It would be nice if I one day opened the New York Times website and, no matter how hard I looked, couldn’t find an article denigrating Alabama or the South.
The Southern denigration de jour is served in an article (click for link) detailing lynchings in the South, a report on research conducted by the Equal Justice Initiative, a Montgomery, Alabama legal-do-gooder non-profit. Exactly how this project is doing anyone alive today any good is beyond me.
Here’s the graphic, just to prove that Alabama maybe wasn’t as bad as its reputation, if only by comparison with its neighbors.
The heaviest band of lynchings lies right alongside the Mississippi River, which is not surprising. Alongside the River is also where plantation agriculture was concentrated. North central and northeast Alabama–the portions of the state economically devoted to mineral extraction and yeoman farming–show relatively fewer episodes. Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas are covered in lynchings, along with parts of Georgia and Florida. The data set runs from 1877 to 1950, and the dots are apportioned according to the number of lynchings, not the proportion of the population that is affected, so it may be that Georgia and Florida have had more lynchings simply because they had more people. Population certainly explains the big dot dead center in Alabama, as it appears to be exactly where Birmingham is located, and during the latter part of that time period, Birmingham was far and away the largest metropolitan area in the state.
According to the article, the Equal Justice Initiative wants to put markers to commemorate lynchings. Really. They want to make sure people don’t forget. That should help move things Progressively along. While it may well be true that “the past is never dead, it’s not even past” (in the words of William Faulkner), is there any reason to stay ever mindful of its less humane episodes? I think everyone pretty much gets it by now–blacks were sometimes treated dreadfully awfully in the South (just as they, and suspected witches were treated in the North). Things aren’t that way now, but picking at old wounds while they are desperately trying to scab over often makes them bleed again.