Alabama must let go of past, embrace the future

Published 10:35 pm Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Less than five hours after removing the Confederate flags from the state capitol grounds on Wednesday, Gov. Robert Bentley was focused on Alabama’s future as he announced Google’s plans to locate a new data center in the state.

It was, as some might say, an interesting news day for our state.

The decision to remove the flags from the Confederate memorial on the Capitol grounds early Wednesday drew national attention, as workers quietly lowered the flagpole and removed the banner.

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In addressing the decision, the governor said only that he had ordered the flag removed. “This is the right thing to do,” he said. “We are facing some major issues in this state regarding the budget and other matters that we need to deal with. This had the potential to become a major distraction as we go forward. I have taxes to raise, we have work to do. And it was my decision that the flag needed to come down.”

And it was the right thing to do. Like it or not, the Confederate flag has become a polarizing symbol these days – attributed as much to hate groups and racism as to the history it represents. And, in the wake of what appears to be a racially motivated attack that left nine men and women dead inside a Charleston, S.C., church last week, furor over the flag – and how it is used by hate groups – has resurfaced on a national level.

As a state, we cannot afford to be dragged down into that mire. Alabama has long wrestled with itself and its history – the good and the bad – as it struggles to build a vision for its future. Embracing that vision and that future means letting go of images and symbols that have become, for many people, clarions of hatred and oppression. It means embracing opportunities, building bridges and – if we’re honest – building an economy that gives residents of all races and creeds an opportunity to embrace the American dream.

It means opportunities like the ones presented by the soon-to-be-built Google data center. The $600 million center in Jackson County will join 13 other Google centers around the world in providing support and storage for the company’s extensive computer and cloud infrastructure. It will create 75 to 100 “high-paying” jobs, as well as bring a company well-known for investing in education and communities into our state as an economic partner and corporate citizen. More important, it puts Alabama into an elite group of locations selected by a multi-billion company widely recognized as an international leader in its field. It gives us prominence and recognition and, if we’re lucky, can be parlayed into additional opportunities for tech growth in our economic sector.

And that is something that will build a future we can all embrace.