Deep in the Heart

Who Says You Can’t Go Home?

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In dark times, a ray of hope in Alabama

Melinda Shelton/Flickr

By Dennis Covington

December 15, 2017


 

Birmingham, Alabama, is in my blood. I was born there in 1948 and spent 55 years there. I was educated in its public schools, fell in love there four times, got married twice, fathered two children, and watched my nuclear family return to the earth. I didn’t become a Texan when I moved to Texas 14 years ago. I just happen to live in Texas right now, and that’s the place where I have to vote, but I’m still an Alabamian.

My father was also born in Birmingham, in 1912. He lived there until his death in 1988, and I never heard him say an unkind word about a member of another race. The first time I saw him cry was on the morning of Sunday, September 15, 1963, when the 16th Street Baptist Church was bombed by Ku Klux Klansmen. Four black girls were killed, and another seriously injured.

In high school, I delivered a speech condemning the Klan for that particular horror, and for murdering, castrating, and lynching any number of other people. I also criticized George Wallace for trying to keep black students out of the University of Alabama, and I excoriated Alabama state troopers for beating peaceful demonstrators on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma during a peaceful march for equal voting rights.

After my speech, members of the school’s football team told me I was a goddamn nigger lover and that they were going to beat the shit out of me. They never did, of course. Like all racists, they were cowards, and my father told me how proud he was of me. He would have been proud, too, of what his fellow Alabamians did this week when, as a majority, they turned their backs on a lying crook and accused pedophile who had the audacity to run for the high office of U.S. Senator from Alabama.

Hey, don’t worry. You can go home again. I did, and look what happened. Alabamians elected the man who successfully prosecuted the last of those Klansmen who bombed that church. I wish my dad were alive to see this. If Tuesdays’ election proves to be a fluke, I’ll come all the way back from Texas to help exact justice again. Alabamians are not a species. We are a people. We have a will. We have a conscience. We are not perfect, but we don’t turn away from a fight.

I may not be able to vote in Alabama anymore, but I can still write, as I am doing now, late into the evening. And with that, I wish you good night, or rather good morning. Forgive the cliché, but it’s a new day in Birmingham.


Dennis Covington is the author of six books, including Salvation on Sand Mountain, a finalist for the National Book Award. His most recent book is Revelation: A Search for Faith in a Violent Religious World.

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