How is Empire not considered rural?

Posted 11/25/18

For 40 years, I have lived a lie. Any time that I have ever been asked about the area where I grew up, I have always responded by talking about Empire, Alabama, fondly and describing it as just about …

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How is Empire not considered rural?


For 40 years, I have lived a lie. Any time that I have ever been asked about the area where I grew up, I have always responded by talking about Empire, Alabama, fondly and describing it as just about as rural of an area where anyone could live.

A week ago, I found out that I’ve been lying to people for years. Empire isn’t rural at all — at least according to United States Census tracts.

Matt Tucker, program manager for a Rural Communities Opioid Response Plan Planning Grant that was recently awarded to Capstone Rural Health, wrote in a guest column to the Daily Mountain Eagle that only three of 18 census tracts in Walker County meet the requirements to be considered rural. Empire, shockingly, was not included in one of those tracts.

I was amazed to find out that what I had described my entire life as the the most rural place on earth may be considered by our federal government as a booming metropolis. Tell that to the heard of cattle that would almost daily escape their pasture and stroll through our front yard most mornings.

Last week, I found myself helping out our circulation department by delivering the Empire area route. I couldn’t help but think about the news that this particular stretch of Walker County wasn’t considered rural when I nearly ran over a huge, black billy goat that felt he had just as much of a right to be on the roadway as I did. Minutes later, I drove up a short road and found myself staring straight at some metal fencing with graffiti on it that looked more like an area from “The Walking Dead” than a non-rural area of the United States, which is how it would be designated according to those census tracts. 

I grew up on Stacks Bottom Road, which is just off Phillipstown Road. Don’t both of those sound like street names you’d find in the big city? There were three small gas stations within several miles of our house when I was a kid. That number has dropped to two since that time. There are no red lights or even a caution light in Empire. There are a few stop signs that haven’t been removed by local citizenry over the years, but a trip to a real store or a fast food restaurant will still take 20 minutes. It certainly seems rural to me.

While there was a school in the area during my childhood, there hasn’t been one for more than 20 years now. An while there isn’t a school, we can still brag that there is a church about every 3 miles or so. There is also an abundance of cemeteries throughout Empire. 

There is no industry in Empire, but it does have its own U.S. Post Office and zip code, which is 35063 for anybody needing to send a package to the big town. Before E-911 addresses became the rage, our postal route was even referred to as a “Rural Route.”

Finding out the federal government is so blind to real life America isn’t a big surprise, but it certainly bothered me. I love Empire. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without my raising in rural Alabama. Mr. Tucker stated in his column that tracts considered “rural” are difficult to qualify for and probably not easily changed. That’s exactly what I want to see happen. Empire needs to be designated as rural for me not to feel like I’m living in The Upside Down. I should probably start with one of our congressmen, but I don’t know if they have the power or the knowledge to handle this situation. I think I only have one person to turn to, and he lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

I’ll be sending a copy of this column to that address to the attention to the head man in charge. If I don’t get a response, I may have to make a trip to our nation’s capital for a face-to-face conversation. It will be like that time that Elvis visited Nixon. I’ll just walk right up to the guard shack and say, “THE James Phillips is here to see the big guy.” I really don’t see how this plan could go wrong at all. If anyone else would like to also send a copy of this correspondence to D.C., please feel free to do so.

Just don’t send it to the attention of the Secret Service. 

James Phillips is editor and publisher of the Daily Mountain Eagle. He may be reached at 205-221-2840 or