Huntsville, nestled in the foothills where the Appalachian mountains trail off into flat Alabama farmland, lies a world away from the loamy soil of southern Alabama’s impoverished rural Beltthe Black Belt of Selma, Montgomery and “Bloody Lowndes” fame that birthed the civil rights movement.
Through an unknown Facebook friend, I was added to a “secret” Facebook group of some 2,000-odd folks in northern Alabama, where I live. You can’t join, you have to be referred and vetted as trustworthy. I can’t call out its colorful name (which loosely translates as “Look Out For One Another [LOFOA],” which is the name I will use for this article) because group members must promise never to post or share information outside the group.
On April 27, 2015, Baltimore erupted into what was arguably the worst urban rioting in a major U.S. city since Los Angeles in 1992. Scores of buildings were looted and burned and at one point, so many buildings had been torched that the city ran out of fire equipment to put the fires out and had to summon surrounding county fire departments.
Once you drive out of Huntsville, within 15 minutes you run into deeply rural areas. Open fields, some cultivated, some wild; mobile homes and modest bungalows mix with a growing number of new suburban houses; fortunately, not enoughyetto change the social character of the area. The lanes downsize to two and you see African-American men trudging along in the hot sun.