In this powerful debut, Skerritt (Journalism/Florida A&M Univ.) uses the stories of African-Americans living in an impoverished South Carolina community to reveal the hidden scourge of HIV/AIDS throughout South.
The author attributes the spread of AIDS among Southern heterosexuals to endemic rural poverty particularly among blacks, concomitant social breakdown— broken families, drug addiction, promiscuity and prostitution—and the scarcity of resources that would allow public-health measures adequate to stemming the epidemic. The author began covering the AIDS crisis in 2000, after hearing the Rev. Patricia Ann Starr preach. The pastor of a local evangelic Baptist church in York, S.C., she is known for her work helping people with the disease and is a vocal advocate of safe sex despite her disapproval of promiscuity. Until her own sister tested positive for the HIV virus and her neighbors began dying of AIDS, she—like many Americans—had believed the disease to be confined to gay men living in urban areas like Chicago and New York. Skerritt writes movingly of families caught up in this tragedy and the group of health professionals who do their best to deal with the crisis. He cites shocking statistics—while the incidence of AIDS deaths decreased throughout the U.S. between 2001 and 2005, the opposite is the case in the Deep South—but notes that most of the funds to fight the disease have been funneled to the large northern and western cities. Skerritt deplores the fact that liberal politicians such as Hillary Clinton focus on funding for their own constituencies to the disadvantage of the small rural communities that are now under the gun.
The author makes a strong case that the shame is not with the dying but with those who turn away from the reality of this epidemic.