Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

SOUTHERN LIGHTS: Alabama Should Listen Closely to Its Conscience

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

SOUTHERN LIGHTS: Alabama Should Listen Closely to Its Conscience

Article excerpt

A spirit of meanness has invaded our lives and our land. We are electing leaders who don't give a damn about humanity.

In Georgia, a legislator wants to give all welfare recipients a mandatory drug test. In Washington, a lawmaker from Florida may block funding that allows "Sesame Street" to be produced for Palestinian children. In our state, an elected official who was tape- recorded last year calling blacks "aborigines" has announced his candidacy for Congress.

Most Americans, I believe, remain moderate or at least apathetic. But many have been drawn into the vortex of right-wing fundamentalism, voting for (and all too often electing) no-nothing, knee-jerk political leaders.

We are becoming increasingly isolationist, xenophobic and myopic.

I think the seemingly endless war on terror is partly responsible. So is the economy, which is beyond partisan control.

Why, I wonder, are all troops who are stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan, routinely referred to as heroes? Some are heroes, undoubtedly. Others are ordinary folks, who have a relatively uneventful tour of duty. But are the Marines accused of urinating on the bodies of their Taliban foes heroes? Were the prison keepers at Abu Ghraib heroes?

Some Alabamians seem proud that our state has the toughest laws against illegal immigrants in the country. Did we need these measures to control immigration to Alabama? Or is it because the new laws will drive Hispanics, legal or otherwise, from this state? Do they get strong support from whites because they want black Alabamians to fill the low-paying job openings that will result?

We have the lowest property taxes of any state, and as a direct consequence, we have a perpetual funding crisis for education, prisons, public health and many other areas of state government. That's fine, in the eyes of many voters. Taxes shouldn't go up a plugged nickel; schools can go to hell.

Yet in the long run, we have made strides, as a state and a nation. Compared to turn-of-the-20th century attitudes on race, religion, government and society, we live in a world completely different from the one of 100 years ago.

These things kept going through my head when I read Wayne Flynt's new book, "Keeping the Faith." Although it's described on the dust cover as a memoir, it's really an autobiography of the man whom many believe to be the conscience of Alabama.

A disclaimer: Flynt was a friend of my late mother, and she's mentioned in the book. It was published by the University of Alabama Press, which also published a book I co-wrote. But no one sent me Flynt's book for review; I bought it. Nor has anyone corresponded with me, asking me to mention or review it.

I'm writing about it because Flynt fascinates me. Author and civil rights historian Diane McWhorter calls him "the Shelby Foote of Alabama History."

"Keeping the Faith" is a perfect title, for Flynt is a man of faith. He's an ordained Baptist minister. He has consistently refused to serve alcohol in his home -- even when he was a university department head, knowing the liquor fuels faculty get- togethers. He has always believed in God, salvation and the common people.

As he writes in "Keeping the Faith," "Ordinary lives count for something."

In Alabama, some people see the former Auburn professor as a flaming liberal for his outspoken opposition to racism, sexism, secrecy and other issues. But he describes himself in the book as a moderate, Most of the rest of the country, I think, would view him that way.

A passage in "Keeping the Faith" is a good example. …

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