A state with Alabama’s ugly racial history and vote suppression legacy should try hard to act like it’s better than that now. But our state government has made Alabama appear to the world as if we aren’t even trying. Looking at the implications of closing driver’s license offices in the Black Belt, we don’t buy the promises to mitigate the ill effects with other governmental remedy. We don’t buy the claims that race and poverty have nothing to do with this. But even if they were valid, the damage to Alabama’s image and reputation is as undeniable as it was foreseeable and avoidable. What’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong, and this is wrong on the facts. It’s also wrong because the economic damage done to Alabama — tourists who will bypass us, investors and job creators who will go elsewhere to avoid the taint — more than offsets the claimed benefit, the dubious economic argument that lies behind these decisions.
Alabamians can say all they want that the Black Belt is named for its soil, not its citizens. Booker T. Washington said 100 years ago that it was both, the rich soil being why blacks were brought there — mostly as slaves. What persuaded him persuades us. And it is certainly how Alabama’s leaders and citizens and anyone else who cares to think about it should know the Black Belt is seen by others, as they should have known how these decisions would be perceived elsewhere in America and internationally.
Alabama, we’ve been heard around the world. And once again the tone and tenor of our message says that we do not care about black citizens’ rights and freedoms.
We know this: Alabama is one of 17 states that require photo identification to vote. The state closed driver’s license offices in 11 Black Belt counties. Eight of the 10 counties across the state with the highest percentage of non-white voters, including Wilcox County — one of the poorest counties in America — lost their offices.