September 2018
Homeplace & Community

A Southern Girl Conquers the North

Gettysburg College sophomore Ali Nettles has become a respected student leader on campus.

 

Selma native Ali Nettles, a sophomore at Gettysburg College, holds a Gettysburg T-shirt on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Can a Deep South descendant of the Confederacy find true happiness in a state where the Civil War continues to be studied long after it ended?

You betcha. Not only has Ali Nettles done just that, she’s already a leader at Gettysburg College where she’s made quite a splash in and out of the classroom.

Her contemporaries soon began identifying her as "the girl from Alabama" and warmly received her into their academic ranks

Mention Gettysburg to most students of the Civil War and you’ll find a variety of reasons why it ended the way it did, with so many bodies strewn over a battlefield that was a crucial part of a war that claimed the lives of more than 600,000 soldiers.

For those unfamiliar with the Civil War, Gettysburg was the site of a bloody three-day clash between the North and South in early July of 1863, one that continues to be studied by historians and at military schools.

The war continued two years after the Gettysburg battle and President Lincoln’s brief, historic "Four Score" speech, something that has been etched into America’s conscience.  

Ali Nettles, 19, applied to several colleges before selecting Gettysburg College, a relatively small school with 2,600 students. It’s not unusual for her to occasionally find herself discussing "the war" in one of her classes.

The only other Alabama student at Gettysburg College graduated about a year ago, so Ali Nettles has the field to herself when it comes to representing her birth state.

"I’ve always trusted her judgment because I value independent thinking and have tried to let her know my feelings on that subject," said John Nettles, her dad, who beams when his daughter’s achievements are mentioned.

She is majoring in political science and is thinking about possibly going to law school once she gets her bachelor’s degree, but right now, her thoughts are on her sophomore year.

"If law school doesn’t work out, I’m sure something else will come along," she said, a few days ago during an interview with her dad at the Selma-Dallas County Public Library. "What I’d really like to do is move to Washington to possibly work there."

She sailed through her first undergraduate year at Gettysburg, where she became class president, and will take her place in the Student Senate when school resumes in a few days.

Ali is quick to acknowledge the fact that "not many" ran for class president, but is happy to report that she had her share of active support from classmates during her successful campaign for president.

"I came here without connections to anybody, so it meant a lot to me to have made so many good friends," said Ali. "I feel right at home here."

Gettysburg College is a private, four-year liberal arts school founded in 1832, just one year after the University of Alabama was created.

John Nettles and his daughter Ali discuss civil rights events that occurred in Selma.

 
   
   

"Nettles" is the name of a prominent Alabama family, once guided by Dr. James "Buddy" Nettles. He was an amazing man who not only spent much of his life as a country doctor, he also was a shrewd businessman who founded a communications company.

He did it to help residents living in one of Alabama’s most rural areas and his son continues to carry on in his honor. John Nettles is president of Pine Belt Communications.

Ali is familiar with Selma’s current crime problems and became a victim a few days ago when one or more vandals smashed out one of the windows in her vehicle.

She and friends had just left Selma’s movie theater when the damage was spotted. Gone were a computer and other items, but there was little that could be done. Luckily, no one was injured.

Apprised of what happened, Ali’s dad wasn’t about to blame anyone, but he was well aware of a trend that seems to be increasing across America.

"We don’t have a lock on racial prejudices in the South," her father said. "It’s happening all over the country. If the world would function better than it has, we’d have a lot less trouble. As for me, I try to look beyond the surface."

His views about the state of America today are worth repeating because they are valuable reflections from John Nettles, a man who has been around, someone who operates a successful business and has never forgotten words of wisdom from his late, great father.

Dr. Nettles displayed his community spirit by serving on the state Board of Education, representing the First Congressional District. During that time, he also promoted the development of state teacher colleges.

He had no specialty because he preferred general medicine, most of it in Wilcox County, where he spent 43 years. His territory included Camden, Sweet Water, Nanafalia, Dixons Mill and, of course, Arlington.

Some of Alabama’s rural communities can be difficult to pronounce at times, but the bottom line is easy to understand. Just think about Dr. Nettles and all the good things he did for rural Alabama during his long, productive life.

He died in 1994 at the age of 73. His son and granddaughter are carrying on the good things that Dr. Nettles did for so long.

 

Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.