Alabama Getaway: The Political Imaginary and the Heart of Dixie

By Middleton, Billy | Southern Quarterly, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Alabama Getaway: The Political Imaginary and the Heart of Dixie


Middleton, Billy, Southern Quarterly


Alabama Getaway: The Political Imaginary and the Heart of Dixie. Allen Tullos. Athens: U Georgia P, 2011. Pp. 364. $24.95, (paper). ISBN 978-0-8203-3049-5.

The ghost of former governor George Wallace haunts Allen Tullos's Alabama Getaway: The Political Imaginary and the Heart of Dixie. Infamous for blocking the door to the University of Alabama's Foster Auditorium in an effort to avoid integration, Wallace symbolizes Alabama's history of racial indignity, cultural embarrassment, and political in-fighting. For three decades, he helped shape what Tullos refers to as the "political imaginary" of Alabama, "the public shape of power, representation and possibility" that informs the state's identity ( 1 ). In this book, Tullos examines the contemporary history of Alabama, focusing on the past fifty years. The title Alabama Getaway, borrowed from a Grateful Dead song, reveals the central question of the text: "Can Alabama give the slip to the Heart of Dixie?" (13). Tullos situates Alabama as a state where political and cultural calcification have made change a difficult and lengthy process.

In the first section, entitled "Habits of Judgment," Tullos describes Alabama as "The Sez-You State." This moniker speaks to the Alabamian habit of raising a resounding "sez you" to outsiders who suggest that the state's restrictive fundamentalism, homophobia, racism, and political corruption are anything to be ashamed of. In this chapter, Tullos introduces us to Roy Moore, a circuit court judge who eventually rose to the Chief Justice seat of Alabama's Supreme Court. Notorious for his refusal to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the Alabama Judicial Building, Moore represents religious fundamentalism gone awry. In 2000, less than a year after Alabamian Billy Jack Gaither was murdered for being openly gay, Moore opposed legalized gay marriage by arguing that the next step would be unions between "two men and four women" or between a "sheep and a man" (qtd. in Tullos 42). Like Wallace, Justice Moore illustrates how deeply ingrained prejudices continue to negatively shape the state's political imaginary.

Chapter two examines the state's "punitive habit," its oppression of minorities and the poor through draconian legal punishments for even the smallest crimes. Alongside the deplorable history of harsh convict labor and prison overcrowding, Alabama's death penalty addiction has become an issue of concern among human rights advocates. Tullos cites experts such as Michael S. Greco, of the American Bar Association, and Kevin Doyle, a former defender of capital cases in Alabama, who argue that the state lacks a proper system for defense of its death row inmates. He quotes Stephen Bright, SCHR president, who argues that "People get the death penalty not for committing the worst crime but for the misfortune of having the worst lawyer" (99). Tullos reveals that while these punishments seem excessively punitive to outsiders, they are popular with many residents of the Sez-you State, who prefer retribution to rehabilitation.

The second section of the book, entitled "Public Figures of Speech," focuses on recent political and cultural figures who have shaped the Alabama imaginary. Chapter three, entitled "In the Ditch with Wallace," examines the political biography of George Wallace. Enormously popular with white native Alabamians, Wallace employed "the rhetoric of white racial resentment and blue collar blues" to seize the governor's office for most of the 60s, 70s, and 80s (113). Even after leaving the political stage in the late 80s, Wallace's policies caused lasting damage to the state's image, culture, and budget that those who followed him were ill equipped to repair. Chapter four, "Oafs of Office," analyzes the policies of those who followed in Wallace's wake. Guy Hunt, elected in 1987, is best remembered for his opposition to the removal of the Confederate flag from the state capítol; and in 1993, becoming the first Alabamian governor to lose his seat due to a felony conviction (126-132). …

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