The retired Auburn professor has been an outspoken critic of the state’s constitution, tax code, educational system and immigration policy, among other things.
His opinions have earned him devoted fans as well as detractors.
“My grandson will be the seventh generation of Flynts to live in this state if you consider a generation to be 30 years. When people don’t like my politics or my views on race and other things and tell me that if I don’t like Alabama, I might as well get out, I tell them, ‘My people were here before yours. Why don’t you get out?’” Flynt told members of the Arley Book Club on Wednesday.
Flynt tells the story of his people and himself, as well as the state he calls home in his latest book, “Keeping the Faith: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives.”
The memoir reveals how Flynt came to write books such as “Poor But Proud” that tell history from the perspective of ordinary people.
Flynt said members of each generation are inevitably shaped by the times of their youth. For Flynt, that was Alabama in the 1950s.
The “simple world” of Ozzie and Harriett Nelson soon gave way to the racial protests and violence of the 1960s.
The first Freedom Rider bus was bombed in Flynt’s hometown of Anniston shortly after he was named minister of youth at his church.
“I had to try to explain to my young people why people they knew were throwing firebombs and beating two black Baptist ministers nearly to death when they tried to check out a book in the Carnegie library. I couldn’t even explain it to myself, much less the young people I was trying to teach in the ways of Christ,” said Flynt, who is an ordained Baptist minister.
Convinced that no Baptist church would hire him because of his stance on race, he spent the mid 1960s pursuing his masters and Ph.D from Florida State University.
In spite of a promise he made to his wife that they would never return to Alabama, Flynt took a job at Samford University and later joined the faculty at Auburn.
“I’m not sad we came back, but on the other hand, if you’re going to be an ethical person as I understand ethics and live in Alabama, you’re going to have some problems,” Flynt said.
Flynt quickly noted that both politically parties are equally corrupt and identified himself as “independent and extravagantly happy.”
For all his misgivings about the state, Flynt also counts himself among its champions. Most of his books are about Alabama, and two have been nominated for Pulitzer Prizes.
In his visit to Arley, Flynt praised Alabamians for everything from their accent to their tradition of pulling to the side of the road during funeral processions to show respect.
“I will ever be like Robert Frost in that I will have a lover’s quarrel with Alabama, but the idea of leaving is preposterous. Where would a historian feel more comfortable about the eccentricity of people than living in Alabama?” Flynt said.