Both of them agreed on another point. At the time they wrote, Alabama and North Carolina trailed nearly all states in virtually every category that measures a decent life for its people: per capita income; high school and college graduation rates; poverty; health of the population. Both states had a history of demagoguery, especially on issues of class, race and religion. If those satisfied with the status quo prevailed, there was little hope for the future of either state in an increasingly knowledge-based, global economy.
Since Golden wrote his prophetic and controversial essays about the imperative of change by his state’s leaders, much has improved in North Carolina. Judged by most economic and educational measures, it is light years ahead of Alabama. In ways scarily obvious to any serious and objective student of Alabama history, not much has changed in Alabama.
That lag is not Bailey’s fault. The historian in him grounded every word he wrote in recent and objective data. The poet in Bailey embedded data in poetic allusion and powerful analogy. The prophet in Bailey confronted power with justice, as all prophets must. Perhaps it is true that a prophet has no honor in his own country. If true, shame on us for not heeding one when God sent him our way.
Wayne Flynt is Distinguished University Professor Emeritus at Auburn University.
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