Leader Blues

Monday, February 16, 2009

EDITIORIAL >> Icy reception for repairmen

Madison County, the rugged mountain county south of Fayetteville through which the beautiful drive known as the Pig Trail traverses, does not make the news very often. Never would suit us better.

The Madison County Record, the sprightly weekly newspaper published at Huntsville, the county seat, broke the news first, but the nature of it guaranteed some national attention. Some 100 workers from Pennsylvania, about a third of them African Americans, came down to help the local electric cooperative restore power after the devastating ice storm last month took down just about every power pole in the county. They worked tirelessly clearing trees and putting up poles and lines in the ice and freezing rain to try to speed power to people.

For their trouble, they were harassed and threatened by roving groups of young men shouting racial epithets and pointing guns at them. The county sheriff said the young men would drive around the work teams waving Rebel flags and cursing the blacks. The workers were frightened enough to contact the sheriff’s office in nearby Washington County.

Madison County is all white.

The last time Madison County made national news was the day after the general election in which Sen. Barack Obama was elected president by a landslide. The owners of the Faubus Motel at Huntsville, named after the Arkansas governor who sent the National Guard to Little Rock Central High School to block nine black children from attending classes in 1957, took down the American flag the morning after the election and put up a Confederate flag. The proprietor said the voters of the United States had abandoned the principles of the nation’s founders in electing Obama.

The Faubus family once owned the motel, but the former governor’s wife, whom he divorced in 1969, sold it in the 1980s and it no longer has any connection with the family. Whatever his historical image, Faubus himself would not have put up a Confederate flag — he counted himself an integrationist and a socialist as a young man — nor would he have condoned the race-baiting.

Madison County deserves better. It has a place of honor in the sad annals of race and bigotry. When the Civil War came and Arkansas debated whether to secede and join the Confederacy, a schoolmaster from Madison County was the lone delegate at the state secession convention to vote to save the union.

The delegates from all the other counties finally whooped secession through, bringing along four of the five holdout delegates from the mountains. They wanted the vote to be unanimous, but Isaac Murphy of Madison County said he would not violate his conscience for the sake of unanimity in a lost and unsavory cause. “I have cast the vote after mature reflection,” he said. He would later be governor and try to repair the ravages of that decision. He brought Arkansas back into the union. His example, alas, seems to have been lost on Madison County.