Around the Nation
4:21 am
Mon May 12, 2014

For Two Ozarks Communities, A Stark Contrast In Culture

Originally published on Tue May 13, 2014 3:01 pm

First of a two-part report.

The neo-Nazi charged with killing three people at Jewish centers outside Kansas City last month drove there from his home in the Ozarks, a hilly, rural, largely conservative part of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas with a history of attracting white supremacists.

The Kansas murders sparked a painful discussion in the shooter's community in Marionville, Mo., where bigotry is an especially divisive subject.

"I am not blind to the shortcomings of this area, and I will tell you, as a native, we are still mired in the past," says Nancy Allen, a professor and author in nearby Springfield, Mo.

Allen says most black residents fled Springfield after three black men were lynched on the town square in 1906. That left it a largely white city in a very white region endowed with a fiercely independent and insular culture. Allen calls it the "code of the hills."

Recently, the former mayor of Marionville was pressured to resign days after delivering this sound bite on TV: "Things going on in this country that's destroying us. We've got a false economy, and some of those corporations are run by Jews."

Visiting his town, you can see why he might be looking for someone to blame for its decline. Marionville has lost its university and factories that once employed hundreds. Downtown is boarded up.

The neo-Nazi accused of the shootings in suburban Kansas City — a man known here as Frazier Glenn Miller — bought a house nearby more than 20 years ago and made some friends.

"Yes sir, I knew him, real nice guy. He'd help somebody. He helped me quite a few times. Real nice guy," says Jason Click as he sits behind the wheel of a big old pickup with a rebel flag on the ceiling. He says bigotry — Miller's or the former mayor's — doesn't faze him.

"To each their own, I reckon. If that's how you feel, then that's how you feel. You shouldn't be mad because their opinion's different than yours," Click says.

But the former mayor's comments split this friendly town in half.

"People don't want to have the brand of being racist, backwards bigots, and when the mayor made his comments, that's exactly what we are portrayed as," says John Horner, who lives with his partner in a prominent house in Marionville.

Horner finds this town very accepting but uncomfortable about addressing its differences over racism. "It's like poking at an open wound. They don't want to talk about the issue because the popular sentiment is if we don't talk about it, it will go away," he says.

And that holds for many here, even at the Hillbilly Gas Mart. Flora Walker knows that some of her longtime customers don't come around anymore because they don't want to be in the same room with those offended by the former mayor's comments.

"I liked and cared about everybody involved. They were all my friends. I care about what happens to them. I don't hate anybody, and it's sad that some of them now hate one another," Walker says.

Cultures Coexist

Just 60 miles south of Marionville, there's a town similar in heritage but culturally on a different planet. One of the most infamous anti-Semites in American history, Gerald L.K. Smith, retired to Eureka Springs, Ark., 50 years ago, erected a gigantic seven-story statue of Jesus and established an outdoor theatrical extravaganza depicting Christ's last days.

Now, the great Passion Play is scrubbed of its original anti-Semitic message. And the big Jesus gazes over a town Smith would probably hate. Longtime resident Michael Walsh says you just can't miss the gay culture here.

"There are rainbow flags outside of a lot of the gay-owned shops. A lot of us are movers and shakers in town," Walsh says.

The town boasts three gay pride weekends annually and a vibrant tourist economy. It's about the same size as Marionville and just about as white, but Walsh says in Eureka Springs, old ways and new culture coexist.

"That statue and the great Passion Play [don't] by any means represent the town. It's just part of the great mosaic in this little town — so it has its place in this community, as do rainbow flags," Walsh says.

Parts of the Ozarks seem to be coming to terms with modern American culture in ways that might shock earlier generations. But it's not happening quickly or evenly or without a fight from people who want to preserve a white homeland where the so-called code of the hills still holds sway.

The second part of this report appeared on All Things Considered on May 12.

Copyright 2014 KCUR-FM. To see more, visit http://www.kcur.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

A neo-Nazi charged with killing three people at Jewish centers outside Kansas City last month drove there from his home in the Ozarks. That's a hilly, rural, largely conservative part of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas and it has a history of attracting white supremacists.

The murders in Kansas sparked painful discussion in the shooter's community where bigotry is an especially divisive subject. But that is not the case in a neighboring town that has earned a reputation for tolerance. Frank Morris of member station KCUR reports.

FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: Springfield, Missouri is the queen city of the Ozarks. And the town square is central to the region's racial history, though you'd never know it by looking.

NANCY ALLEN: Well, here we--I was looking for a plaque. I didn't think there'd be a plaque and indeed there is not, but this is the very spot where three black men were lynched on the town square on Easter weekend in 1906.

MORRIS: Nancy Allen, a local professor and author, says most black residents fled Springfield leaving it a largely white city in a very white region when endowed with a fiery independent and insular culture. Allen calls it the code of the hills.

ALLEN: I am not blind to the shortcomings of this area, and I'll tell you, as a native, we are still mired in the past.

DAN CLEVENGER: There's some things going on in this country that's destroying. We've got a false economy, and some of those corporations are run by Jews.

MORRIS: That's the former mayor of Marionville, Missouri on TV last month, the elected mayor who was pressured to resign days after delivering that soundbite. Visiting his town, you can see why he might be looking for someone to blame for its decline. Marionville has lost its university and factories that once employed hundreds. Downtown is a boarded up show.

The neo-Nazi accused of the shootings in suburban Kansas City who's known here as Glenn Miller, bought a house nearby more than 20 years ago and made some friends.

JASON CLICK: Yes sir, I knew him, real nice guy. He'd help somebody. He helped me quite a few times. Real nice guy.

MORRIS: Jason Click sits behind the wheel of a big old pickup with a rebel flag on the ceiling sporting mutton chops and lots of piercing. He says bigotry, Miller's or the former mayor's, just doesn't faze him.

CLICK: To each their own, I reckon. If that's how you feel, then that's how you feel. You shouldn't be mad at somebody because their opinions different than yours.

MORRIS: But the former mayor's comments split this friendly town in half.

JOHN HORNER: People don't want to have the brand of being racist, backwoods bigots, and when the mayor made his comments, that's exactly what we were portrayed as.

MORRIS: John Horner lives with his partner in a prominent house in Marionville. He finds this town very accepting, but uncomfortable addressing its differences over racism.

HORNER: It's like poking at an open wound that they don't want to talk about the issue because the popular sentiment is if we don't talk about it, it will go away.

MORRIS: And that holds true for many here, even at the Hillbilly Gas Mart. Having lunch at the long table where everyone sits, Flora Walker admits that some of her longtime customers don't come around anymore. They don't want to be in the same room as those offended by the mayor's comments.

FLORA WALKER: I liked and cared about everybody that was involved. They were all my friends. I care about what happens to them. I don't hate anybody, and it's sad that some of them now hate one another.

MORRIS: Just 60 miles south of Marionville, there's a town similar in heritage, but culturally it's on a different planet.

(SOUNDBITE OF PASSION PLAY)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I want to thank you again for attending the great Passion Play.

MORRIS: One of the most infamous anti-Semites in American history, Gerald L. K. Smith, retired to Eureka Springs, Arkansas 50 years ago, erected a giant seven-story statue of Jesus, and established an outdoor theatrical extravaganza depicting Christ's last days.

(SOUNDBITE OF PASSION PLAY)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: ...including his crucifixion, resurrection, and dissention into heaven.

MORRIS: Now the great Passion Play is scrubbed of its original anti-Semitic message. And the big Jesus gazes over a town Smith would probably hate. Longtime resident Michael Walsh says you just can't miss the gay culture here.

MICHAEL WALSH: Because there are rainbow flags outside a lot of the gay-owned shops. A lot of us are movers and shakers in town. And then we have a lot of bar owners, I mean, you're sitting in a lesbian-owned bar right now.

MORRIS: The town boasts three gay pride weekends annually and a vibrant tourist economy. It's about the same size as Marionville and just about as white, but Walsh says that in Eureka Springs, old ways and new culture coexist.

WALSH: That statue and the great Passion Play doesn't by any means represent the town. It's only part of the great mosaic in this little town. So it has its place in this community, as do rainbow flags.

MORRIS: Parts of the Ozarks seem to be coming to terms with modern American culture in ways that might shock earlier generations. But it's not happening quickly or evenly, or without a fight from people who want to preserve a white homeland where the so called Code of the Hills still holds sway.

For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris.

INSKEEP: And today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, we go to the hub of the Ozarks culture wars, Harrison, Arkansas where the Klan and its opponents compete to define the town. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.