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DENNIS HALAC REVIEW OF
OUR SOUTHERN HOME

THE DARKSIDE OF ALABAMA'S RACISM by Dennis Halac, December 8, 2011

Memoir. Journalism. History. The title and subtitles of this book suggest all three genres. That is precisely what is presented. Mr. Taylor is a native Alabaman born to a respectable Birmingham family more than 70 years ago. The death of his father, Waights Taylor Sr., revealed there was a connection to a famous historical event. The memoir part is a quest to understand how his father was once an FDR liberal but evolved into an arch-conservative, ardently Christian Southerner. The journalist in the author requires him to present a fair and balanced account of a trial that is usually melodramatized in extremis. The historian has led him to archives, research documents and interviews eventually revealing some new material. The book also has all the accoutrements of the academic: hundreds of footnotes, an extensive bibliography and an index.

It is easier to bemoan the history of race relations in Alabama than to describe it. Alabama is no more or less racist than the rest of the South but it has been its fate to be the anvil upon which the most notorious incidents of the civil rights struggles of the twentieth century have been hammered. From the Scottsboro Boys Trial in the 1930's to the Montgomery Bus Boycott of the 1950's to Gov. Wallace's mostly theatrical Schooldoor Stand in 1963 and then the horrific bombings in Birmingham followed a few years later by the iconic Selma March. This book focuses primarily on the Scottsboro Boys Case as the antecedent to everything that followed. The Scottsboro Boys were indeed boys. Nine African-Americans ranging in age from 12 to 19 were accused of raping two white girls (also teenagers), all of whom along with a gang of white boys were illegally riding the rails. The several trials, retrials, changes of venue, appeals, and decisions from both the State and United States Supreme Courts occupied the greater part of the 1930's. It exposed the underbelly of Southern justice as both racist and unjust. Eventually it established legal precedents, which became the foundation for later civil rights battles.

Mr. Taylor personalizes the events by focusing on three individuals who were all 18 at the time of the 1931 incident in Scottsboro. Clarence Norris was one of the Scottsboro Boys who ended up as the last survivor and lived long enough to be pardoned by a now-crippled, now-changed Gov. Wallace. Rosa Parks needs no introduction to the reader but the Scottsboro Case stimulated her activism that was to flower in Montgomery. Waights Taylor Sr., the author's father, represents the white Southern liberal (at the time). None of these three ever met, two of them had only a tangential association with the Scottsboro Case but they give a human dimension to the turgid facts. Readers who love details, lots and lots and lots of details will appreciate the author's efforts.

Alabama's moon has been the inspiration for both song and poetry. It takes a native Alabaman (now transplanted to the Bay Area) to reveal the dark side of the moon while recognizing that the unhappiest events are but one side of a many-sided moon.

—Dennis Halac is a historian and critic living in San Francisco. Review written for Mechanic's Institute Library.

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