Saturday, February 6, 2010

Faulkner's home town goes "wet"

That means it will soon be legal to buy beer and wine coolers in New Albany, Mississippi, population 7,607. Wine and liquor will still not be allowed. Read the New York Times report here. New Albany is in Union County, which is contiguous with Lafayette County, the home of Oxford and Ole Miss. William Faulkner was born in New Albany, but his family soon moved to Oxford, where he once campaigned unsuccessfully for Lafayette County to go wet.

The NYT story explains that about a third of Mississippi counties are still "dry," and it also notes the significant role of religion in local battles like this. Here's an excerpt.

“Union County has always pretty much had the reputation of being the wettest dry county in the state,” said William O. Rutledge III, a lawyer who tried to overturn the liquor ban more than three decades ago, when he owned one of New Albany’s newspapers.

It was Mr. Rutledge’s 25-year-old son, Logan, a hospitality-management major from the University of Mississippi in Oxford, who led the fight for the beer ordinance.

The main argument for the pro-beer forces, New Albany Citizens for Progress, was along the maxim attributed to Faulkner that civilization begins with distillation: the city, whose population is about 8,000, would never grow without nice restaurants, and nice restaurants would never arrive if they could not serve alcohol.

I grew up in a dry county in Arkansas--and it's still a dry county, but I remember how divisive this issue was the one time it was raised in any serious way during my childhood. A "newcomer" who advocated for a vote on the wet-dry issue was depicted as a heathen, even though she was a pianist at a local church.

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