Cultural Considerations; Rolling Through Dixie Land - Seeking A Bicycle Warrior's Death, Part II: The Great Rivers South - CycleBlaze

Cultural Considerations; Rolling Through Dixie Land

"Thank God For Mississippi So We Aren't Last in Everything" (common Oklahoma saying)

"The best way to keep a prisoner from escaping is to make sure he never knows he's in prison"  Fyodor Dostoyevsky

[Begin Author's Aside; I'm putting this entry together while sitting in the waiting room at MD Anderson to be called for a PET scan.  I was scheduled for some blood work an hour earlier but they got me in even sooner, so I have some time to kill.  Just got called for prep and have now been injected with a radioactive tracer that will light up malignant prostate cancer cells.  It takes 1 hour for the tracer to circulate and do it's thing, so I'm chilling out in the prep room with an IV port taped to my wrist - I told the tech I was going to be typing during the wait so she taped the port on extra good.  Now let's see if I can assemble some of the jumbled thoughts I've had regarding this route.  End Author's Aside]

Rebel Culture. This route meanders through parts of 8 states; Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, and Iowa.  All but 2 of these states (Illinois and Iowa) joined the Confederate States of America in rebellion against the U.S. during the Civil War.  My home state of Arkansas was also a part of that rebellion, as pro-slavery states fought to maintain their established way of life.  Confederate flags can still be seen flying at homes in the rural parts of these states, while the owners of those flags are often ignorant of the racism and hatred they represent to others.   This is a highly rebellious part of the country.  These folks largely support Donald Trump and are prone to believe his story that the last election was stolen.  I'm not making a judgement here, just a statement that relates to the culture of the region I will be cycling through. Given the current divisive state of the country, if another civil war were to commence it would likely originate from this region.  I took the photo below on a bicycle ride in Arkansas in January, 2017.

Multiple Confederate Flags Adorn a Residence in Rural Arkansas
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It's interesting to note how the Adventure Cycling Association describes this region on the cycling maps; [begin ACA quote] Once dismissed as the home of "poor white trash," pot-bellied sheriffs, magnolia-scented women, and country-fried colonels, the South has been transformed in the last 3 decades from "Problem Child of the Nation" to the "Sun Belt."  It struck home in 1976 when a New South technocrat named Jimmy Carter won the White House.  With new energy and a revived economy, the region began exporting other homegrown favorites, including Bible-beating television evangelism, stock car racing and country music.  [end ACA quote]

Gun Culture. This is a violent region of the country, at least when one looks at the cold hard statistics.  In terms of gun deaths per population, 4 of the top 5 most deadly states are on this route.

Top gun deaths per 100,000 People

  1. Mississippi – 28.6
  2. Louisiana - 26.3
  3. Wyoming - 25.9
  4. Missouri - 23.9
  5. Alabama - 23.

Those states with the highest gun death rates are also among the ones with the highest gun ownership rates. There's about a 50% chance that any adult you meet in these states lives with a gun (that doesn't necessarily mean that they are armed on the street, although many of these states have passed laws making it easy for almost anyone to carry a concealed weapon).

Percentage of Adults That Live in a Household With a Gun

  1. Mississippi – 50%
  2. Louisiana - 48%
  3. Wyoming - 59%
  4. Missouri - 48%
  5. Alabama - 50%

Again, I'm not being judgemental, just presenting facts.  I grew up hunting with my dad and I've always owned sporting arms, so my household would be included in the above list.  But I do think there's a big difference in owning the double-barrel 12 gauge shotgun I inherited from my father and owning military-style assault weapons and high capacity semi-automatic pistols.   

Some of the most deadly cities in the U.S. are on or close to my route.  The cities with the highest gun homicide rates in 2020 were all in states with lax gun laws, ranked as shown below.

Most Gun Homicides per 100,000 People in 2020

  1.  Jackson, MS– 69
  2. Gary, IN - 64
  3. St.Louis - 50
  4. New Orleans - 48
  5. Memphis, TN - 47

Jackson, MS is the deadliest city in the U.S.   My route doesn't go through Jackson, but skirts around it on the Natchez Trace through suburb communities.  I'll skirt around St. Louis to the west - while there is a connector route for those who want to cycle to downtown St. Louis and see the arch, I've seen it and will pass.  If I can get there in time tomorrow to ride to the official start of the route, I will cycle through downtown New Orleans and along the river path.   My path skirts well east of Memphis. I think the point from the above lists is clear; Dixieland is the riskiest region of the U.S. regarding gun violence, or at least some parts of it are.  Cycle tourists are exposed and vulnerable, so it is wise to know where you are going and where you may want to avoid.

Religious Culture.  This region of the country is dominated by the Southern Baptist religion.  Quoting from the Pew Research Center, "Southern Baptists are the largest evangelical Protestant group in the United States. Descended from Baptists who settled in the American colonies in the 17th century, Southern Baptists formed their own denomination in 1845, following a rift with their northern counterparts over slavery."  

Southern Baptists Dominate the Region Around the Great Rivers South Route
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The Great Rivers South route begins in New Orleans where Catholicism is the dominant religious group, but the route quickly shifts to areas where the Southern Baptist religion is dominant in Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, southern Illinois, and Missouri.  A small part of the route in Illinois, Missouri, and Iowa contains a greater concentration of Catholics than other religions, and there may be a teeny influence from the United Methodist religion in Iowa. But overall, this tour will travel through areas where the dominant religion is Southern Baptist.  An overview of the Southern Baptist religion can be found here -> Southern Baptists.  They are predominantly white (85%) and Republican (64%).

Religion can be a dangerous topic for strangers in parts of the backwoods along this route, even when you don't know that what you are saying may offend someone's religious views.  I'm only saying this to point out that a touring cyclist could find herself/himself in serious trouble just by making casual conversation.  For instance,  Annie Gowen at the Washington Post reports on dancin’ and screamin’ Pastor Greg Locke;

[begin Gowan quotes] …“If you’ve had the covid–19 shot, I’m telling you you’ve got poison in your veins,” Locke thundered. “We call out the covid–19 vaccine out right now. Keep that demonic spirit out of you right now in the name of Jesus!”

Gowen reports that Brian Larson, a fellow in Locke’s town of Mount Juliet, Tennessee, “is concerned that Locke could encourage his followers to attack those he has deemed evil.” Larson says:

If you look back at the Salem witch trials you know what I mean. You’ve got a guy telling people there are witches and demons out there and to go and get them. If he claims somebody is dangerous and needs to be taken care of, something bad could happen. [end Gowan quotes]

So I suppose I need to be careful and not tell anyone that I've had the covid shots, and the boosters, and recently the Omichron booster, because I could be considered to be a demonic spirit.  Mount Juliet is located just east of Nashville.  I'll be in the general vicinity, but fortunately my route passes to the west of Nashville.  Difficult though it may be, I will force myself to not dance naked in the moonlight while I'm passing near Pastor Locke's territory.  But just as soon as I make it to the next county... 

Political Culture. This region tends to vote Republican. All of the states along the route except Illinois voted Republican in the last senate elections. 

Most Recent Senate Election (source; Wikipedia)
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Quality of Life. From a CNBC study; Worst Places to Live, Tennessee was named #9 in the top 10 worst states to live in due to it's lack of inclusiveness and it's crime rate.   Tennessee only scored 108 out of 325 possible points, which gave it a grade of "F." 

Louisiana was named the 6th worst state to live in due to poor health, crime, and voting rights. "Louisiana is America’s unhealthiest state, according to the United Health Foundation, with the nation’s third highest cholesterol level, and the fourth highest rate of premature deaths. According to FBI statistics, the violent crime rate is among the nation’s highest."  Louisiana scored 97 out of 325 points to also rate an "F" grade.

Missouri ranked as the 5th worst place to live due to it's poor record on voting rights and high crime.  Missouri scored 89 out of 325 points to also rate an "F" grade.

I could go on and discuss the other states and dive deep into the problems they all have with underfunded education, healthcare, and infrastructure.  But I think the point has been made adequately and justifies why I refer to this route as passing through the underbelly of America. 

"I wish I was in Dixie, hooray, hooray!"  Daniel Emmett's song became the unofficial anthem of the Confederacy.  But considering all that I have written above, why would anyone want to be in Dixie?  Despite all the negative aspects I have mentioned, I know there are good aspects to this region of the country as well - there just has to be.  Maybe I'll discover some of them as I roll along; or maybe not.

"My faith in humanity is restored every time I take a bicycle trip.  Every. Single. Time." (Mark Bingham, CycleBlaze author and tourist)

I agree with Mark's quote above. On every bicycle tour I have met some of the nicest and kindest people that could ever exist.  I expect to do so on this trip as well.  But I don't plan on talking politics or religion with them, or even mentioning that I have had the COVID vaccines.  Cause you know, I'd like to live to go on another tour someday.  I'm tired, very busy day tomorrow, good night all...

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