Jasper Revisited: A Struggling Economy

The town of Jasper continues the struggle it has endured since the brutal dragging death of James Byrd Jr. four and a half years ago.

Like many other cities across America, tough economic times recently have hit Jasper hard.  But the town has also fought a serious image problem since Byrd's murder.

That image problem has contributed to the town's economic struggles.

"The fact that the Black Panthers and the Klan held rallies here," said former Jasper County District Attorney Guy James Gray. "The fact that you had all this drama and conflict...hurt the town economically. And we haven't gotten over it. It'll take a long time to get over it...if we ever get over it."

The fear of many people who live in Jasper is not simply that their town will forever be associated with a brutal hate crime. Most of them understand that, or at least they've come to accept it. The real fear is that the town may never be able to recover economically.

Gray was the district attorney who prosecuted James Byrd's killers. He's also a native of Jasper. Gray said part of the town's struggles have to do with natural economics. He said a big part of the struggle is the fallout over the Byrd murder.

"I don't see any economic growth in the town," said Gray. "And then this conflict holds us down. It's a real concern. The economic growth...or lack of growth...it's a real concern."

Jasper Mayor R.C. Horn agreed with Gray that the tragedy their town faced hurt economically. He said for a long time, businesses did not want to come to Jasper, but Horn said things are beginning to look up.

"Lowe's is coming in to Jasper," said Horn. "We hope they will finalize their plans soon. We have Walgreen's coming in. Yes, people do want to come to Jasper."

One business leader who did make the decision to invest in Jasper is Meredith Beal. He's the CEO of a company that bought two Jasper radio stations a couple of years ago. Beal admits it was not an easy decision. He was unsure how the community would react to black ownership of a media outlet.

"There was some hesitation, because all I knew about Jasper at the time was what I had seen on TV," said Beal. "But when I came here, I realized it was much different than what I expected. I was received well by both the black and white communities."

Beal said what he has seen in Jasper is people trying to recover from the bad image they got. His stations have tried to help with more community-based programs.

"The first 6 months was rough, but I survived that," said Beal. "And the past year has been steadily increasing, and I think it's very promising."

That is the kind of resilient attitude that you find throughout Jasper. Residents there say they can't change the past. They can only make the future better.

"Yes, there was a time when it was real rough. But right now we're starting to grow. And that's what counts," said Horn.

For more information click here.