A Tour of Allendale, SC

By Hunter Wallace

In his book “Deep South,” Paul Theroux ventures into rural South Carolina in search of a fabled town in the grip of the Black Undertow:

“Approaching the outskirts of Allendale, I had a sight of Doomsday, one of those visions that make the effort of travel worthwhile and proved to me that my setting out for the South had been an inspired decision. I had no idea that I would find what I saw that day of blue sky and sunshine, a mild breeze in the pines.

It was a vision of ruin, of decay, of utter emptiness, and it was obvious in the simplest, most recognizable structures – motels, gas stations, restaurants, stores, even a movie theater, all of them abandoned to rot, some of them so thoroughly decayed that all that was left was the great cement slab of the foundation, stained with oil or paint, littered with the splinters of the collapsed building, its rusted sign leaning. Some were brick-faced, others made of cinderblocks, but none of them was well made, and so the impression I had was of devastation, as though a recent war had ravaged the place and destroyed the buildings and killed all the people.

Here was the corpse of a motel, the Elite – the sign still legible – broken buildings in a wilderness of weeds; and farhter down the road, the Sands and the Presidential Inn, collapsed, empty; and the restaurants empty too, one unmistakably the curved roof and distinctive cupola of a Howard Johnson’s restaurant, another just a wreck but with a gigantic sign, its peeling paint promising LOBSTER. And another fractured place with a cracked swimming pool and broken windows, its rusted sign, CRESENT MOTEL, the more pathetic for being misspelled.

Most of the shops were closed, the only functioning ones owned by Indians. The Art Deco single-screen movie house, once the Carolina Theater was boarded up. The wide main road was littered. The side streets, lined by shacks and abandoned houses, looked haunted. I had never seen anything quite like it, the ghost town on the ghost highway. I was glad I had came.

The presence of Indian shopkeepers, the heat, the tall dusty trees, the sight of plowed fields, the ruined motels and abandoned restaurants, the inactivity, a somnolence hanging over the town like a blight – all these features made it seem like a town in Zimbabwe. It looked as though the colonizers had come and gone, the settlers had bolted, most of the local people had fled, and the place had fallen on evil days. Lingering at Mr. Patel’s shop, I saw a succession of black customers buying cans of beer and going outside to sit under a tree and drink.”

Allendale, SC sounds so much like HOME!

At this point in the book, I am starting to get excited. I know Theroux is coming to the Alabama Black Belt. I’m wondering which candidates will be featured on the grand tour later in the book – Tuskegee, Hurtsboro, Union Springs, Selma, Lowndesboro, Camden, Eutaw, Greensboro, Marion, Uniontown, Demopolis.

“I was to hear this story all over the rural South, in the ruined towns that had been manufacturing centers, sustained by the making of furniture, or appliances, or roofing materials, or plastic products, the labor-intensive jobs that kept a town ticking over. Companies had come to the South because the labor force was available and willing, wages were low, land was inexpensive, and unions were non-existent. And so a measure of progress held out the promise of better things, perhaps prosperity. Nowhere in the United States could manufacturing be carried on so cheaply. And that was the case until these manufacturers discovered that however cheap it was to make things in the right-to-work states of the South, it was even cheaper in sweatshop China. The contraction and impoverishment of the South has a great deal to do with the outsourcing of work to China and India. Even the catfish farms – an important income-producing industry all over the rural South – have been put out of business by the exports of fish farmers in Vietnam.”

Race, of course, isn’t the only issue in the Black Belt.

As I mentioned in the previous article, globalization has been the latest blow to the region and trade policy is set in Washington. Birmingham, which isn’t in the Black Belt, is the best example of this.

I think Theroux gives way too much credit to I-95 routing commerce away from Allendale. Just look at Birmingham, Atlanta, or the west side of Montgomery where interstates converge. In spite of their location on main arteries of commerce in the South, it is still a black ghetto. Here in Alabama, I-85 runs through Macon County, I-65 through Lowndes County, and I-20 runs through Greene and Sumter County in the Black Belt, but no interstate runs through Dothan or Florence.

10 Comments

  1. It sounds exactly like my county.

    Of course, more trade to Vietnam according to the smart boys is going to make that garbage over at the local Family Dollar even cheaper! That will benefit us “consumers”! YAY!

  2. Deindustrialization only became pushed in the Northern Heavy Manufacturing States ie Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, (Maryland) only Southern state in same economic boat, after 1970 and the Clean Air Act.

  3. If you know anything about Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, the Coal was mined right out of the ground and shipped north to the plants which burned it to produce steel, to heat the facility, and generate their own on-sight electricity. This symbiotic relationship can be seen most obviously with STEUBENVILLE/WIERTON WEST VIRGINIA/PITTSBURGH. The coal was mined almost on-sight, taken to the Steel Mills to power the blast furnaces and the other plants

  4. When the Clean Air Act hits in 1970, suddenly coal production largely grinds to a halt in Ohio, Illinois, etc. The plants convert to Natural Gas which in the 70’s is much less prevelent and much more expensive and does not heat as hot as coal. Soon the companies are bleeding red ink and they think EUREKA move to Dixie, its hot all the time and we’re near the Gulf Oil Fields.

  5. Forty long years later, now deindustrialization hits the Sun Belt ie the New South. The destruction of nationhood, culture, etc lying in its wake. Why are we surprised? We ain’t

  6. I have always been a back roads kind of lady, and have found some treasures along Southern roads. Like Plum Nearly Road in rural Georgia. It Don’t Matter Restaurant. A Confederate cemetery in the middle of nowhere along the trail where Sherman forced his march, a little dog wandering the resting places of our ancestors. The pup wasn’t scrawny or hungry looking; he just seemed to be content to hang out in the peaceful place.

    It saddens me greatly to see what has happened to the South, and I feel helpless to keep the decay from continuing. As just one lady, a Southern widow, I cannot see what I can do to save it. It is all I can do deal with the sorrow. Can it even be saved? What has happened in towns across the South makes me question whether or not I should take the back roads the next time I travel to my grandma’s old place in NC. Granted, I have not ventured out for a few years; staying here where I live, I am thankful to say I feel safe on the roads in my boonies. But it only a small area in Florida that even remotely resembles the Florida that joined the Southern cause to secede from the U.S. If General Lee had known it would come to this, would he have surrendered? I doubt it. Seeing all of the Confederate Flags flying since SC took down the Flag off the statehouse gives me a little hope, but a Flag will not save anything. Seeing the flags being flown by like-minded people is, however, a comfort and a reminder that I am, thankfully, not alone.

  7. Attn: LOS, SN, etc.

    —snip—

    “If creating new symbols, a new flag for example, enables us to dodge the stigma that has been attached to our historical flags, it is because a new flag has no meaning, no history behind it. Such invented symbols, then, lack anything to inspire Southron folk. They have no historical associations, no content, no sentimental meaning, nothing to connect us with the generations of great men and women who went before us.”

    —snip—

    the rest:

    http://vanishingamericanii.blogspot.com/2015/10/political-correctness-is-on-offensive.html

  8. These towns are waiting to be re discovered. Gather a group of like minded people (yes $$ are needed) such as tourist oriented and create at least one or two attractions, generate some internet publicity and they will come.

    Americans and the wave of boomer retirees are hungry for a rebirth of these areas. Nostalgia for old Americana is everywhere. Surely ther’s a bunch of foodies who could reopen that lobster house. The sign alone would bring people in. Get that food tv guy fieri to visit and generate some national publicity.

    Come on people, save the south!

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