“Sweet Home Alabama” – Jamaicans living in the “Deep South”

I am always a bit amused at the reaction when I tell Jamaicans I live in Alabama. Most times it is a very puzzled “why?” or “aren’t you scared to live there.” It would seem the history of segregation in the south and the region’s reputation of being country and backwards still looms large in the psyche of many Jamaicans. Recent events in Jena, Louisiana has only served to underscore what many people already think of the deep south and although Atlanta, Georgia was once also part of the Confederacy, somehow Alabama in particular, has not been able to shake it’s reputation.

My first encounter with Alabama was back in 1974 and since then I have lived on and off in the state for almost 30 years, until finally making my most recent move back in 2005 at the insistence of my daughters both of whom live here.

So how do I feel about living in Alabama? Well first I must tell you that Alabama is a study in contrasts. It is a beautiful state, very green with lots of rolling hills. On my way home, for example, depending on the road I take, I can drive past fields with horses, a few cows and yes even a couple of goats; yet 20 minutes down the road in Birmingham is where I saw the likes of jazz legends Nancy Wilson and Ramsey Lewis in concert, the Alvin Ailey Dance Group and most recently Angela Davis.

U.S. News and World Report have ranked the University of Alabama, Birmingham Health Systems where I work, among the best hospitals for the 16th consecutive year. Add to this the fact that the Mayor of Birmingham and the Democratic Congressional Representative Artur Davis are black and you soon understand that many of the stereotypes just don’t apply anymore and that Alabama is a well-kept secret.

In essence I could compare my life here to working in Kingston but living in Port Antonio, because I can work in the city, but live in the country, which is my personal preference. And although my friends in Atlanta have given my town the unofficial name of “Possum Stump” I’m even learning to enjoy feeding the wild birds that flock to my deck.

I might add also that having just moved here from South Florida, the fact that the cost of living is significantly cheaper was most welcome. While houses are affordable, however, one should not get the idea that there are not areas here with luxury homes that rival any in Atlanta or Fort Lauderdale.

In spite of all that, the stigma of living in Alabama will still remain in the minds of some of our people who see New York, Atlanta and Florida as the desired places to live in the United States. With that in mind over the next few months I will be introducing you to some Jamaicans like myself, who have broken the mold and have made Alabama their home, we will find out how and why they made the decision to move here and how they have found life in the deep south.

Pauline Ford-Caesar is a Communications Consultant with Strategic Security Planners Ltd.

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Pauline Ford-Caesar