Not So Hospitable Southern Hospitality

As a New Jersey transplant who has lived in Florida and Georgia since the early 1980s and now resides in Marietta, GA, home of the State Headquarters for the Tea Party, I feel that I can speak with a sound voice of my observations of the new (old) South.

My eyes, ears and psyche have all but become numb from the bombardment of vitriolic racist and religious lies and rants from the rightwing extremists and also from gun toting NRA fans and members who are now able to carry their guns into bars, restaurants, churches, schools and some government buildings in Georgia due to GA HB60 that will go into effect on July 1, 2014.  The bill was signed by Republican Governor Nathan Deal on April 23, 2014 in a picnic-like setting in Ellijay, GA, a mountain community not many miles from Atlanta.

“Guns Everywhere” Bill

Many attendees wore NRA hats and buttons etc., and in a before-the-signing ceremony a prayer and the national anthem were recited/sung. Those opposed to the bill have named it “the guns everywhere bill,” and law enforcement officers in the state are solidly against it. The bill was described by the NRA’s lobbying arm as “the most comprehensive pro-gun legislation in recent state history.”

This gathering came on the heels of my personal observations over the last several months of camouflage-wearing, gun-carrying people on the overpass of Interstate 75 (running north and south from Florida to Michigan), holding and hanging huge signs over the railing that were racist and encouraged the impeachment of President Obama. It was legal for them to be there. The police were less than happy but their hands were tied.

Poor Deprived of Healthcare and Food Stamps

The aforementioned Governor Deal, backed by a strongly conservative movement within the state, rejected the ACA’s option to expand Medicaid, leaving tens of thousands of low income Georgians without healthcare. Additionally, this past legislative session removed from the governor any power to expand Medicaid in the future and placed it solely with the legislature, making it virtually impossible for the needy to gain access to healthcare. The SNAP (food stamps) program was drastically cut as well.

On the Subject of Religion

Marietta has several mega churches, two within a mile or so of each other. During the run-up to the 2012 presidential election, the Mt. Bethel Methodist Church announced on their large sign that they offered prayer vigils and counseling with the minister re: the 2012 election every night for a number of weeks. They later changed the sign to “HOW WOULD JESUS VOTE?”

Johnson Ferry Baptist Church and its minister, Bryant Wright, have condemned homosexuality from the pulpit and severed ties with the Boy Scouts of America when that organization decided that gay scouts were permitted to join. Pastor Wright served as the head of The Southern Baptist Convention until 2012. The SBC is now headed by its first African-American leader, Reverend Fred J. Luter, Jr. The Conference has been in existence since 1845.

Both of these churches have mostly wealthy, white members. They also have pre-schools, middle schools, day care, and buses and are situated on large parcels of land. It is worth noting that Atlanta proper is quite diverse, inclusive and progressive, and its universities and hospitals are among the best in the country.

Hypocrisy Reigns

Hypocrisy reigns in the South within the confines of the churches and thus presumably behind the doors of their congregants’ homes as well. It is not uncommon to hear the N-word bandied about by the rural population, while “blacks” is used by the more “refined” residents of Cobb County, usually in a hushed voice, and usually blaming African-Americans for all the United States’ ills.

Deland, Florida, where I lived for many years, is a small college town (Stetson University) and is another snapshot of the real South. Street “preachers” harass outdoor diners on the main street with their hell, fire and brimstone messages to passersby and restaurant patrons alike. The Rev. James Knox rallies his flock regularly and has finally been chastised and challenged publicly by some locals. Both The Deland Beacon Newspaper and The Daytona News Journal have addressed the issue, yet still the reverend and his followers are not going away. Confederate flags fly proudly throughout Dixie and in Georgia; Stars and Bars license plates can be your tag of choice if you’d like.

This thumbnail sketch of today’s South is just that. Voting rights suppression is on the table in just about all Southern states, and abortion clinics are being closed due to stricter standards within the individual states, imposed to put them out of business. In 2011, Texas had 44 clinics and now the number is at 24. Mississippi has 1 clinic. Immigration is yet another dirty secret. Much of what happens is ignored by the national media, and that is detrimental to all citizens of the United States.

Commercial pilots should make the following announcement when their planes touch down at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport: “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Georgia. Please set your watches back sixty years.”


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