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Historian Flynt discusses Alabama’s strengths, failings

September 28, 2018

According to a renowned Alabama historian, the state should be proud of its literature, its art and its football, but should be ashamed of its politics.

Renowned historian Dr. Wayne Flynt outlined those points while discussing the state’s cultural heritage, both good and bad, during a two-hour presentation Thursday evening at Troy University’s Dothan Campus.

Flynt, professor emeritus at Auburn University and author of the books “Alabama: The History of a Deep South State, Bicentennial Edition,” “Mockingbird Songs: My Friendship with Harper Lee” and “Southern Religion and Christian Diversity in the Twentieth Century,” pointed to Alabama’s rich history in the arts as something that sets it apart.

“We all think of New England as the heart of American literature, but the first American woman writer who made over $100,000 from literature was from Mobile, Alabama,” Flynt said of Augusta Jane Evans. “Great literature always transcends time. Isn’t it interesting that perhaps the greatest novel in the history of our country, perhaps in the world, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ was written in and about Alabama?”

From musicians like WC Handy and Hank Williams to writers like Harper Lee and Zora Neale Hurston to athletes like Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, Alabama has contributed significantly to global culture.

However, Flynt’s view of Alabama’s “political economy” is significantly dimmer.

“Regardless how we feel, the rest of the world sees us through the prism of political economy,” Flynt said. “We are No. 1 in the country in legal corruption and No. 2 in illegal corruption. If Alabama doesn’t do something about its political corruption, we should change our motto from ‘We dare defend our rights’ to ‘Alabama: Often embarrassing but never boring.’”

Flynt also identified the growth in Alabama of five main “corridors” throughout the state where industry and development are clustering, including Interstate 10 and the Huntsville-Decatur area.

“These corridors have four common features,” he said. “One, they are the most diverse areas culturally, ethnically, racially and educationally. Two, there are major universities in a state where universities are no longer state-funded but state-supported. Three, they have the highest taxes for public schools and the best product of those schools. Four, they have the highest-skilled labor force in Alabama and the highest salaries paid to workers.”

Flynt said the Highway 231 stretch from Dothan to Montgomery has the potential to become a corridor, but only with difficult choices.

“You can become a corridor, but not unless you’re willing to make the sacrifices necessary to become that,” Flynt said.

The event was co-sponsored by the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts & Humanities, with funding from the Kelly Mosley Endowment for Draughon Seminars in State & Local History.