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Slavery myth on Web irks city
Officials seek to abolish rumor saying it's still legal in Decatur

By Evan Belanger 340-2442

It's a well-known secret that the direction your toilet water rotates when flushed is dependent on what hemisphere you're in.

If you're in the Northern Hemisphere, it goes one way, and in the Southern Hemisphere, it goes the opposite direction.

But ask any physicist — or a plumber — and they will tell you the direction your toilet water drains is dependent more on the design of your commode than the rotation of Earth. While the rotating globe does affect large bodies of air and water, even the largest toilet bowl doesn't qualify.

It's just a rumor, one that has been perpetuated for decades by popular gossip and given credence on Internet message boards.

Other popular myths circulated through the "common knowledge" of the American psyche include that anyone who consumes the hallucinogenic drug LSD more than seven times in their lifetime is considered legally insane, and that eating too many Twinkies is an adequate defense for murder. Both false.

And readers would do well to remember the potentially lethal combination of Coca-Cola and Pop-Rocks. It's all in good fun, right?

But a new myth being passed around Internet chat rooms and message boards strikes close to home for Decatur residents.

As it goes, 142 years after the federal government officially abolished the institution of slavery in 1865, Decatur officials still have not repealed the city codes allowing and governing slavery on a local level. The reports are easy to find with a simple Google search.

But according to Decatur officials, the rumor isn't true.

"I search through the code every day, and I would have noticed something like that," said City Clerk Betty Marshall. "If there is anything like that, it's not in our city code."

Marshall and city attorney Herman Marks Jr. both said they have no idea how or where the rumor got started, but it is one that has been around for a while.

Marks said he replied to an e-mail concerning Decatur's
alleged policy toward slavery just three weeks ago. He was quick to set the record straight, but said he answers the question at least annually.

"That is a far-fetched idea that violates many laws, and we have no such law on the books here," he said. "I don't know how many times we've tried to kill that rumor."

Even as city officials work to abolish the rumor, some local business leaders say the damage done to Decatur's reputation is no less real than if the rumor were true.

"People don't realize how damaging that stuff really is," said John Seymour, president of the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce. "People read that, and then everything we've spent a lot of money and a lot of time on trying to overcome just gets brought back up."

Seymour said responding to questions about Decatur's alleged slavery law and rumors like it wastes valuable time for him and his staff, but there is little else they can do.

"You've got to respond," he said.

Whatever the repercussions of the rumors are, an attorney for the Alabama Press Association said city officials have little recourse to stop people from posting the rumors online.

A new federal law protects Internet providers from being held responsible for the content of the sites they provide access to.

While the Web site authors can be held liable, APA attorney Dennis Bailey said those people would be difficult to track down at best.

Bailey directed concerned readers to check if they see any Internet postings or hear any stories they think might be false. The Web site specializes in debunking urban myths and other rumors, but Decatur's alleged slavery law is not mentioned on the site.

Just for the record though, the story about people laughing so hard they die is actually true. Seriously, look it up.

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