After 35 years of faculty meetings, most of them resulting in the utter loss of sensation in both my brain and my rear end, I’m pretty accustomed to seeing academics in a more or less perpetual state of high dudgeon. Hence, I managed to contain myself pretty well when I read that leaders of the American Historical Association had written Mayor Shirley Franklin to protest the alleged manhandling and subsequent arrest for jaywalking of Professor Felipe Fernandez-Armesto (currently of Tufts University but formerly of Oxford University) during the AHA's annual meeting in Atlanta. I can no longer remain silent, however, now that the thing has ballooned into an international incident with a variety of Brits warning that Atlanta’s new image as a dynamic international city is likely to give way to its old reputation as a city with “Southern attitudes.” Knowing how dramaticallyand dangerously this comment must have ratcheted up the torque on the already constricted sphincters of the Yankee-fying image-makers who would like to make it illegal even to own a GPS in Atlanta, I feel obliged to try to clarify and hopefully defuse this explosive situation.
A very learned, articulate and sincere sounding fellow indeed, Professor Fernandez-Armesto claims that, as a relative newcomer, he was unaware that jaywalking was against the law here in the States, and you have to admit that it is a very selectively enforced prohibition in these parts Perhaps because I was in Milwaukee when I saw my first and only ticket issued for jaywalking, I always thought that the idea of jaywalking as a crime was a thoroughly Yankee notion, but if it’s going to be taken seriously anywhere below yon Mason-Dixon line, it’s no surprise that Atlanta’s the place. I believe I speak for a lot of southerners of my generation in saying that we view jaywalking not as a crime but as a sport. If anybody wants to jump out there and tiptoe ‘tween the Hummers, then, more power to ‘em. On the other hand, if they aren’t willing to accept the potential consequences of winding up as somebody’s hood ornament or acquiring a few treadmarks somewhere on their torsos then they should have by-God stayed on the sidewalk.

Professor Fernandez-Armesto’s asserts that the Atlanta police are “barbaric, brutal and out of control.” So? Maybe he should have done a little reading about crime and punishment here in the southern quadrant before he came visiting. We have a lot of the former and arguably even more of the latter. The southern states actually dominate the national per capita rankings for both homicides and incarceration of criminals. So you wound up eating a little sidewalk and doing a brief jolt in the pokey. Cheer up! At least nobody tried to kill you.

In the interest of his own safety, I suggest that the good Professor also further his education about this region by spurning those self-important sissy-britches types at the AHA in favor of the much more downhome folks who make up the Southern Historical Association. As a former president of this group who was elevated to that office just a few years after being threatened with arrest at an SHA meeting, I can assure him that had his Atlanta experience occurred at one of our gatherings, he would have little reason for complaint, for he would have immediately become the object of much congratulation and backslapping and achieved what amounted to instant cachet with his new colleagues. It would further enhance his stature as a naturalized southerner, of course, if instead of complaining about his confinement with the “most deprived and depraved dregs of the American underclass,” he declared that he actually got along famously with his cellmates and may have even discovered a couple of long lost third cousins twice-removed while on the inside.

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This page contains a single entry by Jim Cobb published on January 21, 2007 11:12 AM.

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