Monday, May 12, 2014

A tale of two (Ozarks) towns

NPR is airing today the first of a two-part series on stasis and change in the Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas.  Frank Morris's story compares Marionville, Missouri, population 2,225, with Eureka Springs, Arkansas, population 2,073.  Marionville is the home of Glenn Miller, the man charged in gunning down three people last month in a hate-crime that targeted Jews in Kansas City.  Eureka Springs, on the other hand, is home to a thriving LGBT community.  (Indeed, Morris doesn't note this, but Eureka Springs was the site of the first gay marriage in Arkansas this past week-end, after a state judge in Little Rock struck down the state's ban on such unions on Friday.)

Here's the lede to Morris's report:
The neo-Nazi charged with killing three people at Jewish centers outside Kansas City last month drove there from his home in the Ozarks, a hilly, rural, largely conservative part of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas with a history of attracting white supremacists.
* * *
"I am not blind to the shortcomings of this area, and I will tell you, as a native, we are still mired in the past," says Nancy Allen, a professor and author in nearby Springfield, Mo. 
Allen says most black residents fled Springfield after three black men were lynched on the town square in 1906. That left it a largely white city in a very white region endowed with a fiercely independent and insular culture. Allen calls it the "code of the hills."
Morris reports that Marionville's residents are divided regarding Miller, as well as the recent forced resignation of the city's mayor following his anti-Semitic comments.  It's a painful portrait of a place and its people--a portrait the represents mostly stasis and bigotry, where some residents express loyalty to Miller despite his heinous crime.  For example, regarding Miller, Frank Morris quotes a man in a "big old pickup truck":  
Yes sir, I knew him, real nice guy. He'd help somebody. He helped me quite a few times. Real nice guy.
Morris contrasts Marionville with Eureka Springs, 60 miles to the South, a "town similar in heritage but culturally on different planet."  Morris interviews Michael Walsh, a longtime resident of the city who says gay culture is very evident here.
Because there are rainbow flags outside of lot of the gay-owned shops. A lot of us are movers and shakers in town.
Eureka Springs, which enjoys a vibrant tourist economy, also hosts three gay pride week-ends each year.  Here, Walsh says, "old ways and new culture coexist."

From this Morris concludes that some parts of the region are "coming to terms with modern American culture in ways that might shock earlier generations. But it's not happening quickly or evenly or without a fight."  Read a related post here.

Meanwhile, in relation to the racial history of the Ozarks, I recently came across a photo of a billboard that went up in in Harrison, Arkansas, last fall.  It said "Anti-Racist is a Code Word for Anti White."  Harrison, about 40 miles from Eureka Springs, is a town long associated with KKK.  How depressing.  

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