The Ballad of Little River
A Tale of Race and Restless Youth in the Rural South
By Paul Hemphill
(Free Press, Hardcover, 9780684856827, 256pp.)
Publication Date: May 1, 2000
List Price: $25.00*
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"The Ballad of Little River" is a narrative of that fateful year, an anatomy of one of the many church arsons across the South in the late 1990s. It is also much more -- a biography of a place that seemed, on the cusp of the millennium, stuck in another time. When veteran journalist Paul Hemphill, the son of an Alabama truck driver who has written extensively on the blue-collar South, moved into Little River, he discovered the flip side of what the natives like to call "God's country": a dot on the map far from the mainstream of American life, a forlorn cluster of poverty and ignorance and dead-end jobs in the dark, snake-infested forests, a world that time forgot.
Living alongside the citizens of Little River, Hemphill discovered a stew of characters right out of fiction -- "Peanut" Ferguson, "Doll" Boone, "Hoss" Mack, Joe Dees, Murray January, a Klansman named "Brother Phil," and his stripper wife known as "WildChild" -- swirling into a maelstrom of insufferable heat, malicious gossip, ancient grudges, and unresolved racial animosities. His story of how their lives intertwined serves, as well, as a chilling cautionary tale about the price that must be paid for living in virtual isolation during a time of unprecedented growth in America. God's country is in deep trouble.