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Alabama: The History of a Deep South State…

Alabama: The History of a Deep South State (original 1994; edition 1994)

by William Warren Rogers Sr, Dr. Leah Rawls Atkins Ph.D., Robert D. Ward, Professor Wayne Flynt

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Title:Alabama: The History of a Deep South State
Authors:William Warren Rogers Sr
Other authors:Dr. Leah Rawls Atkins Ph.D., Robert D. Ward, Professor Wayne Flynt
Info:University Alabama Press (1994), Paperback, 768 pages
Collections:Your library

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Alabama : the history of a Deep South state by William Warren Rogers (1994)



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As a native Alabamian, departed for almost 20 years now, I retain a fascination with my home state and its troubled history. This seems to be about the only comprehensive book that is available--and it is over 20 years old now. However, it is a mostly unflinching look at a history of promise and failure. It did bring to life a few names that were very familiar, but which I had never gone into depth about--such as Governor Big Jim Folsom, and a host of other past governors that things were named after, such as Thomas Kilby and B.B. Comer. The state was blessed from time to time with leaders who were somewhat progressive, but were usually thwarted by a legislature that was not. And progressive for Alabama meant that perhaps black people should get a little education, but not that they should be allowed to vote--or at least until the Constitution of 1901 took away their voting rights almost completely, along with those of poor whites who also couldn't be trusted to vote the right way. Before 1901, blacks were registered, but their votes were cast for them in favor of the most backward, racist candidates, and along with a gerrymandered system of representation that gave far more representation to the state's Black Belt that it warranted, resulted in progressive candidates winning the more enlightened (and less former slaveholding) North Alabama vote but being beaten because 95% of the black vote (cast by whites) went to candidates who upheld the status quo.

Despite a few colorful characters, such as Folsom or Johnson Jones Hooper, creator of Captain Simon Suggs, and pretty good writing, much of the book falls into a pattern of statistics and names of governors and what they failed to accomplish. There are good sections recognizing Alabama writers such as Harper Lee, William March, and others.

It took me a few days to put my finger on what was lacking about this book, but I should have seen it right away. It is just that it doesn't do much to bring the historical figures to life. Even those who stand out, such as Folsom, are discussed in terms of their actions and not so much their motivations. George Wallace, the most divisive and important Alabamian ever, gets his due as a racist but also as a judge who treated black people quite well. It is just such contradictions that lie at the heart of this book, and as long as it is, I'm afraid it would have to be a whole lot longer to really provide the sort of deep character studies I would hope for. Still, as an overview and a guide for where to look next, it is well done. The authors don't cover up or make excuses for the state's poor performance in just about every area short of home runs (see Willie Mays and Hank Aaron). Flynt, writing the last portion, can't help but try to end on an upbeat note--but it rings false. While Alabama has gotten better since the book was published in 1994, it has continued to lag behind just about every other state in most areas, and its politicians just seem to sink lower and lower into the mud. ( )
  datrappert | May 11, 2017 |
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