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Not a Red South or a Blue South, but a New South

Posted: Nov 14, 2008

"...For the times they are a-changin." Bob Dylan

On Monday, November 10, the New York Times ran an article entitled "For South, A Waning Hold on National Politics." The tag line on the article read Vernon, Alabama. Now Vernon is a tiny town in Lamar County in northwest Alabama smack up against the Mississippi state line. It has a population well under 3000--about 86 percent of which is white. The article, by focusing on one of the least populated and poorest counties in the state with essentially no urban center, provides an fascinating but somewhat skewed version of politics and people in the deep south. Yes, the old south is losing its hold on national politics, but maybe the old parties are losing their hold as well.

The article itself makes an important point. The south, courted in the past decades by the Republican Party, has lost its national leverage. Although Alabama is still a red state, the deep south, catered to by Richard Nixon and subsequent Republicans seeking office, is changing once again. The change is subtle, almost imperceptible. But change is in the air.

The south, solidly Democratic for nearly a century, shifted to the red zone in the late nineteen sixties. There is no denying that the motivations came primarily from the same racial fears that had haunted southern whites since Reconstruction. The south, which had been referred to as the Solid South for its electoral supported the Democratic party candidates for nearly one hundred years (1877 to 1964), moved solidly into the Republican camp

The short lived Dixiecrat party split away from the Democrats and attempted to from a third party in 1948. They were soon defunct and by 1964 their former presidential candidate Strom Thurmond had joined the ranks of the Republicans.1976 was the last year a Democratic presidential candidate (Jimmy Carter) won a majority of Southern electoral votes. According to this week's article in the New York Times, the era of the Southernization of American politics is over. Maybe that is a good thing, and maybe it is much more complex than it appears to be on the surface.

After the election on November 4, several states that had been red for over three decades appear to be less red than very dark pink. In at least one southern state, Virginia, Barack Obama captured up to 39 percent of the white vote, and in North Carolina, Obama not only won 35 percent of the white vote overall, but 56 percent of white voters age 18 to 29.

In Alabama, the heart of the deep south, over 16 percent (as opposed to the exit poll count of 10 percent) of white voters cast their ballot for Barack Obama, a man of mixed racial heritage and bearing a name with Muslim connotations. Historically speaking that 16 percent might as well be 50.  Dr. Natalie Davis, political scientist and pollster at Birmingham-Southern  College, wrote me that she ran a regression analysis using actual results with actual voter registration figures. Based on that, the estimate of Obama's white vote in Alabama was 16.6 percent. So, there might have a been a reverse Bradley effect.

President-elect Obama did exceedingly well in certain predominately white precincts in Jefferson County in Alabama. In the 61 predominantly white precincts [in Jefferson County], he [Obama] picked up 28,906 votes, 21.9 percent, more than enough for his victory margin. Dr. Robert Corley, Director of the Global and Community Leadership Honors Program at the University of Alabama-Birmingham said that his precinct, Avondale School, went 60 percent for Obama. Obama also got over 20 percent in boxes in wealthy white areas in Jefferson County.

Forty years ago in 1968, George Wallace, former Governor of Alabama, ran for President on the American Independent ticket and swept the deep south. Last week his daughter Peggy Wallace Kennedy wrote a moving article entitled "My father, George Wallace, and Barack Obama" in which she says: "My father lived long enough to come to an understanding of the injustices borne by his deeds and the legacy of suffering that they left behind. History will teach future generations that he was a man who used his political power to promote a philosophy of exclusion."

She adds, "As his daughter, who witnessed his suffering in the twilight of his years and who witnessed his deeds and heard his words, I am one who believes that the man who, on March 7, 1965, listened to the reports of brutality as they streamed into the Governor's Mansion from Selma, Alabama, was not the same man who, in March of 1995, was welcomed with open arms as he was rolled through a sea of African-American men, women and children who gathered with him to welcome another generation of marchers, retracing in honor and remembrance the historic steps from Selma to Montgomery."

Peggy Kennedy, who lives with her husband and children in Montgomery, Alabama, declares, " Healing must come, hope will be our lodestar, humility will reshape the American conscience, and honesty in both word and deed will refresh and invigorate America, and having Barack Obama to lead will give us back our power to heal."

Earlier this week I had dinner at the home of friends on Elk River in Limestone County (only a few counties north of Lamar). About ten of us gathered to celebrate the election and to drink a toast to hope and possibility. The population along the shores of Elk River is considerably smaller than that of Vernon, Alabama, and yet in our immediate community of just over two dozen persons, at least twenty of them voted for Barack Obama.

This is the new south. Not the red south, not the blue south, but a new south, and I am proud to be a part of it.

Post script---Yesterday, November 13, 1956, the Supreme Court struck down laws calling for racial segregation on public buses.

----Penne J. Laubenthal

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Dixieman64 says...

This is a bunch of "politically correct" hog-wash! Wallace was right, and if you'd just look at crime statistics nationwide, you'd see it for your self. Since the fifties, public schools have "taught" our children to believe that Whites have "oppressed" every other culture and "society" in the world. They have been made to fell ashamed of their history, and heritage, all the while ignoring the accomplishments of their forefathers. Their brainwashed into believing they should feel sorry for minorities, and give them a hand up. I for one don't feel one bit sorry for them. I don't owe them anything. Yes, Europeans have conquered nations, but what did we bring with us? Education? Civilization? Medicine? Proper Religion? Just what is it, that we're supposed to be so ashamed of? Should I feel ashamed for flying my Confederate Flag? I don't. Should I be ashamed of my Southern accent? I'm not. Should I teach my children that racial diversity is a good thing? I won't. This entire argument became a moot point, when Obama was "elected" president. I'm sorry, but the era of White guilt is over.

EllenRose says...

Even though I work in Vernon, Alabama, I still had to agree with the depiction of those interviewed by the New York reporter. I think the fearful sentiments expressed may serve to explain in part, why the area is so depressed, economically. This desperate clinging to the familiar seems to be choking off the the area from any type of progress and growth. In addition, I work with families and children, specifically in the area of child safety, and I have seen a lot of damage done to our programs by Republican politics. Those in power try to make it seem as though they are doing a great thing and that it is the voter's "Christian" duty to support their agenda, but really, it is all about seizing power and keeping it. It made me so sad to see how many of poor struggling citizens in this area were taken in, once again, by the Republicans' poorly disguised gluttony. I hope those who were quoted in the Times' article, and those who agree with them, live long enough to see the healing take place down here. I surprised myself the night of the election by breaking down and crying. I did not expect to, for I did feel the result was a foregone conclusion. It was just so amazing to see it actually happening right in front of me, and to feel that finally, we might have a chance for a New South!

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