Alabama Governor Honors State’s First Black Poet

By Jay Reeves, The Associated Press December 1, 2021.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey presents a commendation to the state’s first Black Poet Laureate, Ashley M. Jones, during a ceremony at the Capitol in Montgomery, Ala. On Wednesday, December 1, 2021. Jones, Birmingham professor of creative writing, delves into the pain and difficulty of being black in America. His most recent book is a collection of poems called “Reparations Now!” (AP Photo / Jay Reeves)

MONTGOMERY, Alabama (AP) – Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday recognized the state’s first black poet laureate, a creative writing professor who addresses inequalities and the difficulty of being black in America, in the same building where delegates from the South voted to form Confederation 160 years ago.

Standing in the White Dome Capitol, Republican Ivey presented Ashley M. Jones with a commendation for the honor, bestowed earlier this year by the Alabama Writers Cooperative for a four-year term that begins in January.

“Everyone in this room, and I would add people across the country, are proud of you to have been honored with this well-deserved historical recognition”? ? Ivey told Jones at a ceremony.

As the Poet Laureate, Jones will champion poetry and writing in general at lectures and appearances at schools, libraries and other institutions. “I pledge to make room for all who write”? ? she said.

Jones’ most recent book, released earlier this year, is a collection of poems called “Reparations Now!” “? ? There she writes about reparations not only in terms of money, but in the broader sense of rebuilding a society fractured by generations of racial violence, division and prejudice.

Jones, in an interview, said she believes poetry and history should tell the truth.

“I hope that through my post, I can continue to spread this message and show that when we really face the truth, it’s good for everyone. Hiding things doesn’t help at all. In fact, it hurts more than it helps ”? ? she said.

Jones’ appointment is “revolutionary enough” ?? said Jeanie Thompson, author and executive director of the Alabama Writers Forum.

“She makes a strong statement, but she brings a lot of balance,” ?? Thompson said. “And so I think she will have things to say that people will hear.” ??

Jones’ recent book includes the poem “Reparations Now, Reparations Tomorrow, Reparations Forever”? in which she flies off on the famous “segregation now” ?? inaugural address by four-term Alabama Governor George C. Wallace to talk about the depth of black pain and reflect on what could ever be a balm. He says, in part:

“What, do you think all I want is money?” What, do you think the money can pay back what you stole? Give me some land, give me all the blood you pulled from our backs, from our veins. Give me every broken neck and noose you made to pull the body up.

“Give me the screams you’ve silenced in so many dark and lustful rooms.” Give me the songs you said were yours, but you know they came off our lips first. Give me back Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers. Give me back the beauty of my hair. The swelling of my hips. The bulk of my lips. Give me back the whole Atlantic Ocean. Give me endless blue. And a mule.

Such words are difficult in a conservative state that still tries to remove racist language from a Constitution passed in 1901 to protect the political power of whites. Earlier this year, the GOP-controlled State Board of Education passed a resolution banning the teaching of critical race theory, an academic term that conservative opponents say amounts to making whites feel bad about the racism of past generations.

“We have definitely PROHIBITED critical race theory in Alabama. We focus on teaching our children to read and write, not HATE. Ivey said in a tweet in October.

Jones teaches at the Alabama School of Fine Arts, which she also attended. She said receiving such an honor in a deeply conservative state was gratifying but not very surprising since Alabama’s writing community, like those elsewhere, is generally more progressive than the general population.

“Artists always have a different pulse”? ? she said.