Posts Tagged ‘The South’


Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

January 17, 2011

I was planning to write a post about how the man we celebrate today was a true radical activist whose image has been thoroughly sanitized for mass consumption. After all, it’s “Martin Luther King Day of Service,” not “Martin Luther King Day of Action.” But my friend over at Banalogies, as someone who has studied the black freedom struggle in depth, has done it (twice, sort of) far better than I can. So I’ll just leave off with an MLK quote I once used as an epigraph to a series of essays:

“The evils of capitalism are as real as the evils of militarism and evils of racism.”

I wonder what those conservatives claiming some ideological affiliation with MLK would make of this statement.

On a slightly different but related note, I recently finished Nelson Lichtenstein’s State of the Union, which is what seems to me a fairly radical reading of the history of the U.S. labor movement since the Great Depression. While there are many things to say about this book (for now, I’ll just say that much of what Frances Fox Piven had to say a few months ago seems to line up perfectly with Lichtenstein’s viewpoint), one thing that struck me peripherally was how backwards and obstructionist the South, or at least Southern Democrats, were in preventing any social change that undermined existing structures of racial oppression.

Why did this strike me? Only because I grew up, and received my K-12 education, in the South. I had an excellent AP U.S. History teacher – possibly the best teacher I had in high school and one of the best I’ve had in my entire academic career – yet I don’t remember really, viscerally, learning about the role of the South in U.S. race relations. There wasn’t an outright denial of the South’s racist legacy or anything so obvious as that; we learned plenty about the Jim Crow era and the civil rights movement (though, of course, only in the context of civil rights), and no one respectable called the Civil War the War of Northern Aggression. But I have the sneaking suspicion that things were generally sanitized. The clearest example is that the only thing I remember from my education about Reconstruction is that there were “Northern carpetbaggers.” I had no sense that the failure of Reconstruction meant ongoing oppression of African-Americans at the hands of an obdurate South.

All of which is to say, while I think I have a decent grasp on U.S. history, there are some things I should probably revisit in light of where I received my primary education. Perhaps I’ll start with Eric Foner’s book. Any other suggestions?

Flying Whale


The American South as developing country

November 22, 2010

This past Saturday, GOOD put up a nifty infographic (that’s what they do) showing Human Development Index scores by U.S. state. “Does America Have ‘Developing States’?” is the headline, and the brief text asks whether we should think about West Virginia and Tennessee as “developing.”

This is not a new concept; in fact, in a development class I TA’ed for in 2001, the instructor used the question, “Is the American South effectively a developing country?” as an organizing principle for part of the class. (Keep in mind the instructor got his degree from a university in the American South, and all the students were also from the American South.) This isn’t just a glib question. Human Development Index scores are clearly lower in Southern states than elsewhere in the country, particularly the northeast and west. Furthermore, it could well be argued that through the history of the United States, the economic organization of the country has been set up in a kind of extractive developed/developing relationship, with the industrial (and protected) North exploiting labor and cheap primary products from the agricultural (and more free-trade) South.

I haven’t seen the argument taken much further than this, but I don’t have much doubt that it could be. It’s certainly a useful teaching tool and food for thought.

Flying Whale


A New Southern Strategy?

August 7, 2009

The Institute for Southern Studies, with support from the Hill-Snowdon Foundation and the New World Foundation, just put out a report on Social Justice Organizing in the US South.  It’s worth a read, especially if you live or work in one of the six states it profiles: Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina.  But even if you don’t, there are findings worth thinking about.

From an economic justice standpoint, the South stands out.  North Carolina has the lowest union density in the country (coming in at 3%) and its neighboring states aren’t much better.  The region’s trademark “hospitable business climate”–relatively low taxes, absent or non-existent environmental regulations, and a persistent anti-union stance–has allowed it to become home to a surprising number of Fortune 500 companies while still containing eight of the ten poorest states in the nation as well as appalling and increasing levels of income inequality.

On the racial justice front, the stats tell a story too.  Over 40% of the US’s African American population is in the South.  And nine of the ten states with the fastest growing Latino population are in the South too.  Don’t get me wrong–absolute numbers of Latinos are still relatively low.  The story here is the rate of growth.

But the piece that stood out to me was this: one of the biggest weaknesses identified by the report’s writers was a lack of social justice infrastructure.  What’s that, you say?  The “people, groups and networks that strengthen organizing through funding, training, networking, technical help, policy and research assistance, and other support.”

So it’s not the community organizers themselves that are lacking; it’s just everything other than passion and personality that they’d need to be successful.

…which is discouraging.  But there are some bright spots.

North Carolina has made headway with statewide and regional support organziations, the NC Justice Center and the Center for Participatory Change among them.  Georgia has a strong network of academic institutions.  The explosion of new organizations in post-Katrina New Orleans with the potential to step into the gap is promising.

But those bright spots aren’t bright enough or numerous enough to create any kind of comprehensive coverage.

This report is a good first step toward creating a new Southern Strategy, focused on addressing the racist and classist realities that previous Southern Strategies exploited.

Now we wait to see if any funders take the bait.