deep south

Louisiana Governor Issues Executive Order Protecting LGBT Rights

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In a rebuke to other southern state governments that have passed anti-discrimination laws in recent weeks, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards signed an executive order April 13 to protect LGBT rights in the workplace, reports The Hill. The executive order overturns former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s own executive order that permitted businesses and government agencies to refuse to serve gay and lesbian couples.

Diet, Exercise, and Temples of the Holy Ghost

Food-related coverage in this issue was supported by ELCA World Hunger (

IS OBESITY a “Southern thing,” like drawling accents, gospel music, and excessive devotion to college football? Well, as a native Southerner, I have to admit that increasingly it looks that way.

Obesity is, of course, a national problem. In 1990, 34 states had obesity rates between 10 and 14 percent, but no state had a 15 percent obesity rate. By 2010 every state in the country was more than 20 percent obese.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as of 2010 there were 12 states with obesity rates of more than 30 percent. All but one of them are in the South, and that one exception—Michigan—may blame its problem on the many Southern migrants it received during the 1950s and ’60s. And the closer you look, the worse the picture gets. The highest concentrations of obesity were found in six states: Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina in the Deep South, and the largely Appalachian states of Kentucky and West Virginia.

The causes of obesity are the same for everyone. You eat too much, you don’t get enough exercise, and you become obese. But why do people eat too much and move too little? As for any human behavior, the causes are complex and ambiguous, but the timing of the obesity outbreak suggests some answers. The upward trend in obesity began in the 1980s and ’90s, when cable TV became widespread in American households, encouraging a couch-potato lifestyle. This was also when the two-income family became the norm. With both parents working full-time, home-cooked meals were often replaced by fat-laden fast-food dinners washed down with giant servings of sugary soda pop. In the subsequent two decades, both of these trends accelerated, with widespread internet access making physical activity even rarer.

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There Was a Tree in Starksville...

Southwest Georgia is where Lee, Terrell, Dougherty, Schley, and Sumter counties rub up against each other in the Flint River basin, and where creeks with names like Kinchafoonee and Muckalee snake through and spill over, as the water heads south.

The face of the land when I got there was slow, small hills and fields of cotton, peanuts, and corn; turpentine mills and piney woods; the clay a red juice in rain, red dust in hard sun. This is where Otis Redding came from, and Bernice Johnson Reagon, founder of Sweet Honey in the Rock. It’s where Jimmy Carter was raised, and where, during World War II, a white country preacher and his wife established Koinonia, an interracial, radical Christian farm.

This was also the home of the Albany Movement in the early 1960—the first mass movement of the civil rights era to have desegregation of an entire community as its goal—and the starting ground of the international affordable-housing program Habitat for Humanity. And, many years before, it was where my great-grandmother, Mariah Grant, arrived from Florida—with the children she could keep—and settled, at the end of slavery, in a town called Leesburg.

My parents, Dock and Ella, were born there—and left. They left with most of my aunts and uncles, all of my older brothers and sisters, my maternal grandparents, and a generation of my cousins. Almost everybody who could go, it seems, did go north: to Philadelphia, New York, Detroit, and, for most of my family, Chicago. I was born at the end of that journey. My sister Norma and I were the first of the Northern generation of Freeneys. And while cousins and friends from Georgia visited us throughout my Illinois childhood, none of my relatives went back South until the 1960s. I was the first to return.

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Tavis Smiley and Cornel West's 'Poverty Tour'

Broadcaster Tavis Smiley and Princeton professor Cornel West just wrapped up their 18-city "Poverty Tour." The aim of their trip, which traversed through Wisconsin, Detroit, Washington, D.C., and the Deep South was to "highlight the plight of the poor people of all races, colors, and creeds so they will not be forgotten, ignored, or rendered invisible." Although the trip has been met with a fair amount of criticism, the issue of poverty's invisibility in American media and politics is unmistakable. The community organizations working tirelessly to help America's poor deserve a great deal more attention than what is being given.

The main attack against the "Poverty Tour" is Smiley and West's criticism of Obama's weak efforts to tackle poverty. For me though, what I would have liked to see more is the collection of stories and experiences from the people West and Smiley met along their trip. The act of collective storytelling in and of itself can be an act of resistance.