Legend has it that the Alabamians who first settled in Carbon Hill wanted the new place to be called “The Village of Love and Luck,” the luck being a Scottish reference to coal, not a naughty indictment of Walker County romance.
It’s a small place, this Carbon Hill — smaller than Weaver, bigger than Ohatchee, but not by much. It’s been struck by too many tornadoes. Wimp Sanderson coached basketball at its high school. I got an Easter morning speeding ticket there a few decades ago. Cue the tears.
And now the mayor, Mark Chambers, has earned that tiny west Alabama town headlines like this:
“‘Kill the problem’: Alabama mayor sorry for Facebook post accused of ‘inciting violence’ against gays,” in The Washington Post.
“Chambers apologizes for 'killing' post but won't resign,” in The (Jasper) Daily Mountain Eagle.
“Alabama mayor suggested 'killing out' gay people,” in the BBC.
Put another way, Carbon Hill made the news in England.
Truth is, it’s been a rough few weeks for Carbon Hill, and it’s Chambers’ fault. Totally. All because he recently wrote on Facebook that gays, lesbians, transgenders, supporters of abortion rights and socialists are societal curses worthy of extreme violence.
The Village of Love and Luck needs bit of both right now.
“We live in a society,” Chambers wrote, “where homosexuals lecture us on morals, transvestites lecture us on human biology, baby killers lecture us on human rights and socialists lecture us on economics.” A commenter on Chambers’ Facebook page suggested a “revolution” as a solution.
Chambers bit, but he shouldn’t have.
“The only way to change it would be to kill the problem out,” the mayor wrote. “I know it’s bad to say, but without killing them out there’s no way to fix it.”
If only the headlines were the sole problem.
The town council is split over whether Chambers should resign. Chambers has apologized — “There are not enough words for me to express how much (I) regret making that comment” — but he isn’t stepping down.
Over at Carbon Hill’s First Baptist Church, the Rev. Scott McCullar is urging the mayor to resign, and the local paper has reported that the church received a phoned-in threat from someone saying, “Mark Chambers wants all the gay people to be executed. So all the intelligent people want your (expletive) church to burn down. See how that works? Until it is illegal to be in possession of a sentiment, I hope you get (expletive) cancer and die in a fire."
Chambers isn’t even a member of First Baptist. But that’s how these things work. When mayors go off the rails — or presidents or governors or council members — others get caught in the fray. On that, Anniston and Alabama nod in agreement.
When the Klan burned the Greyhound bus full of Freedom Riders in 1961, the world saw Anniston through one infamous image.
When George Wallace stood in the doorway at Foster Auditorium, it reaffirmed many Americans’ beliefs that our state was exclusionary, bigoted and inhumane.
When PCBs pollution and the Army’s leaking chemical weapons threatened the city’s future, headlines turned Anniston into a literal toxic city, its residents’ health at great risk.
When state lawmakers passed xenophobic and discriminatory legislation — legislation against immigrants, legislation against women’s reproductive rights — easy it became for Americans to view all of Alabama through the same lens of contempt, as wrong as that is.
And when select members of the City Council, current and past, have slid down rabbit holes of insanity, Anniston’s reputation has suffered, the melodrama and hubris of a few hurting the many.
Bless his heart, but Carbon Hill’s mayor wants Alabamians to believe that his online rant about “the only way to change it would be to kill the problem out” was somehow taken out of context. What was it, then? A joke? A euphemism? Who doesn’t suggest the extermination of minorities and political groups? Seriously, bless his heart.
In time, this 15 minutes of hellish fame will dissipate in Walker County and Carbon Hill will regain its small-town routines. There’s only so much outrage this story can engender. But there is a lesson therein: Vet the people we elect. Vet them hard. When things go south, their words and deeds bleed on us all, innocent as we may be.