Tuesday, October 15, 2019

'One of the most powerless places' in the U.S. bears many burdens, but shows it has the moxie to stand up for itself

Lisman's float rolls down the streets at the parade in Butler, Alabama. (Washington Post photo by Michael S. Williamson)
The Washington Post's Stephanie McCrummen, chronicler of rural places, offers an evocative, in-depth portrait of Lisman, Alabama, an increasingly marginalized Black Belt community of about 500 people, struggling with the burdens of their circumstances: "At a moment when American politics has become a raw and racially polarized struggle for power, Lisman is one of the most powerless places of all. It is small. It is rural. It is mostly poor and mostly African American, and it exists in Alabama, where those characteristics remain the very things that still make people forgotten."

Washington Post map
Democrats have been gaining steam in some parts of the South, "but that is not the case in Alabama, where the state’s Democratic Party — the traditional means to power for black voters — has become so dysfunctional that the only Democrat elected statewide, U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, recently said the party was being 'destroyed from within,'" McCrummen reports. "Alabama is where an electorate that remains solidly white, conservative and evangelical delivered President Trump one of his most resounding victories, and gave the GOP near-total control of the state legislature, every statewide office and every congressional seat except one."

Lisman has a history of pushing back, though. "In 1962, Lisman residents had put their names to a federal lawsuit challenging the white Choctaw County registrars who were rejecting 95 percent of black voters’ applications," McCrummen reports. "In the summer of 1971, people from Lisman had joined the demonstrations at the courthouse square to demand access to county jobs that blacks had been denied." The community incorporated in 1979 in an attempt to gain some local control over how their tax dollars were being spent, since most was going to other communities in the county.

McCrummen's story is structured around the mayor, Jason Ward, planning and making a float for a parade at the county seat. Ward told her that many of the most powerful people in the county and the state would be in attendance, so he knew it was important to enter a float; for residents of Lisman, showing up "was the only way they had ever gotten anything." And so they did.

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