingham, Alabama. Vitriol was so pointed in this city that it earned the dubious distinction of being nicknamed “Bombingham.”

One dastardly example of the open hatred is the legacy of Greenville, Alabama, where Realtors shamelessly wrote deed stipulations that prevented property from being sold to anyone with a drop of “Negro blood.”

The practice pushed Black residents into neighborhoods that as a rule enjoyed far less public investment and became hotbeds for unfavorable development, such as landfills, industrial sites and railroad tracks. Residents also had far less access to jobs, health care and transportation.

As a result, property values in those communities declined, creating a cycle of blight and poverty at a time when the average values of homes across the country consistently increased. Alabama.

A University of Alabama coaching icon initially refused to recruit Black players rationalizing that they weren’t as talented as white players and that the campus climate was not conducive. It wasn’t until 1970 that the university relented with the sole purpose being to remain competitive.

Fast forward to the infamous former Auburn (Alabama) football coach turned U.S. Senator, who is single-handedly blocking military appointments and critical administrative needs of the Armed Forces.

Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville is waging an unprecedented campaign to try to change Pentagon abortion policy by holding up hundreds of military nominations and promotions.

And the Alabama legislature refused an order by the U.S. Supreme Court to create a second predominantly Black congressional district. This kind of defiance of the highest court in the nation is unheard of. Only in Alabama.

Finally, my last day at NABJ in Alabama, a Black port security officer in Montgomery was viciously attacked by a white mob and called racial slurs before Black bystanders came to his rescue. It was all caught on video that went viral, documenting the most recent example of Alabama just being Alabama.

Bottom line, Alabama and the Deep South haven’t changed much over all these years. We have the same nemesis of bigotry and the same necessity to fight back. Stay woke!

 CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].

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