At Scalawag, great reporting is our bread and butter. And today we are pretty excited to share with y’all five of the top Scalawag stories that mattered—to us and y'all—in 2018. Not to toot our own horn, but these selections are rife with interrogation, nuance, humor, and hope. These articles were chosen as our top pieces based on their views, clicks, and shares, sure—but most importantly their impact. They grapple with some of the most important issues affecting our region, representing Southerners from Appalachia to Alabama, from Memphis to small-town North Carolina.
These stories highlight what our team hopes to do everyday at Scalawag: let Southerners be their full selves, tell their own damn stories, and fiercely love their own communities. We’re grateful for all the writers, reporters, photographers, lovers, thinkers, and organizers who make our communities visible.
Now that we’ve whet your whistle, check out our top most read and talked about stories of 2018.
1. Meet the Glasscos: Lesbian foster parents in the Bible Belt
Last May, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed HB24 into law, protecting adoption agencies when they deem parents unfit on the basis of religious beliefs. The step raised a ton of questions for Southerners of all walks. Could Catholics deny an adoptive parent who was previously divorced? Could Baptists deny the unbaptized? If these religious groups meet the criteria for protection—owning and operating a privately-funded, state-licensed adoption agency in Alabama—then, in theory, they sure could.
But in all the confusion over what HB24 means particularly for gay families, who can and cannot adopt and from which agencies, it can feel like the kids themselves get lost in the mix. The ever-excellent Katherine Webb-Hehn delivers some damn fine reporting about the human side that gets lost when we reduce real children and parents to mere statistics and talking points. This story, voted Top Scalawag Story of 2018 and recently featured in the New York Times’ opinion section for the year’s best local reporting, follows the life of the Glasscoes and their son Jay, a life that would be downright picturesque if not for the lingering threat of HB24. —Lovey
2. Telling tales: How the media fails Appalachia
What did the media get wrong about Appalachia in the fallout from Trump’s election? What if the media is still getting Appalachia all wrong?
In this beautifully personal and bitingly critical essay, Rachel Garringer puts it in plain terms: Unless national outlets foster and support Appalachians in telling their own stories, the media will continue to caricature the mountain South, with no accountability to the folks who live there. Fighting back against parachute journalism and extractive story-telling, Garringer shows us that another, more accurate and more equitable form of media-making is possible. It’s no wonder why this story tied for the title of Top Scalawag Story of 2018. —Matt
3. Real museums of Memphis
There are so many things to appreciate about Zandria F. Robinson’s Real Museums of Memphis. The clear, if weary-eyed, perspective, the imagery, the exquisite style. But what I love most about this piece is how clearly it articulated the perpetual violence of Martin Luther King’s memory, enacted not just on his legacy, but also on the bodies and psyches of Black folk who mostly know about him through the meat grinder of American retrospection—mangled, sweetened, and repackaged. Written for the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination, Robinson asks us to consider the weight of that particular practice of lying, which is really a warning against attempts to tell the truth. And knowing that weight, trying to reckon with its consequences sharpens ongoing questions of what liberation should look like. This piece necessarily broadens our imaginations of what memory could mean far beyond monuments and anniversary celebrations. —Danielle
4. Life in the woods: North Carolina’s growing homeless tent camps are an open secret
Mike Cooper’s story “Life in the woods” is one of our best examples of local community-centered reporting. A look into the lives of the unhoused residents of Hickory, North Carolina and the few individuals that are single-handedly raising funds to provide resources, care, and security to those living in the woods. The piece discusses the effects of NAFTA on small town industry and the rise in homelessness, but spends most of its time with folks deeply embedded in the new tent-communities that are forming as a result. Media often sensationalizes and exploits the stories of those experiencing poverty, sacrificing their voice and dignity in the process. But Cooper captures the companionship, solidarity, ingenuity, hospitality, and dogged persistence of the folks he interviews, and that is what makes the piece shine. —Alysia
5. Homes and gardens: The best thing to ever happen to a prison
Because honestly, what is more badass than young people from North Carolina renovating a prison—turning a place where humans were put in cages into living quarters for the homeless, complete with a sustainable community garden and adventure slide. Stories like this truly make me proud to be from this region, where for generations people have gotten creative about how to solve injustice. Lewis Wallace met with the youths of Growing Change and their mentors to write one of Scalawag’s most hopeful stories to date. Read below and learn from these young people who are taking over the spaces and systems that have tried to lock them up. —Alysia
We hope you’ve been inspired, challenged, or maybe even a little offended by these stories—just like talking with family at the dinner table. We're even better in print. To read more from our great contributors, subscribe to Scalawag today.