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Sweet home Alabama



University of Virginia


Sweet home Alabama

What has and hasn't changed

Coke Matthews


To be honest, it has been a strange experience heading home for Thanksgiving this year. Alabama does not usually make national news (barring ESPN), so as I sat in Rice Hall listening to CNN reporters speak in front of our state flag, I had a feeling something was up.
I wish I could say that I was surprised, but Alabama politics have been deteriorating for some time. We have managed to become one of the nation's leaders, if not the number one leader, in political corruption. Our leadership has definitively lowered the bar of constituents' expectations. Past leaders, like former state legislator Steve Flowers, are speaking up. “We always had Louisiana to thank for being more corrupt and debaucherous than we are,” Flowers said. “But I would say that in the past 25 years, and especially in the past two years, that we’ve surpassed Louisiana.”

A quick look at recent history makes it clear what provoked Flowers' declaration. Our former governor was recently impeached for misusing state funds and having an affair with his advisor. He was the third governor we have had that has been found guilty of criminal charges while in office, and the second to be impeached. Additionally, the man who served in office while I was a child was recently released from a six-year prison sentence for bribery and fraud. In other news, Roy Moore, a former state judge who has been twice elected to and twice removed from the Alabama Supreme Court for refusing to enforce state and federal law, is the current Republican nominee in the Senate race. The joke around Alabama is that Nick Saban could be elected Governor or Senator in a landslide, but he won't run because it would be a demotion. I think you get the point.

When I began drafting this article, I struggled to decide which point of view to take. It's hard to relate living in Birmingham to my college life in Charlottesville - both have such unique and personal meaning to me. There's a lot that I have to say to my hometown friends, and even more to say to all of my UVA friends who have been asking me what the hell is going on. Especially the ones who like to tag me in Onion articles about why the U.S. should cut ties with Alabama (looking at you Vanaman). I would be remiss not to acknowledge what Alabama means to me, and why it has and always will be my home.

I distinctly remember visiting Sloss Furnaces ten years ago on a 4th grade field trip. Sloss is one of the most recognizable and impactful sites in Birmingham, a national historic landmark that operated as a pig-iron furnace from 1882 to 1971. Our tour guide passed around a piece of cast-iron and explained that Birmingham became known as the "Magic City" because of how quickly it boomed as a center of iron and steel production. Imagine that: the Magic-freaking-City. Imagine how cool that sounded to a class of nine-year olds. Visit my apartment in Charlottesville and you'll find not just a large state flag hanging in the common area, but a "Magic City" poster sitting atop my desk. (And no, not a Confederate flag).

Ever since I arrived at UVA, I have been explaining and defending my home state to the many, many people who do not understand it. Recently though, I have almost been reluctant to engage in the conversation. To get to the point, the Roy Moore allegations and the Senate race have called into question not just the character of the citizens of this state, but also what it means to be proud to live in Alabama. Even as someone who has immense pride and gratitude for where I'm from, I have been at a loss for words when friends ask me to defend a state system that supports people like Roy Moore. I would much rather brag about my hometown hero Willie Mays, or boast about the Huntsville Rocket Center, or maybe note that Apple CEO Tim Cook is an Auburn man.

I confess that I am biased when it comes to this election. I have known Doug Jones and what kind of man he is since I was young. Our families have remained friends through the years and his son was one of my friends in high school. The point of this article though, as with the election, has nothing to do with Doug Jones. It has nothing to do with Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals.

The main point I would like to share with my hometown friends is this: are we not tired of being the laughing stock of our country? At what point do we take all of this pride that we have for our home, and convert it into tangible good for the rest of America to see. The whole country is watching us. Judging us. Let's do what we've always wanted to . . . prove them wrong. Prove the stereotypes and generalizations are just that. Wrong.

As for my Charlottesville and UVA friends whose only knowledge of Alabama comes from the Civil Rights Movement, college football, or the recent news about Roy Moore, please understand that
Moore will never define who we are. He will never encompass what this state has to be proud of, and does not in any way represent what Alabama stands for. Alabama has a dark history, and it will never be forgotten. However slow and painstaking some politicians and citizens make it, as they historically have, Alabama will and must move forward.