Sitting pretty in Suffolk

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 25, 2005

We all get a little irritated at our community from time to time. For those of us who live here – or anywhere for that matter – it’s easy to spot our shortcomings and to dwell too much on the negative.

Often, however, all it takes is a brief visit somewhere to cause you to see your community in a fresh light and realize, &uot;you know, we’ve got a pretty good thing going here.&uot;

Such was the case with me this week. I left town on Tuesday to work for a few days at one of our sister newspapers in Demopolis, Ala. (My absence does not absolve me from ultimate responsibility for what Mr. Fisher wrote above, though I believe the description of my mortal soul to be a tad harsh. My dog likes me). I love Alabama and lived there for a brief period in the 1980s. Friendly, laid back folks, though it was a little warm for my wife’s tastes.

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And, again with a nod to Mr. Fisher above, it didn’t even bother that every television, from those in the airport, to the hotel lobby and even the gym where I walked on the treadmill was tuned to Fox News.

Demopolis is a quaint little community of about 6,500 located at the juncture of Highways 43 and 80, between Selma and…well, basically, nothing. It’s in the heart of an area known as the &uot;Black Belt.&uot;

The Black Belt is a collection of about a dozen or so counties in central/west Alabama that have a standard of living that would fall somewhere in the world rankings between Huntersville and Fallujah. Seriously, it is among the poorest areas in the United States.

The institute of Rural Health Research describes it as follows: The Alabama Black Belt extends from Mississippi’s border through the heart of the state. From DeSoto’s meeting with Tuskaloosa to the birth of the Confederacy and the civil rights struggles of the mid-twentieth century, it was here that some of Alabama’s most significant historical events occurred. It is an area rich in cultural traditions and the strength of its people. Unfortunately, however, it is also an area in dire need, confronted with economic stagnation, declining population, and insufficient health care and schools.

Demopolis, Greek for city of the people,

itself seems to be doing OK, although a large employer, a lumber company, did close its doors a couple weeks ago I’m told, leaving many more Black Belters without gainful employment.

Interestingly, according to literature I found in Demopolis’ Holiday Inn Express, the community was founded in the 1830s. Some French aristocrats, Napoleon loyalists, were banished by King Louis XVIII and granted some land in Alabama where they attempted to plant a colony based on the production of olives and wine. The olive trees didn’t do well and the subtropical climate got the better of the Frenchies and they died or fled. A few olive trees can still be found there.

I thought it was interesting, anyway.

Driving back to the Birmingham airport Thursday afternoon through about three other beleaguered Black Belt counties, I couldn’t help but feel sad for those people and think about how fortunate we are to be in Suffolk and how petty our problems are by comparison.

We’re in a dither over who should be doing road maintenance. In some places in the Black Belt, paved roads, even those with potholes, would be a luxury. Our downtown area is booming with new shops and restaurants moving in. There, they are moving out and have been for years. We fight over where to put $40 million schools and how they can best be leveraged to benefit the entire community. Their dilapidated schools are crumbling around the kids. I could go on.

My point, I guess, is that Suffolk has its problems, but they pale in comparison to the problems with which many of our countrymen have to contend. When you get down to it, our &uot;problems&uot; in Suffolk are rather trivial and need to be put into perspective.

And from the perspective of the Alabama Black Belt, we’re sitting pretty.

Andy Prutsok is editor and publisher of the News-Herald. He can be reached at 934-9611, or via email at