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The Jason Aldean ‘Try That In A Small Town’ Saga Might Have Another Dog Whistle



The lyric video for the controversial song features an old newspaper clipping tied to a real small town story of racism and retribution
Just when you thought there couldn’t possibly be anymore dog whistles embedded in the Jason Aldean “Try That in a Small Town” saga, an intrepid, sharp-eyed TikTok user has potentially picked out one more. Amazingly, this incident doesn’t involve the song itself, or even its controversial video — part of which was reportedly filmed outside a courthouse in Columbia, Tennessee, the site of a 1933 lynching (and features a surprising amount of footage from Canada). Rather, it involves a promotional video shared on TikTok that eventually became the official lyric video. It’s a largely innocuous video with a newspaper theme, but as TikTok user Danny Collins discovered, there’s an actual old newspaper clipping featured in the video — and it’s tied to a Jim Crow-era story about a writer who was harassed for fighting segregation and white supremacy.
The clipping in question appears around the eight-second mark of Aldean’s TikTok. Collins was able to trace it back to an Aug. 30, 1956 article in The Petal Paper, a weekly paper out of Petal, Mississippi (an actual small town, unlike, say, Macon, Georgia, where Aldean grew up). The Petal Paper was run by Percy Dale East, who frequently delivered satirical broadsides against segregation, racism, and white supremacy. (Rolling Stone was able to confirm Collins’ findings.) The clipping featured in Aldean’s TikTok refers to the most famous incident in The Petal Paper’s history: In March 1956, East published a full-page ad calling out the White Citizens Council, a network of white supremacist groups that had formed a few years prior. The ad (which you can see on the Smithsonian website) featured a caricature of a mule and “promoted” an upcoming “Glorious Citizens Clan” meeting, where attendees were promised the “freedom” to yell racist slurs and “be superior without brain, character, or principle!” The satirical ad actually went proto-viral, with East republishing it a few times himself and licensing it to papers not just in the U.S., but across the world. There was, of course, a lot of backlash, too — and the Aug. 30, 1956 clipping featured in Aldean’s TikTok finds East responding to some it.
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Specifically, East addressed the the allegation that he was serving as “the local mouthpiece” for groups like the NAACP, the Republican Party (this is pre-Southern Strategy realignment), or “other monied interests.” East even offered up a $1,000 reward to anyone who could prove he had any ties to any groups (outside of the Methodist Church, “to which I was at one time a member,” he joked), stating, “I do not represent anything or anyone except myself.” Below that notice, East printed a letter exchange with a man named Don Gross, who said he worked as a public relations consultant for the NAACP. Gross praised East for running the ad, but dryly noted: “I hope I am not congratulating a dead man. This must have taken courage and I hope you are still with us.” In response, East offered up a few more details about how the people of Petal had responded to his satirical ad, saying he and his wife received numerous threatening calls filled with racist language. He also said he’d lost over 200 subscriptions and suggested there was “something resembling an organized effort to stop advertising with my paper.” (This part of the clipping is not featured in Aldean’s TikTok.) As Collins succinctly put it in his TikTok, “Why would this happen to Mr. P.D. East? Because he tried that in a small town. He challenged the southern racist establishment.”
A rep for Aldean did not immediately return Rolling Stone’s request for comment regarding how the Petal Paper clipping wound up in the country star’s TikTok video. Aldean has rejected the interpretation of “Try That in a Small Town” as pro vigilante or “pro-lynching.” Instead, the musician released a statement saying he believes the song “refers the feeling of a community that I had growing up, where we took care of our neighbors, regardless of differences of background or belief.”
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