In a city that’s known far too much sorrow over the past few years, finally there is a reason to smile again. Still, it may be a long time before the city comes down from this high. As one reveler was heard saying in the French Quarter Sunday night: “Work? There’s no work tomorrow. It’s All Saint’s Day!”
Delays are common, but this may be the first time a football game has pre-empted a trial, says Scott Vowell, presiding judge of the 10th Judicial Circuit for Jefferson County in Alabama. Of course, he’s heard a myriad of other excuses over the years. Funerals. Illnesses. The dog ate my briefcase. The best was the time an attorney asked for a delay so he could join an evangelical rock band and a troupe of Russian ballerinas on a tour of England.
You should probably leave the rocket scientist jokes at home when visiting Huntsville, Ala. The chances are good (1 in 12, in fact) you’ll meet one here. In a state beset with educational challenges, this mid-size city (pop. 396,000) is an anomaly, a figurative brain soup where intellectual capital is a commodity and innovation is the driving force behind economic recovery and future success.
In many places, it will end a decades-old culture of silence. People here don’t like to remember the nights of church bombings and explosions; the sound of rifles being loaded in the dark as citizens patrolled sidewalks and sanctuaries, trying to stem the violence. They don’t like to remember the fear and distrust – between blacks and whites, but also among themselves.
And then, suddenly, it all came together – why they’d needed to be here so much, why they’d endured the arduous trek just to squint at a distant screen. As they reached the foot of the Washington Monument, so starkly white against a perfect blue sky, encircled by American flags, another sight resonated even more deeply: a rainbow of people of every size, race, and age standing together.
As one of the adults traveling this week from Selma to the nation’s capital with a group from Knox Elementary School, she brings different emotions and motivations than the idealistic young students, all clad in their new winter clothing and visions of a race-free America. For her and many of the other adults, this is a spiritual journey, both an intensely personal moment and a time to celebrate what they and their forebears suffered and accomplished, as well as to see the opportunities facing a new generation.
Reddick wants the children to see beyond graffiti-strewn walls, beyond limitations, beyond a town where violence is a daily reality. She wants them to witness something people in this racially torn bastion of the civil rights movement never believed was possible. She wants them to see a black man become president of the United States, to hear his voice ring out across the National Mall and know that anything is possible.
For Tennessee firefighter Chris Copeland, responding to disasters is a way of life, but three days before Christmas, his world was shaken to its foundation when the rescuer found himself in a new role — survivor. Just after midnight Dec. 22, while Copeland lay sleeping, an earthen dike gave way on the north side of Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant in Kingston, Tenn. Within seconds, 5.4 million cubic yards of fly ash — a by-product of coal combustion — oozed into the Emory River, gaining speed until the glossy, debris-laden sludge roared through the Swan Pond area, leaving three homes destroyed and 42 damaged. Copeland says the sound was deafening; he thought it was a tornado.
Alabama has been particularly aggressive. Since the early 1990s, the state has offered German-based Mercedes, Japan’s Honda and South Korea’s Hyundai a staggering $1 billion in tax incentives, abatements and infrastructure improvements to build plants there. The return on investment has been $7 billion, creating almost 50,000 direct jobs and another 70,000 in sectors like parts suppliers. The population of the town of Vance, where the 4,000-employee Mercedes factory is located, has leapt from 500 to 2,000. Unlike the local sawmill, fertilizer plant or rock quarry, residents feel Mercedes “is going to survive, no matter what,” says one woman who has five family members working there. “That’s what made Vance what it is.”