No two places are exactly alike. Every continent, country, state and city have unique cultural quirks, slang expressions, traditions and values that make them inherently their own. And while you’d probably think that goes without saying, it can be easy to overlook things in even the communities closest to your own that make them so different they might as well belong on a different planet — or in a different time.
The southwestern American state of Alabama is one of these places. It’s a space where skyscrapers and chain restaurants have been largely eschewed for quaint, picturesque towns; where the hustle and bustle of the big city has been ignored in favour of rural charm. Alabamians are known for their Southern drawl, turns of phrase, and hospitality. Their most popular cultural artefacts serve to enforce good morals and harken back to simpler times. (This is the place that birthed Atticus Finch, after all!) This is the state where barbecue is king and college – not professional – football is so popular it has raised Nick Saban to the level of deity. It’s old timey and downright pleasant no matter how you slice it.
But when you start to dig a little deeper, you see some things that have happened in the state that make it seem as if it’s more than just its mannerisms that are stuck in the past. In fact, this list of 15 ridiculous things that have happened in Alabama will have you questioning whether or not Alabama is actually living with us in the modern day.
15. Beauty and The Beast Banned For Not Being Wholesome
What’s more quaint than seeing a classic fairy tale at a drive-in movie theatre? You’d think it would be something Alabamians would be all over, but it’s not the case when it comes to the new live-action reboot of Beauty and the Beast. Despite coming on the heels of the live-action Jungle Book movie that grossed nearly $1 billion worldwide and earning solid reviews from critics, one drive-in in the state is refusing to play the movie – and it’s probably not for the reason you’d think. In a post on the company’s Facebook page, owners of the Henagar Drive-In Movie Theatre in Henagar, Alabama announced they’d be boycotting the movie because it isn’t “wholesome” enough for them. The reason? The movie features Disney’s first openly-gay character in antagonist Gaston’s sidekick, Le Fou. In a Facebook post that has since been deleted, they wrote: “If we can not take our 11 year old grand daughter and 8 year old grandson to see a movie we have no business watching it. If I can’t sit through a movie with God or Jesus sitting by me then we have no business showing it.” Didn’t we leave homophobia behind in the last century, guys?
14. Feuding Families Incite A 400-Person Riot
When you think of warring families, what’s the first thing that come to mind? The Capulets and Montagues from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet? Maybe the Hatfield and McCoy War that cost 15 people their lives in the Wild West? Whatever you answered, I’m sure your first thought wasn’t modern day Alabama. But that’s exactly what happened in 2009 when a fight between two families in Marion, Alabama boiled over and eventually incited a riot of over 400 people. Known as the Marion Riot, it started when two families started feuding during a basketball game at Francis Marion High School on Aug. 23, 2009. While cooler heads did prevail momentarily, the two sides started back up again the next day in the town square. Things escalated, others joined in, and by the time all was said and done, police officers from eight jurisdictions were needed to set up a perimeter around Marion City Hall. Ten people were arrested.
13. Politician Cuts Down 50-Foot Cedar for Trump
Offering up obscene gifts to ruling-class elites seems so passé. But, while not as extreme as the old “droit de seigneur” that allowed kings the right to sleep with any new bride on her wedding night, on Dec. 17, 2016, the Mobile, Alabama mayoral Chief of Staff Colby Cooper still thought it necessary to go above and beyond to impress then President-elect Donald Trump on his visit to the city. In preparation for the event, Cooper had city workers cut down a 50-foot-tall cedar tree from the Mobile Medal of Honor Park to serve as a backdrop for Trump’s speech at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Not realizing why people were upset that, instead of buying a tree to use a prop, he cut down a tree from a public park, Cooper tried to backtrack from the controversy saying he had been “overzealous” and that he would be “more sensitive to the spectrum of concerns regarding trees” in the future. The scandal caused him to resign from his position less than two weeks later.
12. Politician Attacks Evolution
Charles Darwin published his book On The Origin Of Species on Nov. 24, 1859. In the 157 years since, the idea of Darwinian evolution — otherwise known as the idea of natural selection — has become generally accepted. The consensus among scientists and the public writ large is that humans, the same as every other kind of creature on Earth, has become what they are today through small changes in heritable traits that increase their ability to compete, survive, and reproduce. While that idea has become ubiquitous in most of the modern world, in Alabama, not so much. In 2016, during the Alabama Republican gubernatorial primary race, candidate Roy Moore based an entire attack ad about fellow candidate Bradley Byrne on the fact he believed in evolution. In it, he said: “On the school board Byrne supported teaching evolution, said evolution best explained the origin of life? Even recently said, ‘The Bible is only partly true!'”
11. Adult Toys Are Illegal
In an era defined by people becoming more and more accepting of everyone else’s sexual identity, would you believe there’s still a place in the world that legislates what a person can and cannot do with their own private parts? Well, believe it. In 1998, Alabama State Senator Tom Butler sponsored a bill called the Anti-Obscenity Enforcement Act, which was meant to ban nude dancing. Since then, it has expanded to include rules against “any person to knowingly distribute, possess with intent to distribute, or offer or agree to distribute any obscene material or any device designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs for any thing of pecuniary value.” Unless you have an exemption for medical, scientific, educational, legislative, or law enforcement purposes, breaking this law could net you $10,000 in fines or up to ten years in prison. At least they won’t call you a witch and burn you at the stake, though, right? I mean, as far as we know…
10. Judge Makes a Stand Against Gay Marriage
Same-sex marriage is legal in 22 countries around the world. Beginning with Holland in 2001 and ending, ironically, with the United States in 2016, the movement toward acknowledging that gay couples should be allowed the same rights as heterosexual ones when it comes to marriage has gained traction in all corners of the globe. Particularly in the Western world, it has become less a question of if gays will be allowed to marry and more a matter of when. One glaring standout in that change, however, has been the state of Alabama. Going against the change, and defying the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage on a federal level, was Alabama Chief State Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore. On Sept. 30, 2016, Moore issued an order that banned all lower-court judges in the state from providing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Alabama. He wrote: “Alabama probate judges have a ministerial duty not to issue any marriage license contrary to the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment or the Alabama Marriage Protection Act.” The decision made it unconstitutional for the state to recognize or perform same-sex marriages.
9. Adoption Agencies Are Turning Away Gay Parents
In the past, homophobic policies made it nearly impossible for gay couples to adopt children in most parts of the world. It was believed that having two same-sex parents would corrupt a child’s morals and possibly lead them to become gay later in life themselves. Thankfully, most of the Western world has moved passed this way of thinking, allowing people of all sexual orientations to adopt as long as they’re fit to be parents. That, however, is not the case in Alabama, where a state senate committee advanced a bill that lets faith-based adoption agencies turn away gay couples on religious grounds. The bill would prohibit the state from refusing to license religiously affiliated adoption agencies, which make up one-third of all agencies in the state, that refuse to allow same-sex couples to adopt children under their care despite receiving taxpayer funding. The bill was advanced by the committee by a 6-1 vote.
8. Cop Posts Racist Memes on Facebook
As if gay panic weren’t enough, Alabama is also home to another form of bigotry you’d think was largely relegated to the history books — we’re talking about good ol’ fashioned racism! In November of 2016, Talladega police officer Joel Husk came under fire after sharing a racist meme to his Facebook page. The meme showed two pictures, one of Melania Trump and one of Michelle Obama. The picture of Trump said, “Fluent in English, French, Serbian and German.” The picture of Obama, who is a graduate of both Princeton and Harvard Law School, said, “Fluent in ghetto.” Another post he shared lamented the fact that no one has thanked the white people who fought to end slavery. Husk’s department, yielding to public outrage about having someone with bigoted views in law enforcement, ultimately terminated him because of the controversy.
7. Teaching Kids They Shouldn’t Want Sex
There are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and the fact people will always want to have sex. No matter what you teach kids, that won’t change. That’s why it’s been proven that abstinence-only education doesn’t work. Not only are their goals unrealistic, but these programs often misinform children to meet the end of keeping children chaste. Often, this happens with the distortion of information about things like contraceptives, STDs, and abortion. Worse yet, according to a 2007 study by the US Department of Health, children educated in this way are no less likely to have sex in their teenage years, only more likely to practice unsafe sex. For this reason, over the decades, most jurisdictions have moved away from teaching abstinence toward a more comprehensive sexual education program. Alabama, however, has not. Unsurprisingly, this has led to high rates of sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancy. Montgomery, the state capital, has the highest STD rate in the country and, most shockingly, the rate of HIV infection among people 13-24 actually increased between 2004 and 2011. But at least the guidelines make sure that schools emphasize that “homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public.”
6. People Are Thinking Football While Getting Arrested
If you were to get arrested, what would your reaction be? If you answered anything other than shout out your favourite football team, you probably don’t live in Alabama. In May of 2014, Heath McDonald was arrested after police raided his Etowah County home during a drug sting and charged with possession of a controlled substance. Handcuffed and dressed in red Crimson Tide pajamas as police escorted him out, he was interviewed by a news crew that was tagging along. His response? “I’m innocent. Roll tide.” And in case you think it was an isolated incident, it’s not. In 2009, then-Crimson Tide linebacker Courtney Upshaw and his girlfriend Kendall Grzyb were arrested and charged by police after an altercation on campus. When those charges were dropped, Grzyb’s dad had one thing to say: “Roll Tide!”
5. A Community Is Fighting to Segregate Schools
When would you have guessed segregation ended in Alabama? In 1955, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man in Montgomery? Or maybe in the 1960s when acts passed by Congress prohibited segregation in public accommodations, employment and housing? It may seem almost unfathomable, but Alabama is backsliding into Jim Crow-era segregation today. This can be seen in communities like Gardendale, where there is currently a push to form a school board for the predominantly-white city separate from the one in Jefferson County, where the students are mostly black. While Stan Hogeland, Mayor of Gardendale, argues the move is meant to ensure local control of education, opponents argue it is meant to allow the community to effectively segregate children by race and class. And all this more than 50 years after black families first sued over segregation in the state.
4. Vilifying People Who Want An Abortion
One of the most obvious problems stemming from poor sexual education is the rise of teen pregnancies. This, in turn, creates more demand for abortions. According to the Guttmacher Institute, most women wanting to get an abortion got pregnant because they were having unprotected sex thinking they weren’t likely to get impregnated or because they had concerns about contraceptives. Given the fact that, as previously mentioned, Alabama employs an abstinence-only education program where these things aren’t taught, you’d think the state would be adept at dealing with the fallout and have some sort of comprehensive plan regarding abortions. That, obviously, is not the case.
Rather, a bill passed in Alabama in 2016 has essentially worked to vilify those looking for the service. Under the new rules a woman must receive state-directed counselling designed to discourage against abortions, state-funded healthcare plans can’t fund the procedure and, for those who decide to go through with it despite all that, patients must receive an ultrasound before having the fetus removed. Of course this has to happen before the 20th week of pregnancy because state lawmakers don’t believe the scientific community when they say fetuses beyond that age can’t feel pain.
3. Pushing Voter ID Laws At a Rally Commemorating The Civil Rights Movement
In 1965, Selma, Alabama was the epicentre of the black civil rights movement. It was through a series of three protest marches from Selma to Montgomery that people such as Martin Luther King Jr. were able to bring the plight of African Americans to the forefront of the public consciousness and succeed in fighting back against voter suppression and institutionalized segregation. That’s why on March 7, 2017 Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church held a special service to commemorate the 52nd anniversary of the event. And people walked out. Why? Because Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill decided to use the venue to promote the state’s voter ID laws — laws which, by increasing bureaucratic requirements to vote, serve to make voting less accessible, and disproportionately more so for poor people and minorities.
2. Threatening Jail Time for Overdue Books
When you look back in history, one thing that jumps out is how harsh punishments were for even petty crimes. Think having your hand cut off for stealing something. So, when you hear that you can get jail time for not returning library books, you’d probably assume that was some archaic rule from way back when that couldn’t exist today. But then you’d be vastly underestimating how much the Athens-Limestone Public Library wants its money. Owed almost $200,000 in late fees, the library is going to harshly deal with anyone who breaks a city ordinance that says it is illegal to fail to return borrowed materials. Anyone who violates the law can be fined up to $100 or forced to serve 30 days in jail. Let’s just hope they don’t start stoning people next.
1. Mandating English-Only Drivers Test
The United States is a diverse country. Even outside of cosmopolitan metropolitan centres like New York and L.A., cities are home to people of every creed, colour, and culture. Alabama is no exception and, in order to accommodate that difference, the state currently offers its driver’s test in 13 languages. But for one hopeful in the 2010 gubernatorial race, that was 12 too many. In a display of uber nationalism reminiscent of the 19th century politics, Republican candidate Tim James argued that anyone looking to get a license should only have one option: to take the test in English. In an ad for his campaign, James summed up his position thusly, “This is Alabama. We speak English. If you want to live here, learn it.” He didn’t win the party’s nomination.