Seeing the headline — "A JOYLESS STATE" — I immediately figured Gary was poking fun at where I live, for surely (I concluded from the headline) this has to be about Alabama.
I mean, going back to 1909 and beyond, the folks who govern this state have a well deserved reputation for sucking the joy outta just about everything someone suspects might be fun.
Why only a few years before the Tampa Tribune piece appeared, Alabama legislators had proven to the state and nation that they could joy-suck with the best of 'em. Although our leaders thought everything would be fine forever once they had written a Constitution that made the state safe for rich white men — the Constitution we still have, in case you forgot — the men of Montgomery found themselves after that noble work was done besieged by a bunch of tish-tish moralists who wanted the state to shut down saloons that were becoming, in effect, poor men's social clubs.
Sure wouldn't want the common herd to enjoy a beer at a bar after a 12-hour shift in the mill or the mine, would we?
But a simple "shut-'em-down" solution would mean a loss of the revenue that was making up for the property tax break legislators had given folks who owned property — rich white men, mostly.
Oh, what to do, what to do?
So Alabama went into the liquor business.
Yessir, all over our fair land, the state opened dispensaries — today's ABC store. Saloons couldn't compete, went out of business, and convivial drinkers were left with what the Montgomery Advertiser described as "a cold, crude, repellent atmosphere . . . stripped of tinsel and glamour — no mirrors, no shining counters, no brass rods, no tables and no chairs filled with good fellows."
Then I read past the headline and discovered that the "joyless state" was not Alabama, it was Georgia.
Yessir, back in 1909 — 100 years ago — word had reached as far south as Tampa that Georgia legislators were introducing "numerous freak bills" that were clearly designed "to deprive the people of their pleasures and liberties."
These bills included the "prohibitive taxation" of soft drinks, cigars, tobacco and automobiles, not to mention "billiards and pool" and the "social clubs" where those entertainments were enjoyed.
At the rate it was going, Georgia (according to the clipping) was about to "resolve itself into an earthly hell," a state that "would cease to attract the traveler or the settler."
Now there could be an upside to this. With 20/20 hindsight I can see the health benefits of "prohibitive taxation of cigars and tobacco," and the "prohibitive taxation of automobiles" would solve Atlanta's traffic problems once and for all. If Georgia had levied a "prohibitive taxation on soft drinks," then Coca-Cola, which was just getting started, might have moved to Birmingham. Wouldn't that have been swell? And if all these "freak bills" had persuaded settlers not to settle, there would be no water war today.
As for the pool halls, billiard parlors and "social clubs," it seems to me that the Peach State was only trying to do what Alabama had attempted with the state liquor-store system — lower the level of fun common folk can have.
But there's more. One Georgia representative rose in moral indignation and introduced a measure that prohibited "women riding astride."
Yessir, there were those in that august body who did not think a woman should mount a horse with one leg on one side and the other leg on the other side and ride off into the sunset — especially if she enjoyed the experience. Or a man enjoyed watching her.
However, Georgians were about to rebel. According to the article, citizens were fed up with the "cranks and crankessess" of recent years, and the state's "sane and sensible people are crying out for relief from their intolerable rule."
Yessir. The Tribune writer had gotten word that "the next time the voters of Georgia have an opportunity of expressing themselves at the polls, some long-haired and narrow-brained fellows up there will find themselves out of a job."
And that is what happened, for today in Georgia joy abounds. Over there you can get soft drinks, cigars and tobacco, and just about everybody seems to have an automobile; there are social clubs a plenty, where you can play billiards and shoot pool, and rumor has it that there are no limitations on women riding astride.
Now see what a good legislative house cleaning can accomplish?
Just thought I'd give you something to think about.
Harvey H. ("Hardy") Jackson is Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and editorial writer for The Star. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.