Something is very wrong in the Land of Cotton



Dr. Robert Bullard
Environmental Justice Movement Founder

Friday, February 10, 2012

A Back of the Bus Idea

Why did the Shelby County Arts Council (SCAC) agree to accept funding for a Civil Rights play from White Rock Quarries (WRQ), an egregious violator of the rights of the minority residents in Vincent, Alabama's River Loop community? Answer: because in the campaign to deceive it's all about appearances. Whitewashing corporate dirt doesn't make it brighter - it only serves as a false cover for the darkness underneath.

story ran recently in the Shelby County Reporter touting the importance of a new Civil Rights play "Too Many Questions: An Evening With Virginia Durr" based on a commissioned work by the Vulcan Park and Museum in 2009. Virginia Durr was the wife of noted Alabama lawyer Clifford Durr, a staunch advocate for "those accused of disloyalty during the New Deal and McCarthy eras."

Clifford Durr was also Rosa Park's attorney during the tumultuous Montgomery Bus Boycott and a life-long friendship developed between the Durr's and Parks that endured for the rest of their lives.

The Durr's, like Parks, were tireless champions for right in an era of momentous wrongs.

We don't believe the characters of the play would approve of having their names and lives bastardized like the SCAC is doing by allowing a corporate villan like WRQ to be involved in the stage production about the struggle for human rights.

WRQ has their own brand of 'wrong' in mind that they intend to inflict on an entire area of black folks in small town Alabama with the development of a huge mining operation.

The SCAC is dead wrong to allow this charade of 'corporate good citizenry' by following the mindset of dirty money for a good cause washes away all sin and the fight for Civil Rights is over.

Not in certain areas of Shelby County it isn't. It never was.

The play is described as "very educational" an opportunity for area high school students to "learn about Civil Rights." We suggest that if the SCAC genuinely wants to educate high school students about the modern day experience of the plight of African Americans in Shelby County, they can start by talking to the residents of the River Loop.

The history of the Civil Rights movement in America is important. We do believe in continuing to educate young people about one of the darkest chapters in our American history after slavery. What we don't believe in is the usurping of a cause by those who would commit current sins against a segment of people they're posturing themselves as caring about.

Environmental racism is the new Civil Rights fight for African American communities and it's a fight they are losing more often than winning. When it comes to corporate and political greed, people of color, often living in lower income communities, are disproportionately and specifically targeted every day in the 21st century.

Landfills, mining operations and other invasive toxic industries are rarely found in white enclaves and suburbia. The worst toxic titans calculatingly and cunningly seek out the areas of perceived least resistance - areas where they think there are disposable segments of populations who are made even more vulnerable by corrupt politicians and officials eager to cash in on clandestine deals entered into out of the public eye.

Backroom deals don't begin to describe what happened in Vincent when the idea of a massive quarry was conceived.

Secret meetings between quarry representatives and local officials took place more than once, in another county, and they were restricted to groups just small enough to barely remain within the parameters the state's poorly written Sunshine law and Open Meetings Act.

County officials were also frequently meeting with those same representatives in their county offices. When records were requested by Vincent residents through FOIA from the county planning department, what came back appeared to be heavily edited.

WRQ even made the bold move of hiring the up-until-recently president of the powerful Shelby County Commission, Lindsey Allison, as their "additional counsel." Ms. Allison's law practice was exclusive to family law. To this day, she has never revealed how much she was compensated by WRQ, and despite more than one ethics violations complaint, the state Ethics Commission determined 'no wrongdoing had occurred.'

When multiple parcels of land were purchased in the area of the River Loop under well-cloaked shell companies, at highly inflated prices, not one inch of dirt belonged to a black resident. Every transaction was between white folks benefiting white folks. 

Otis McCrimmon
WRQ president, Jim Hurley, sent a letter to one of the more well-known residents from the area, Otis McCrimmon, only after millions had been spent by his company securing land. The intention of the letter was thinly veiled and was clearly an attempt to placate and pander to Mr. McCrimmon's justifiable ill feelings towards WRQ's actions. 

Mr. McCrimmon, like most of the folks on the River Loop, likes his life just the way it is. He moved on to family land from the city, and believed that was where he would live out his days, surrounded by kinfolk, and enjoying the peaceful picturesque area of Vincent they call 'home.' For Otis McCrimmon, some things are more valuable in life than money:
Otis McCrimmon, a 68-year-old lifelong Vincent resident, said he's worried about how a 45-acre plot owned by his family would be affected by the quarry.
McCrimmon said his land faces the proposed quarry in two directions.
His land and the land where the quarry plans to put a pair of retention ponds is only separated by a fence. McCrimmon said he was never approached about selling his land for the quarry, and if he had been, he would have likely said no.
Jim Hurley's feeble attempt at damage control was not at all well-received, particularly because it came through a local elected district representative, Vincent City Council member Bridgett Jordan Smith. Mrs. Smith, also a minority, infuriated her citizens by remaining persistently tone-deaf to their pleas for help against the quarry. Her behavior throughout the entire quarry process has been shocking in its arrogance against those she is supposed to 'work for' and 'represent' in local affairs.

Residents in the area consider her to be a sell-out to her 'own' people, and believe that she is acting for personal gain - either in a more powerful elected office and/or access to the monies the quarry will generate for the town. Adding insult to injury is the fact that she is related to some of the families in the area.

By enlisting Smith to deliver the letter, Hurley garnered even more animus from the River Loop residents, who perceived his choice of delivery as pandering to a low denominator - 'you're their black representative you carry the water for me.'

Bridgette Jordan Smith even had the audacity to channel the words of Martin Luther King as justification for a 'yes' vote on the quarry in public just last year. It had all the effect of a fire hose and dogs on her constituents, and brought gasps of shock from quarry opponents.

White Rock's representatives beamed with approval.

Mr. McCrimmon is on record as saying this about Jim Hurley: "In all this time that man has never set foot on my doorstep, never talked to me directly even though his property is right next to mine now."

What's next to Mr. McCrimmon is land that once belonged to the current Mayor Ray McAllister's daughter-in-law and former Vincent Zoning board member Robbie Greene. WRQ bought out the entire Greene family properties, including Robbie's parents parcel, for millions. All of them abruptly made a quick exit to another county.

Ray McAllister then moved from zoning board member to Mayor in the 2008 election.

Thanks to all of these unfortunate events, the entire community has been told to shut up and forced to the back of the bus. City leaders have refused all citizen's requests for one-on-one meetings and a community vote on the project. All of Vincent will have to pay the price of the county and city's 'police state' methods, but no one will suffer more from this forced action than the community of the River Loop.

If they were here today, Rosa Parks and the Durr's most assuredly would not approve of what is happening to Vincent's minority population. They would not believe that the process has been fair, just and non-discriminatory. In fact, we envision this is just the sort of instance all three would have worked to correct if they were called on for help.

What the SCAC is doing, by accepting WRQ's money and sponsorship, especially for a project of this nature, is a slap in the face to the memory of what the Durr's stood for. 

Throwing money behind the right cause from the wrong people is more than hypocritical - it undermines the purity of what is supposed to be good and just. There are numerous organizations in Alabama who could have helped sponsor the Durr endeavor, WRQ should not be one of them. Where is the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and why didn't they get involved?

All of the organizations aligned with the production are giddy with excitement over their idea and probably do believe they are standing on the moral high ground. That said, it's not plausible anyone in Shelby County is unaware of the outcry from the citizens on the River Loop against the 1,000 acre behemoth set to open right in the heart of their community.

No one who can help is listening to them. They're too busy trying to look like they care to take the time to act as if they do.

And they're missing an important lesson in human rights.

If any of them were to ask the River Loop residents how they feel today about what the county, the city and WRQ has done to their lives, they would hear echoes of some familiar words once spoken by the great Rosa Parks: "Why do push us all around and treat us like we're second class citizens?"

There's an education about Civil Rights alive right now in Vincent down on the River Loop, that's different than a stage production of decades ago, but it speaks in similar ways with an impact no put on event ever can.

We challenge the SCAC and all the others involved with this production to go and listen to those voices and learn what it really feels like to be 'black right now' in Shelby County.

So Say We The Opinion Board Of The Vincent Alabama Confidential
Shelby County Arts Council (205) 669-0044
Vulcan Park and Museum (205) 933-1409

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