The tale of two Alabamians
The Anniston Star
By Kristina Scott
Special to The Star
08-31-2008

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ... it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair … we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way."

- Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859).

The naming of Auburn University professor Wayne Flynt, Alabama 's preeminent historian and social reformer, as this year's recipient of the Bailey Thomson Award surely symbolizes the best of times in Alabama.

Not coincidentally, this year the state has enjoyed unprecedented growth in personal incomes and in new businesses choosing to bring jobs and opportunities to our hard-working people, who for too long have not had a chance to fulfill their potential.

Flynt's challenge to all Alabamians, which has persisted for almost 50 years, to confront and solve the state's persistent problems of poverty and injustice has undoubtedly contributed to improving the economic landscape and increasing prosperity across the state.

However, Flynt would be the first to remind us that there is much to be done. Every year the Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform bestow the Bailey Thomson Award to an Alabamian who has significantly contributed to the effort to replace the existing Constitution. In Flynt's words, among the Constitution's "monstrosities" is the perpetual chronic under-funding of primary and secondary education that makes economic development much more difficult.

The rural counties are especially hard hit, with personal incomes substantially below the state and national average and alarmingly high dropout rates. For example, Wilcox County 's per-capita income is only half of the national average and its high school dropout rate exceeds 80 percent. Alabamians in Wilcox County as well as in many counties, continue to struggle in the worst of times in the state.

Numerous Alabamians who were present at the award ceremony on Thursday rejoiced at Flynt's accomplishments and contributions, including being one of the founders of the Alabama Poverty Project, which collaborates with other groups, including ACCR, to reduce and eventually eliminate poverty in Alabama . Many more Alabamians greatly admire Flynt and support what he stands for.

In accepting this award, Flynt reminded us of the Dark ideas behind the creation of the Constitution in 1901 — "God almighty intended the Negro to be the servant of the white man." He then persuasively pointed out that the ideas of ACCR's opponents, such as Alabama Eagle Forum and ALFA — which claim ACCR's hidden goals include "changing the state's boundaries, removing God from the preamble, substituting regional planning groups run by the United Nations for state government, and imposing a radical antifamily agenda" — are "not much better."

Flynt's one-way conversation with Thomson — opening with "Well, Bailey, see what a mess you've gotten me into? I signed on to ACCR for a four-year hitch, not for a lifetime enrollment" — directly addressed the despair that many feel as they toil to make Alabama a better place. This conversation resembled conversations many of us have with God when we are doing His will and getting nothing but grief for it. It reminded us that from the high moral ground as a guiding Light, Thomson started and dedicated his life to the constitutional reform movement, and, like so many other visionaries, died before seeing the fruits of his labor. Although many others will have the same fate, Flynt assured us that a new Constitution will prevail because the cause is just and new generations of eager reformers are replacing his generation of old-timers.

Alabamians of good will should use this occasion of Flynt's well deserved recognition to learn more about constitutional reform through the Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform Web site (constitutionalreform.org) and the systemic causes of poverty and how each of us can take action to make Alabama a more just and equal society (alabamapoverty.org).

Kristina Scott is the executive director of the Alabama Poverty Project. Her e-mail is kscott@alabamapoverty.

« back