Tears and Laughter: Leadership matters…even in the Black Belt

“Down in Mobile they are all crazy, because the Gulf Coast is the kingdom of monkeys, the land of clowns, ghosts, and musicians and Mobile is sweet lunacy’s county seat.” That is how writer Eugene Walter described his home city. So of course Donald Trump chose Mobile to campaign for President.

He flew in over Ladd-Peebles Stadium where everybody could see him, and then flew right out again after his rally. He probably wasn’t able to even stay long enough for them to feed him right, which is a shame. You can’t really claim you have been to Alabama if you don’t take the time to eat.

Food all over the South is like a religion. And by food I don’t mean something you get from a restaurant. Not that there aren’t many a fine establishment offering specialties all along the coast and dotted throughout the city of Mobile, but any Presidential candidate claiming the Bible as his favorite book and who is serious about getting authentically in-touch with the voters of Alabama is going to have to take one of the hurricane routes out of Mobile and drive north until they find a church where on the firsts Sunday of the month they still have dinner out back under the pines.

Church women start getting antsy in their pews before the final amen, worried about the fried chicken and casseroles staying hot and the deviled eggs staying cold. They hurry ahead of everyone, making sure quilts or table cloths are spread over the tables before trunks start popping and the parade of cakes and pies and banana puddings and blueberry delights begins.

Little boys carry gallon jugs of sweet tea to the table. Little girls carry rolls and paper plates before running to play and pretend to gossip like their mamas.

There are people all throughout southwest Alabama who learned a long time ago not to put their faith in the promises of politicians. Especially in Wilcox and Clarke counties where they share a county line, and respectively, the first and second highest unemployment rates in the state.

Not all of their residents follow politics or speak of them or care. They choose instead to talk about things that matter to them, like making a living, or football, or simple plans for upcoming holidays that almost always, outside of Thanksgiving and Christmas, involves barbecuing.

These are people who work in the woods and on road crews and climb power poles. They turn wrenches and weld and work under the hoods of cars. People who work checkouts, and carry trays, and teach local children to read and write and do math well enough to be able to calculate a way out of towns where more storefronts are closed than open.

Some men leave for weeks at a time, to drive trucks across the country or to work on oil rigs or towboats or shutdowns at mills in other states, because they are somewhere between raising children named after their great grandmothers and taking care of aging relatives. They work away, so they can stay on land in places they love not because of the economy, but because old family walked it before them.

Maybe down in Mobile they are a little crazy. Maybe we all are, to dare even listen to the ideas and enthusiasm of a potential new leader. We feel crazy if we do and crazy if we don’t…when the leadership we are familiar with has led us to last.

Amanda Walker is a columnist with The West Alabama Watchman, Al.com, The Thomasville Times, and The Wilcox Progressive Era. For more information, visit her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AmandaWalker.Columnist.