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H-Net Review: Frederick on Tullos, 'Alabama Getaway: The Political Imaginary and the Heart of Dixie'

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  • A.J. Wright
    ... From: H-Net Staff Date: Mon, Nov 26, 2012 at 1:42 PM Subject: H-Net Review Publication: Frederick on Tullos, Alabama Getaway:
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      From: H-Net Staff <revhelp@mail.h-net.msu.edu>
      Date: Mon, Nov 26, 2012 at 1:42 PM
      Subject: H-Net Review Publication: Frederick on Tullos, 'Alabama Getaway: The Political Imaginary and the Heart of Dixie'
      To: H-REVIEW@...


      Allen Tullos.  Alabama Getaway: The Political Imaginary and the Heart
      of Dixie.  Athens  University of Georgia Press, 2011.  xii + 364 pp.
      $69.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8203-3048-8; $24.95 (paper), ISBN
      978-0-8203-3049-5.

      Reviewed by Jeff Frederick (University of North Carolina at Pembroke)
      Published on H-South (November, 2012)
      Commissioned by Matthew L. Downs

      Add Allen Tullos's _Alabama Getaway: The Political Imaginary and the
      Heart of Dixie_ to the growing list of works documenting the
      deplorable yet enduring culture of power that shaped Alabama history.
      No state has been more important to the unfolding of southern history
      and yet no state carries the burden of its history so onerously. Less
      personal than Hardy Jackson's _Inside Alabama: A Personal History of
      My State__ _(2004), and less missional than Wayne Flynt's memoir,
      _Keeping the Faith: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives__ _(2011_)_,
      Tullos's work, largely about the last forty years or so of state
      history, situates Alabama into a context where change occurs
      infrequently if at all, and, when it does come, accomplishes little
      in the way of shattering hardened beliefs or altering traditional
      corridors of power.

      Tullos's political imaginary--others might use the term "political
      culture"--is the collections of power, perceptions, and beliefs that
      have characterized the state over time. The "Heart of Dixie" is the
      author's appellation for Alabama's default reflex of intransigence,
      intolerance, distrust of outsiders, and refusal to veer away from
      fundamental practices and beliefs about race, class, gender,
      religion, and sexuality. Tullos cites common ground between the high
      and mighty--former governor Guy Hunt--and the ordinary--a cashier at
      a pecan store--who share a common response to those suggesting the
      state has serious problems: "Alabama is doing just fine" (pp. 2,
      278). In fact, Tullos argues, this is just another variation on a
      theme of a state that has collectively answered "Sez you" to
      virtually all outsiders and most natives who've had the temerity to
      suggest that a second- or third-class education, medieval prisons, a
      sorry record of violence, a regressive tax code, and powerful
      unchecked interest groups may not be the best way to construct a
      society.[1]

      Tullos, who has written about folk culture and music across several
      different media platforms, marshals a tremendous amount of evidence
      in support of his Heart of Dixie theme. Politicians like Hunt,
      Governor Fob James, and especially George Wallace played to
      deep-seated beliefs about space and place. The net result was
      maintaining the status quo, keeping power in the hands of the few,
      and generally limiting women and minorities to a handful of
      peripheral roles in state government. Judge Roy Moore and James
      shared an affinity, probably learned from Wallace, for turning
      ordinary Alabamians into victims of religious persecution. Wallace
      used the refrain that Alabamians were just as good and just as smart
      and just as cultured as the snooty northerners so wont to castigate
      them as knuckle-dragging, white-sheet-wearing Neanderthals. Moore and
      James used school prayer and the public posting of the Ten
      Commandments as a way to argue that Alabama's heritage and way of
      life was under attack. In the end, Tullos argues, this manner of
      political discourse served mainly to provide a distraction, "an
      Alabama getaway from the real problems of education, poverty, and
      health care" (p. 140).[2]

      If politicians were one component of a political culture where
      "change" was a dirty word, interest groups were even more formidable.
      The Farm Bureau, utilities like Alabama Power, and other groups like
      the Alabama Education Association controlled the flow of
      legislation--almost always preferring stop to go--and used their
      funds to elect hand-picked candidates and construct sophisticated
      media campaigns to prevent changes to the stultifying state
      constitution of 1901. At their most powerful, these pressure groups
      created faux-reform: state government committees and study groups
      seemingly dedicated to ferreting out abuses and formulating
      meaningful regulations. Most such fact-finding groups, however, were
      stocked with majority representation from the very industries they
      were seemingly charged with overseeing.

      One outcome of these "oafs of office" and powerful pressure groups
      was that much of the governing in state history was actually
      accomplished by federal court orders. Tullos identifies many of the
      court cases which forced Alabama to modify mental health practices,
      prison overcrowding, fair pay, racial gerrymandering, and educational
      discrimination and segregation. Though recent governor Bob Riley
      "tidied up costly, long-lingering federal lawsuits and consent
      decrees," other Alabama governors resisted court order as long as
      possible or made political hay out of their Heart of Dixie worldview
      (pp. 177-178). "The only way that the Ten Commandments  and prayer
      will be stripped from Alabama's courts," Fob James once bellowed,
      "will be a force of arms. This is just one more demonstration of
      hostility toward God by the U.S. government" (p. 139).[3]

      The persistence of this political imaginary and the concomitant
      "habits of judgement" it championed are all the more curious given
      Alabama's authentic history as ground zero in the civil rights drama.
      For as much heartache as violence, discrimination, disfranchisement,
      and segregation wrought, the freedom movement seemingly won. The
      state legislature now features a demography in approximate racial
      symmetry with the population at large. De jure segregation is less
      pronounced than at any time in state history and the Confederate flag
      seems unlikely to ever fly over the capitol again. Civil rights
      tourism is on the rise and the annual Selma-to-Montgomery March
      commemoration has become institutionalized as an element of
      progressive Americana. Half a decade ago, Alabama even elected
      Patricia Todd, the first legislator in state history to lead an
      openly gay life.

      Yet for all this positive momentum, Tullos understands that Alabama
      remains a place where the state government can be counted on to
      manifest a collective indifference to real responsibility. Poverty
      and dropout rates haven't changed much in a half-century, and, no
      matter how many foreign car companies are enticed to relocate to
      Alabama, the state's best and brightest still find greener pastures
      elsewhere. "How far has Alabama come?" Tullos ponders. "Not so far,
      Mobile's Satchel Paige might say, that it can look back and not find
      the past gaining on it" (p. 272).

      The strength of _Alabama Getaway_ is not the new ground that it
      breaks, for much of the story and the conclusions the author draws
      are familiar to specialists. Rather, Tullos excels at compiling
      evidence from sources some historians might overlook and packaging
      them for intellectual consumption. He weaves, for example, lyrics and
      interview material from contemporary southern rockers The Drive-By
      Truckers and interjects material about the racial composition of the
      University of Alabama's powerful Greek system into his narrative.
      Tullos is a skillful writer, deserving of the best compliments a
      reader can offer: passages of the book merit re-reading because of
      both stylistic grace and thoughtfulness of conclusion.

      Yet other passages are burdened by unnecessary snark and interpretive
      asides. The author persists in derisively referring to former
      Governor James as Thumper and notes almost bumptiously that
      Condoleeza Rice "trod the ideologue's path in countless pairs of
      expensive new shoes" (p. 227). In fact, the entire section on Rice
      seems only tangentially connected to Tullos's larger premise. His
      characterization of NASCAR fans at Talladega, while vivid, seems
      unnecessarily derivative. In one paragraph, Tullos makes sweeping
      judgments about political figures that seem better fodder for the
      local tavern than this book. Former Mississippi governor Haley
      Barbour is "shrewdly sinister," Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal is
      "self-aggrandizing," and Jeb Bush is a "right-wing Christian
      grandstander" (p. 178). One factual error notes, "In 1990, nearly two
      years after Wallace's death" when in fact the governor did not pass
      until 1998 (p. 120). Even so, this is a book that should be read by
      any Alabamian willing to think beyond "Sez you," and willing to
      consider the promise of an Alabama capable of breaking with its past.

      Notes

      [1]. To be completely accurate, Tullos quotes the cashier as saying,
      "Alabama is doing all right," and Governor Hunt as saying, "Alabama
      is doing just fine." Having lived in Alabama and interviewed plenty
      of Alabamians, I understood the sentiments to be congruent.

      [2]. Jeff Frederick, _Stand Up for Alabama: Governor George Wallace
      _(Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2007).

      [3]. In the interests of disclosure, it should be noted that I served
      as a consultant and expert witness for the plaintiffs in the _Lynch v
      Alabama _property tax discrimination suit.

      Citation: Jeff Frederick. Review of Tullos, Allen, _Alabama Getaway:
      The Political Imaginary and the Heart of Dixie_. H-South, H-Net
      Reviews. November, 2012.
      URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=36286

      This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
      Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States
      License.

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