River was lovely, but not roads

STANTON HALL in Natchez, Miss. (OC Tribune photo).

We’re back from our spring hiatus that took The Tribune staff for a cruise down the Mississippi River from Memphis to New Orleans and – other than lots of really good (and too much) food on the American Countess boat – a couple of interconnected impressions emerged strongly from the journey.

The first one is that many parts of that Southland that we saw were somewhat, well, impoverished, compared to Southern California. Once you got out of the big cities, such as Memphis and Nawlins, there was a vast panorama of empty land, narrow asphalt roads, rundown buildings and more, all the legacy of a region still struggling to overcome its past.

A century and a half after the freeing of the slaves and more than a half-century after the end of Jim Crow segregation, much of the old Confederacy lags behind the rest of the nation in literacy, high school test scores, college attendance and graduation and is at the top in teenage pregnancy, heart disease, obesity and more.

A society long built on immense wealth for the few and harsh toil for the rest – white and Black – has left the legacy of a region which in some ways is limping along trying to catch up with the rest of the nation while looking back at its past.

In Natchez, Mississippi, we visited Stanton Hall, a gorgeous and impressive mansion which is the capstone of a financial empire built on the forced labor of 700 slaves. The impact of an essentially free work force undercut the economic value of wages for everybody else, and many of  the effects of those traditions remain stubbornly in place.

Californians like to complain about the gasoline tax they pay at the pump, but the road network outside the big cities in the South is pretty shabby. Many areas in what would be considered middle class neighborhoods there lack curbs, gutters, sidewalks and storm drains.

I’d rather pay an extra buck a gallon for my Golden State unleaded than have to navigate roads that haven’t improved that much since Sherman marched through Georgia.

To sum up, the price is often high for living cheap.

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