Further to the west, Earle, Arkansas is a place of desolation that makes Crawfordsville look positively thriving by comparison. The signs at Earle’s city limits state that almost 3500 people live there, but the downtown has the look of a true ghost town, with long blocks of long-vacant stores and shops, many crumbling beyond repair. Some are floors and vacant lots, a legacy of a mysterious string of arsons back in the 1990’s. Everywhere one looks in Earle, there is gang graffiti- Vice Lords, Gangster Disciples, Crips and Bloods.
I can’t really imagine how Earle got this bad, although I recall that the town had racial problems in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and union troubles at a local factory in the 1980’s. That had brought Jesse Jackson (and the national news media) to Earle. But now, as desolate as the downtown area looks, the Southside neighborhood below the railroad tracks looks even worse. Old abandoned motels with their doors torn off and open stand beside ramshackle tenements, project apartments, a handful of churches and the occasional store or restaurant. Young people walk in groups down the streets aimlessly in the summer evening, as there are no recreational opportunities in Earle. That might explain the gang graffiti that literally covers nearly any available wall, and not just gang signs and symbols are painted, but nicknames and streetnames, as if kids were yelling “Look at me! Pay attention to people like us trapped in these forgotten towns.” A woman driving an SUV on Second Street noticed me as I was taking photos of downtown and yelled “Take a picture of me,too!” Around the corner from where I saw her, someone had sprayed graffiti on the wall of a church that read “Holy City”, which wasn’t the name of the church. but I though to myself, there is no way they could have meant Earle, Arkansas.