When I was a kid back in Arkansas, I used to prank call Orval Faubus. Yes, that Orval Faubus. The same race-baiting southern governor that blocked nine black students from entering Little Rock’s Central High School in 1957. You’ve seen the pictures.
I know what you’re thinking, ‘Brock, just how old are you?” Well, let’s do the math. I was eight or nine at the time. Orval Faubus was long retired—a poor, broken down old man not living that far from us in a strange looking sort of gingerbread-type house with a bald front lawn in our small town just outside of Little Rock. He was also our bank teller for a brief while. I was eight, he was approaching 80. So.
And may be also thinking, ‘Brock, do you feel bad for prank calling an octogenarian ex-governor of your state?’ No, not really. Again, I was an eight year old; and it wasn’t exactly the heyday of my creative prowess. I would mainly let the phone ring, he’d answer, I’d say something stupid like, “is the governah there…” giggle and then hang up.
Lately, there’s been quite a lot of talk about Faubus and his contemporaries, such as unsavory characters like George Wallace and Lester Maddox. Given recent developments in places like Mississippi, North Carolina, and now Tennessee, and the signing of these red-herring religious freedom laws and these idiotic “bathroom bills” as they have come to be known, these comparisons to the southern boogeymen of our history books are quite appropriate.
William Faulkner said when it comes to the American South, the past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past. We are essentially reminded of it everyday, like as a child when Faubus was first pointed out to me counting pennies at a drive-thru bank window. Faubus was once a good man in many ways—a southern progressive, a New Dealer. It wasn’t until later that he sought to retain power by appealing to the lowest common denominator in the state, much like McCrory and Mississippi’s Phil Bryant are doing now. Whatever good these men did while in office in many ways won’t amount to much when it comes to how they play out in history not to mention how they’ll appear in the minds of their neighbors.
The South can be unkind in that way, and history can a bit of an unforgiving bitch as well. And while watching these sorts of laws get enacted across the South may be depressing and disheartening, take comfort in the fact that we will win in the long run. Why are we seeing these sort of laws now? These legislative temper tantrums thrown in places like Mississippi and North Carolina are just straight white males realizing that very soon, they will no longer be in charge. And these recent attempts are more or less just the revenge of evangelicals having to swallow the gay marriage pill last summer. Sooner or later the men that championed them will be an afterthought. Like an old Orval Faubus as he appeared to a small boy—broke, broken, and a shell of man. Sad to see in many ways.
I just hope there’s a little pre-gay kid our there willing to prank call an aged Pat McCrory.
And hopefully that kid will be more creative.