During the 1960s, comedian Flip Wilson did a routine about Christopher Columbus discovering the New World. But which asset of the New World is the selling point? The comic had a different take.
In his nightclub act, Flip would imagine Columbus going before Queen Isabella Jones of Spain to ask her to fund his voyage. It went something like this:
“If I don’t discover America, there won’t be a Benjamin Franklin or ‘Star-Spangled Banner,’ Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave and no Ray Charles.”
When the queen heard “no Ray Charles,” she panicked.
The queen snapped her finger and said, “Ray Charles! You gonna find Ray Charles! Is he in America?”
Chris said, “Sure, that’s where all those records come from.”
The queen then went running through the halls of the castle screaming, “Chris gonna find Ray Charles, honey! He’s going to America on that boat.”
It’s all in how you define a place. Which brings us to the last four weeks leading up to the Dec. 12 U.S. Senate election in Alabama pitting Roy Moore against Doug Jones. Allegations that candidate Roy Moore aggressively pursued teenage girls when he was in his 30s have been big news here and across the country.
Whether you believe the numerous accusers or Moore’s blanket denials of the charges, there’s little doubt Alabama’s reputation is getting dragged through the mud. Again.
If Moore is elected, expect more PR damage, including (a.) an ugly fight in the Senate over whether he will be seated and (b.) threats to boycott the state. It’s quite likely that selling Alabama as a place to vacation, locate a business, get an education or move to will become more difficult.
To counter the bad press, we should note Flip Wilson’s routine and find Alabama versions of Ray Charles that we can project to the nation and the world.
Here’s a short list of candidates:
FOOTBALL: In another context, the state’s obsession with college football would be seen as a liability, a pastime that distracts us from focusing on other priorities. Yet nothing succeeds like success, and Alabama, Auburn and Jacksonville State stand out as programs that consistently perform well on the gridiron.
OUTDOORS: Alabama’s natural beauty offers so much to sell to the rest of the country. Looking for a place to hike, recline along an ocean front, pedal a mountain bike, paddle a boat, fish for largemouth bass or hunt for a big buck deer? We’ve got you covered.
MEDICAL TRAINING: The UAB School of Medicine has a well-deserved international reputation as a great place to receive an education.
CIVIL RIGHTS TRAIL: Visitors can make their way across the state visiting landmarks in African-Americans’ struggle to gain full citizenship, including the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge, Montgomery’s Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, the National Museum of the Tuskegee Airmen and Anniston’s Freedom Riders National Monument.
OUR EXPORTS: Consider just a few of the bold-faced names who grew up in Alabama: former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, acclaimed scientist E.O. Wilson, football and baseball star Bo Jackson, Apple CEO Tim Cook, baseball legend Hank Aaron and U.S. Rep. John Lewis. These living legends and others in sports, business, entertainment and the arts should consider a joint effort to tell a story of their home state that extends far beyond the sordid allegations that have dominated the news in recent weeks.