In a recent survey conducted by the American Jewish Committee, roughly three of four American Jews indicated a deep affinity for Israel. That American Jews today have such feelings toward Israel may not seem surprising, but prior to the 1930s and 1940s kinship between American Jews and a prospective Jewish state was less predictable. Only the persecution of Jews begun by Adolf Hitler in 1933, culminating with the murder of approximately six million European Jews by 1945, convinced many American Jews to support Zionism, the movement to establish a Jewish state in Palestine. The trials and tribulations that followed Israel’s creation in 1948 made that support even stronger, and Alabama’s Jews were no different in their response.
A person encountering Ida Mathis in Birmingham in the early 1900s would not have guessed that she would soon be labeled the savior of the Alabama economy. A matronly figure with a kind face, she did not resemble the “economic Moses of the South” or “Joan of Arc of agriculture,” though contemporary periodicals called her both. Today, her alliance with bankers and businessmen appears to have little in common with the usual approach of Progressive Era women, who drew upon their author ity as mothers when pressing for social reforms. In both cases observers would be fooled. Although Mathis took an unusual approach in presenting herself as a practical farmer and businesswoman, she adopted a distinctly feminine strategy in striving for a sense of family among all community members. When the cotton market’s collapse threw the state into economic depression in 1914, she worked to convince businessmen, farmers, and urban consumers that they had a direct stake in one another’s success. Her sincerity, speaking skills, and sound financial advice drew national attention and laid the groundwork for the state’s increased food production during World War I.
Unlike most of our Alabama neighbors, the men in our family did not shoot deer, doves, or quail. My grandfather, Mac, and my father, Ted, did not hunt at all. My uncle, Stewart, owned no gun; our family did not approve of guns (the influence of my pacifist grandmother, "Miss Rose").
Stewart not only lived in a déclassé neighborhood; he engaged in a déclassé form of hunting. Possum hunting lost class when the southern gentility, aping the British as usual, took up fox hunting. That left possum hunting to poor folks in need of food. After they caught a possum, they fattened it for a few weeks, butchered it as they would a pig, boiled it, baked it, and served it with rich gravy and sweet potatoes.
What would Miss Rose say if Stewart brought a sack of possums to her kitchen? Unimaginable!
On February 9, 2000, Thomas E. Corts, president of Samford University, delivered a speech before the Downtown Rotary Club of Birmingham entitled “How Long, Alabama? O How Long?” Dr. Corts’ presentation, which was widely reported, dealt with the political and economic problems the state of Alabama suffers because of its outmoded and cumbersome constitution, the fundamental document that gives shape to state government. Corts did not mince words. “For almost one hundred years,” he noted, “it has been acknowledged that our state constitution was poorly conceived, poorly written, composed largely with Reconstruction in mind .... Writers of the Constitution of 1901 worked from wrong motives that led them to wrong conclusions and we have been paying a price ever since.”
Not so long ago, scores of country stores were scattered across rural Alabama—at dusty crossroads or along a lonely stretch of blacktop knifing through fields and tangled woodlands, or huddled beside an isolated railway crossing. Mostly they were humble, expedient buildings, devoid of pretension, built to serve a plain agrarian society while enriching the coffers of some enterprising local merchant.
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