Locals prepare for holidays in tiny Alabama town that lost its only grocery store

Tommy Pounders greets his regulars by name, welcoming them out of the rainy December day into the warmth of JJ’s, a tiny diner on U.S. 72. It’s one of two restaurants in the Northwest Alabama town of Cherokee, population 1,000.

The lunch crowd fills nearly every table – guys on break from the chemical and paper manufacturing plants nearby; retired couples eating their usual; the former mayor and his wife chatting with neighbors; a pair of friends dressed head to toe in camouflage.

JJ’s is the kind of place where the waitress doesn’t bring menus to the table because everybody already knows what they want. It’s now owned by Pounders’ wife Janie, though there’s been a restaurant in that location since the highway was built in the 1960s.

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Gadsden locals discuss Roy Moore’s behavior at mall, restaurants

Gadsden Mall grand opening in 1974. Courtesy of the Gadsden Public Library

Shortly after The Washington Post first reported that Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore was accused of inappropriate behavior, I spoke with Gadsden residents about their recollections of Moore and his behavior toward teen girls and young women in the 1970s and 80s.


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Civil Rights, Justice

Too poor to make bail

Nearly half a million people are in jail across the country who have not been convicted of a crime, but who remain there solely because they lack the money to make bail. They’re presumed innocent, but while in jail they stand to lose their jobs, their homes, even custody of their kids.

Read more at as part of Reckon’s “Broken Justice” series.

Child welfare

A boy’s death + the law that left his daycare unlicensed

On Monday morning, Jasmyn Johnson dropped off her 5-year-old son Kamden at the Community Nursery & Preschool Academy in west Mobile, according to the day care director. He’d been enrolled at the church-run day care for about two weeks.

Later that morning he boarded the day care van driven by Valarie Rena Patterson, 46, for a ride to another day care location run by Community Ministries Inc.

By 3 p.m. Kamden was dead, his body discovered by passersby, laying near the driveway of a home less than 3 miles from his day care.


I’ve been following the issues surrounding Alabama’s lack of regulation of religious day cares for the past few years. This is the most recent twist in that coverage.




Politics, Uncategorized

Last Confederate flag manufacturer sees sales surge after Charlottesville


2017 Story of the Year

Isolation rooms are seen at Solid Rock Ministries on Spring Hill Ave. and Ann Street are pictured in Mobile, Ala. (Sharon Steinmann/

This story recently won 2017 Story of the Year from the Alabama Press Association, as well as Best News Feature.

Lucas Greenfield was prepared to scale the razor-wire topped fence surrounding Restoration Youth Academy if it meant his freedom.
While an instructor was busy, Greenfield seized his chance. He was nearly out the door when another student ratted him out. His punishment for the attempted escape was “isolation,” an empty 8×8 room lit by a lone bulb that burned overhead day and night.


The blog post shortly after it ran.


Child welfare, Health

Black babies die at 3x the rate of white babies in Alabama

An overall improvement in infant mortality rates in Alabama may appear as welcome news, but there are troubling findings within recent state health reports. The gap between infant mortality rates for black and white babies in Alabama is huge – and it’s growing. Black babies in Alabama died at three times the rate of white babies in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available.

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