Comer Needs to Be a Goner on Campuses

(UPDATED June 17, 2020, to include information on Comer’s role in Eufaula racist violence and giving the specific quote about the 1908 miners strike.)

Auburn and Tuscaloosa might not agree on much beyond the state’s pitiful support of higher education, but here is something behind which both campuses can unite:

The name “Braxton Bragg Comer” needs to be removed from buildings on both campuses.

At Auburn, Comer Hall houses the College of Agriculture, which is so central to our land-grant mission.  It is situated atop a hill across from the library deck. A parking lot marks the hillside where cows used to graze.

At Alabama, B.B. Comer Hall houses several programs related to global studies — both international students and study abroad programs (not to be confused with H.M. Comer Hall, named for Braxton’s son, Hugh, which houses the College of Engineering).

Braxton Bragg Comer was governor of Alabama from 1907 to 1911 and was appointed to the U.S. Senate briefly in 1920.

Some state leaders tried to resist the racial hate of the period and build a better state.  Comer was a racist who exploited free black labor in the post-slavery era and improved the educational choices for white residents only.

He made a bad situation worse to the degradation of a race, a state and his reputation.

He started early, soon after he married and moved to Barbour County to oversee Spring Hill, the family plantation. In 1874, according to this excellent article by Safiya Charles, a white mob attacked a group of African Americans who were trying to vote. Ultimately, six of the voters were killed, some were arrested, and the rest fled.

Hilliard Miles, an African American man, named Comer as one of the attackers. Miles, however, was the one arrested and charged with perjury.

Comer’s family also benefited from the horrific “leased convict” system, where counties would lease mainly African-American convicts to mines and mills as slave labor, with the county benefiting financially from the arrangement.

Comer’s brother, J.W., operated the Eureka mines in Shelby County, where the convicts were not only overworked but also tortured, often by J.W. Comer himself, as Douglas Blackmon noted in his book, Slavery by Another Name.

States across the South were doing away with the system, but it perpetuated in Alabama, clearly under the protection of Comer’s governorship, until David Bibb Graves did away with it, almost immediately after being elected governor in 1927.

Some call Comer a “progressive” for increasing funding to education during his term as governor, but that does not give the whole story.

Comer did increase funding for both urban and rural schools — for white students.  Schools educating African-American students remained under-funded; some estimated the ratio as high as 7-to-1. Separate but hardly equal.

This is not surprising, because Comer was not merely a man trying to make the best within a racist system.  He promoted and enhanced that system with his policies and philosophies, as noted above.

Comer was perhaps at his race-baiting worst during a 1908 strike by the racially integrated United Mine Workers against Alabama coal operators.  The mine operators worked with state officials and (sadly) newspapers to convince white citizens that a successful strike would cause an uprising by African-American miners.

Comer told the union president, “You know what it means to have eight or nine thousand <n-words> idle in the State of Alabama, and I’m not going to stand for it.” (The quote is from Steven Diner’s book, A Very Different Age: Americans of the Progressive Era, p. 136.)

At this point, let me say: I do not advocate the wholesale cancellation of all white males of the era.  A few years ago, I wrote a column about William Broun, Auburn president from 1882-1902.

Broun married into a slaveholding family, but the record shows a more respectful relationship; the slaves remained with the family as paid workers after they were freed.

Comer, on the other hand, showed an embracing and promotion of a racist pathology that continues to shame the state. He embraced the racial hatred that marked the Jim Crow era and used it to his financial and political benefit.

To continue to honor his legacy at two of the state’s most well-known institutions of higher learning brings particular shame to them as well.

If the performing arts center had not been named for Dr. Jay Gogue, I would have suggested that he be honored by the renaming of Comer Hall.

What Alabama does on their campus is their concern. But certainly, Auburn University can find a more appropriate person to honor than Braxton Bragg Comer.

 

Let’s Bring More Cliches to the Table

Some folks like shopping for antiques or shoes. I like shopping for cliches.

Down below is my latest updated collection.

As I explain to my students, they might not have written the phrases below yet, but I have read them too much, so they lose out.

Where do these come from? Others’ online lists, articles I’ve read (both from pros and unintentional students). And I present the updated list from time to time.

I tell my students that they, like the rest of us, have to rewrite these phrases when they pop up. Maybe we can update them into something new and fresh. Our readers deserve that better than anything stale and dry as these:

110 percent

a lot to learn
and [name] is no exception
archrival
at first glance
at the end of the day

backs against the wall
become the best they can be
become the man he is today
blazing (when used with “speed”)
blink of an eye
bodes well

brings to the table
brought their A-game

came to play
capped off a comeback
carried the load
cautiously optimistic
choice words
Christmas came early
closely watched
control their own destiny
cooler heads prevailed

the determination in their eyes
did not shy away from
double down

electrified the crowd
emerged victorious
(athlete’s name) era
eye-popping

familiar face
fat lady singing references (tacky and offensive anyway)
find their groove/rhythm
(like a) finely tuned machine
follow in [someone’s] footsteps
a force to be reckoned with
found their stride
from start to finish

generate offense
going forward
grizzled/seasoned veteran (how does one grizzle?)
growing pains
gut wrenching (seems like the gut is always getting wrenched)

had their eyes opened
hardware (for championships)
has a knack for
he has my back
high ceiling, high motor
high hopes
hit the nail on the head
hope filled the air
hotly contested

icing on the cake
iconic
in (someone’s) book
in large part
in their rear-view mirror

keep up the pace
keep your eye on

left a bitter taste in their mouth
light up the stat sheet
like to have that one back
locked and loaded

made a statement (unless someone is speaking)
marquee matchup
mass of contradictions
much to smile about
must-win

the new normal — thanks, COVID
(this was) no exception
no laughing matter
(someone is) not the only one who …
not your father’s [whatever]

offensive barrage
on a high note
on thin ice
one game at a time

play ball
plenty of blame to go around
plenty to be happy about
points on the board

ran out of time
reality check
rests on his shoulders
rise to the challenge
run through a brick wall

scraped together
sealed the deal
shaken to the core
shined on the court/field
sheepish grin
shore up
showdown (especially following “Top 10”)
shy away from
silence the doubters
sky’s the limit
slammed the door (used in game reports)
sparkplug
stand tall
started out of the gate
step up
storied
stout (defense, usually)

taken its toll
taking [whatever] by storm
tipping point
trials and tribulations
turned a blind eye

under their belts
unlikely hero
upside (usually modified by “tremendous”)

welcome with open arms
when asked about
with a grain of salt
the world we live in

Think About Jalen

jalenLast night, I got into a Twitter back-and-forth with Cecil Hurt of the Tuscaloosa News after I tweeted my disapproval of reporting related to Alabama QB Jalen Hurts’ registering with the NCAA Transfer Portal.

I won’t go into debate details. Hurt was defending his and others’ reporting; I was showing my usual insufferable self-righteousness. By the end of the discussion, some were praising our restraint in debate, though both of us might confess to being more ticked off with the other than we were showing, at least early on.

In retrospect, I wish I had not focused on myself and my actions as much. I wish that I had talked more about Jalen Hurts–because that’s the point. In this case, Jalen Hurts as a 20-year-old college student seems to be forgotten.

Ironically, Hurts’ problems started when his name entered the NCAA Transfer Portal. The NCAA set up the portal to give student-athletes more control over the transfer process and to prevent schools from blocking student-athlete transfers, according to this NCAA handout.

The student-athlete contacts the athletics department compliance office, and a staff member there enters the name into the portal. The portal is not a public database; it is an NCAA resource.

College coaches and administrative staff are encouraged by the NCAA to keep portal information confidential. It’s not just a matter of academic privacy. Given the recent legalization of sports betting, such information can be valuable, financially speaking, so it’s another area of possible abuse.

After Hurts’ name was entered, at least one person–either an administrator or a coach–ignored the NCAA’s cautions and leaked Hurts’ name to the media. Former Georgia QB Justin Fields faced similar treatment when he registered to the portal in mid-December.

Back to Hurts. Unlike other CFB players, he did not announce his intention to transfer; I would infer that his preference was to not publicly discuss it. The individuals who leaked it were not identified by name, though some sports journalists (such as Cecil Hurt himself) did report that the individual was a source with administrative access to the database, which is helpful background.

That way, we knew that it was not Hurts himself or a family member/friend who leaked the info. That reinforced the inference that Hurts desired privacy for his decision.

John Infante, who tweets frequently on NCAA-related issues, wondered on Twitter whether an attorney would “start a cottage practice of aggressively going after these leakers for FERPA violations, just to stop these stories.” He was commenting specifically on a tweet about Hurts.

Given the media attention given to the transfer portal (along with numerous sci-fi memes), I had thought the portal was public knowledge. Thanks to Infante, I realize that the portal is in fact an internal NCAA database created to help the athletes.

I don’t know if leaking transfer portal information would rise to the level of a FERPA offense. In practice, however, the result is the same. An academic process for a student-athlete becomes public information, because someone leaks it.

And once again, yet another aspect of student-athlete involvement is misused by NCAA coaches and administrators, hurting student-athletes in the process.

True, a transfer is an athletic issue, but it is also an academic process, despite condescending skepticism toward student-athletes–particularly college football players–where academics are concerned.

No doubt Jalen Hurts was disappointed in how his athletic career was working out at Alabama. He had dreams and hopes yet to attain. He didn’t publicly complain; instead he started looking elsewhere using an NCAA database intended to be private.

Because he is a former starting quarterback at a CFB dynasty, instead of a typical student looking to move, open season is declared on his privacy. Fans want to know, and sports media professionals would love to tell them.

And when an athletics coach or staff member, with whatever motivation, leaks the information, it becomes another problem for Hurts to deal with as he makes an important decision.

As a journalism faculty member, I get it. As a journalism faculty member, I look out for students, athlete or non-athlete.

I spent three years as a faculty representative on Auburn’s athletics committee, roughly from Cam to Kick Six. I saw aggregate drug test results and annual APR numbers and heard about upcoming news. I never told any sports journalist friend about what I learned.

In a similar vein, when I see a student-athlete treated as a means to an end, the end being reader interest, rather than an end in himself, I should say something regardless of the school involved.

As with any leak, in Washington or on the NCAA Transfer Portal, it’s not the media’s responsibility to stop the leaks. In this case, it’s the NCAA’s responsibility. But as I stated earlier, the NCAA seems more interested in restricting student-athletes and less interested in curbing anything related to coaches and staff members.

Am I saying media outlets should decline to pursue such news out of respect for Hurts’ privacy? On one level, it sounds great to think that an outlet would let others do the dirty work and announce Hurts’ transfer only when he did.

But that’s anathema to any journalist. And what about the readers? They pay lip service to lofty principles, but would they support a media outlet that publicly stated its unwillingness to print such information?

Expect the process to continue. Some leak. Others then report. Many others then read or view. And somewhere in that process is a 20-year-old young man, whose athletic talent has cost him his privacy as he navigates life’s tough decisions, academic and personal.

At least think about him.