Atlanta Intersections features Atlantans in conversation with Randy Gue, curator of Modern Political and Historical Collections at Emory University's Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL). In collaboration with Southern Spaces, MARBL presents clips of the full interviews to spur conversations and encourage research on the featured topics.
Jesse Peel, MARBL Woodruff Room, Atlanta, Georgia, October 2012. Photograph by Bryan Meltz of Emory University Photo Video.
Dr. Jesse Peel, psychiatrist and longtime AIDS and LGBT community activist, moved to Atlanta in 1976 where he opened a practice that served primarily gay men. In the early 1980s, many of Peel's clients and friends became sick and started dying from a mysterious new disease eventually named the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, commonly known as AIDS. Shocked and galvanized by the toll of the epidemic, Peel served on the board of directors of AID Atlanta and helped found Positive Impact, an organization dedicated to providing mental health programs for people with HIV and their friends, families, and caregivers.
In this interview, Dr. Peel discusses his life as a gay man in Nashville, Tennessee, his move to Atlanta in the mid 1970s, and the geography of the LGBT community during the early years of the AIDS epidemic. In disarmingly charismatic fashion, Dr. Peel responds to questions about his life and accomplishments, often evoking audience laughter. In response to Rand Gue's query, "Why did you move to Atlanta?" Peel retorts, "When you start running into clients going into a gay bar as you're coming out, it's probably a good idea to shift to a larger venue."
|Randy Gue interviews Jesse R. Peel.|
This exchange presents Peel's conversational style of answering serious questions with humor. Peel's approach invites the audience to participate in thinking about difficult topics ranging from family disapproval of homosexuality, alienation from one's childhood community, fear of disease, to the loss of friends and loved ones.
Peel also discusses Atlantans' multiple and contradictory responses to the emergent AIDS epidemic, as well as the efforts of health organizations that mobilized in its wake. Peel also talks about several political debates that shaped public discourse and the treatment of AIDS patients during the early years of the disease's history in Atlanta.
In 2012, Peel donated his personal papers to Emory's Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL) to preserve and share his own experiences and stories of Atlanta's response to the AIDS epidemic with students, researchers, and the public. For more on Peel's contributions to the Atlanta LGBT community and AIDS advocacy efforts, see the Jesse R. Peel Papers.
The Southern Education Foundation's 2015 research bulletin reports that for the first time in over fifty years, a majority of schoolchildren attending the nation's public schools come from low-income families. "A New Majority" documents that in four out of every five states, low-income students comprised 40 percent or more of all public schoolchildren. In 2013, 50 percent or more of the public schoolchildren in twenty-one states were eligible to receive free or reduced-price lunches, a benefit available only to families living in poverty or near-poverty.
The report further documents that most of the states with high rates of low-income students were in the South and West. Thirteen of the twenty-one states with a majority of low-income students were located in the South, and six others were in the West. Mississippi led the nation with the highest rate: 71 percent, almost three out of every four public school children in Mississippi, were low-income. The nation's second highest rate was found in New Mexico, where 68 percent of all public school students were low-income.
This defining moment in enrollment in US public education comes as a consequence of a steadily growing trend across several decades. In 1989, less than 32 percent of the nation's public school students were low-income. By 2000, the national rate had increased to over 38 percent.
|Percent of Low Income Students in US Public Schools 2013. Map and Data courtesy of Steve Suitts and the Southern Education Foundation.|
The implications of this trend are far-reaching. It indicates persisting economic hardship for a large number of families with school-age children, signaling that children who usually have the largest educational needs often receive the least support, and are now a majority in the nation's public schools.
The South and the nation are today a part of a new global economy that requires higher skills and knowledge from all who seek a decent living and a good life. People and policymakers must realize that their future and their grandchildren's future are inextricably bound to the success or failure of low-income students. This trend strongly suggests that little or nothing will change for the better if schools and communities continue to postpone addressing the primary question of education in America today: what does it take and what will be done to provide low-income students with a good chance to succeed in public schools? It is a question of how, not where, to improve the education of a new majority of students.
The problems and needs of low-income students remain a matter of fairness, but they are also much more. The success or failure of these children in the public schools will determine the nation's future educational potential. Without improving educational support for low-income students—without effectively addressing the problems of poverty and low-income—the trend of the last few decades will be prologue for a nation not at risk, but in decline.
About the Author
Steve Suitts is senior fellow at the Southern Education Foundation.
Suitts, Steve. "A New Majority Research Bulletin: Low Income Students Now a Majority in the Nation's Public Schools." Southern Education Foundation (2015). http://www.southerneducation.org/Our-Strategies/Research-and-Publications/New-Majority-Diverse-Majority-Report-Series/A-New-Majority-2015-Update-Low-Income-Students-Now.
———. "Update A New Majority: Low Income Students in the South and Nation." Southern Education Foundation (2013). http://www.southerneducation.org/News-and-Events/posts/April-2014/Juvenile-Justice-Education-Programs-in-the-United-aspx.aspx.
———. "A New Majority: Low Income Students in the South's Public Schools." Southern Education Foundation (2007). http://www.southerneducation.org/Our-Strategies/Research-and-Publications/New-Majority-Diverse-Majority-Report-Series/A-New-Majority-Low-Income-Students-in-the-South-s.aspx.
Related Southern Spaces Publications
Suitts, Steve. "Crisis of the New Majority: Low-Income Students in the South's Public Schools." Southern Spaces, April 16, 2008. http://southernspaces.org/2008/crisis-new-majority-low-income-students-souths-public-schools.
———. "The Worst of Times: Children in Extreme Poverty in the South and Nation." Southern Spaces, June 29, 2010. http://southernspaces.org/2010/worst-times-children-extreme-poverty-south-and-nation.
Atlanta Intersections features Atlantans in conversation with Randy Gue, curator of Modern Political and Historical Collections at Emory University's Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL). In collaboration with Southern Spaces, MARBL presents clips of the full interviews to spur conversations and encourage research on the featured topics.
In this interview, Susannah Darrow, executive director and co-founder of the arts magazine BURNAWAY, discusses the publication’s mission and its role in the Atlanta art scene. Darrow also explores recent collaborations between urban development projects, such as the Atlanta Beltline, and burgeoning art organizations, including Low Museum and Dashboard Co-op.
|Randy Gue interviews Susan Darrow of BURNAWAY magazine.|
About Susannah Darrow
Susannah Darrow is the executive director and co-founder of BURNAWAY, a nonprofit organization that provides coverage and critical dialogue about the arts in and from Atlanta to champion and support vibrant creative communities across the Southeast.
In 2014, Georgia Trend Magazine selected Darrow as one of Georgia's "40 Under 40." In 2013, the Georgia Center for Nonprofits included the native Atlantan among its "30 Under 30." Affiliated with the Arts Leaders of Metro Atlanta, Darrow serves on the board of directors for the Georgia Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts and as advisor to Atlanta Celebrates Photography. Darrow received a BA in Art History from the University of Georgia and an MA in Art History from Georgia State University.
There is no place where I can go, or where you can go, and think about, or summon the presence of, or recollect the absences of the ones that made the journey. There is no small bench by the road, there is not even a tree scored and initialized that I can visit, or you can visit, in Charleston, or Savannah, or New York, or Providence, or the Ohio River, or better still, on the banks of the Mississippi.
|Plaza de la Constitution, St. Augustine, Florida, October 6, 2013. Participants placing carnations representing the 55 nations of Africa in a basket during the ceremony. Carnations were later placed in water to mark the arrival of captive people at the port. Photograph by William H. Hamilton, Jr. Courtesy of MPCPMP.|
The Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project (MPCPMP) was established in 2011 to honor and commemorate the two million captive Africans who died during the Middle Passage and the half million enslaved who survived, arriving at forty-one documented sites in the United States. At these arrival ports a significant portion of American history began. Relying principally upon information from Voyages: The Transatlantic Slave Trade Database, developed by professors David Eltis of Emory University and David Richardson of the University of Hull, MPCPMP works with local residents and officials to conduct ancestral remembrance ceremonies and install historic markers related to Middle Passage history. This project's primary purpose is to provide a means of remembering and healing for the descendants of the enslaved and the nation.
Sotterley Plantation, Hollywood, Maryland, November 12, 2012. Akan priest offering libation for ancestors. The people who arrived in this region were primarily imported by the Royal African Company based on the Gold Coast (Ghana). The plantation owner at Sotterley was an agent for the Company. Photograph by Kenneth Ford. Courtesy of MPCPMP.
The remembrance ceremonies at these ports present the history of the transatlantic human trade and provide a means for addressing a painful and shameful American experience whose vestiges persist today. These ceremonies feature rituals incorporating representatives of African, Native American, Asian, and European religious traditions with current and historical ties to the site as well as a detailed recounting of the history of enslavement in the specific locale.
The installation of historic markers at the forty-one Middle Passage arrival ports publicly designates these places as crucial points where the lives of European and African people intersected to form what would become the United States. In some cases, this has required a reassessment of the popular narrative and perceptions. For instance, Jamestown, Virginia, which is routinely identified in schoolbooks as the place where Africans first arrived in North America, is neither the actual place of Africans' first arrival in Virginia (Point Comfort, Hampton, Virginia, is the actual site) or in North America (Florida holds that distinction). Residents of Fredericksburg, Virginia, long identified with the domestic human trade, recently learned, after MPCPMP presented Eltis's research from the Voyages Database, that their city was a Middle Passage port on the Rappahannock River.2
Fells Point, Broadway Pier, Baltimore, Maryland, 2012 (The first ceremony sponsored by MPCPMP). Participants pouring libation to honor African ancestors who experienced the Middle Passage. Photograph by Zora Cobb. Courtesy of MPCPMP.
With a proposed marker to be unveiled February 7, 2015, St. Augustine, Florida, previously known as a Spanish colony, will henceforth be identified as the oldest permanent (1565) European/African/Native American settlement on US territory. The inclusion of the forty–sixty free and enslaved Africans who arrived on Spanish ships at the first landing on August 28, 1565, significantly alters the narrative as the city embarks on commemorating its 450th anniversary. Boston is scheduled to hold a Middle Passage remembrance ceremony and to place a marker on August 23, 2015. The historical marker text will inform the general public about the Bay Colony's role as the first place where slavery was legal in the North American British colonies. This further reconfigures the popular perception that slavery was a phenomenon only of the US South. When a marker is installed in the Sapelo Bay area in Georgia, it will increase awareness that in 1526 the first European/African settlement, San Miguel de Gualdape, was established in this area. That marker will also record that Sapelo Bay is the site of the first rebellion by enslaved Africans and the first maroon community on the North American mainland.
|Documented middle passage sites in the continental United States (southerneastern and southwestern states, detail), 2014. Map by Lynn Carlson. Key: B = Ports where a marker has been placed and a ceremony has been held; M = Ports where a marker has been placed; C = Ports where a ceremony has been held; N = Ports with neither a marker nor a ceremony.|
|Documented middle passage sites in the continental United States (mid-Atlantic and northeastern states, detail), 2014. Map by Lynn Carlson. Key: B = Ports where a marker has been placed and a ceremony has been held; M = Ports where a marker has been placed; C = Ports where a ceremony has been held; N = Ports with neither a marker nor a ceremony.|
Each MPCPMP ceremony and marker is unique. In our initial presentation to local participants in the commemoration project, we suggest elements to include in the remembrance ceremony and discuss the historical information on each marker, but otherwise act only as a facilitator and advisor. Each locale makes the decisions on the ceremony, program, marker design, and text. To date, nine sites have sponsored ceremonies in conjunction with the project since 2012:
- Baltimore, Maryland,
- Sotterley Plantation in Hollywood, Maryland,
- Annapolis, Maryland,
- Historic Jamestowne, Virginia,
- Yorktown, Virginia,
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,
- Pensacola, Florida,
- Fernandina Beach, Florida,
- St. Augustine, Florida.
Three locations have installed markers: Historic Jamestowne, Virginia; Yorktown, Virginia; and Sotterley Plantation in Hollywood, Maryland. Eight locations are planning for ceremonies and/or marker installations: Boston (scheduled for August 23, 2015); Bristol, Rhode Island; Annapolis, Maryland (scheduled for February, 2015); Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Galveston, Texas; Fredericksburg, Virginia (scheduled for 2015); St. Augustine, Florida (scheduled for February 7, 2015); and Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Two cities are reviewing historical evidence to determine if they will support the designation of Middle Passage arrival ports: Baltimore and Oxford, Maryland.
|Marker at Historic Jamestowne, Virginia, placed on August 23, 2013. Courtesy of MPCPMP.|
Over the last twenty years local groups in several US cities have conducted African ancestral remembrance ceremonies marking Middle Passage sites.3 Some have affiliated into a loosely knit network independent of MPCPMP. As the only national organization working to commemorate Middle Passage sites, MPCPMP complements this work by ensuring that this history is systematically acknowledged and documented. As a member of the MPCPMP honorary board and creator of the database of the transatlantic slave trade, Eltis has been instrumental to this effort. Through information on the years, ships, numbers of captive Africans delivered, and embarkation and disembarkation locations obtained from Voyages, the project is able to present an appeal for ceremonies and markers at each arrival site based upon scholarly research. In a very real way, this is the direct and immediate application of scholarship to public history. MPCPMP works with local contacts to make a place where everyone "can go, to think about, or . . . summon the presence of, or recollect the absences of . . . the ones that made the journey."4
About the Author
Ann Chinn is the Executive Director of the Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project (MPCPMP).
This is an open access work distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution No Derivatives 4.0 License.
- 1. Toni Morrison, "A Bench by the Road," World Journal of the Unitarian Universalist Association 3 (January/February 1989): 4.
- 2. Further study by a National Park Service historian reviewing data from the New York Historical Society provided more detail to support this "new" site definition.
- 3. These cities include New York, New York, New Orleans, Louisiana, Hampton, Virginia, Oakland, California, Miami, Florida, Key West, Florida, and Galveston, Texas.
- 4. Toni Morrison, "A Bench by the Road."
Series editor: Mary E. Frederickson, Emory University.
Submission deadline: March 31, 2015.
Questions: Contact managing editor Jesse P. Karlsberg.
|From Aiko Takeuchi-Demirci, "The Color of Democracy: A Japanese Public Health Official's Reconnaissance Trip to the US South."|
Southern Spaces, an interdisciplinary, peer-reviewed online journal that publishes innovative scholarship on regions, places, and cultures of the US South and their global connections invites scholars, critics, writers, health care providers, public health practitioners, and patients to submit essays, photo essays, original documentaries, and digital projects for a forthcoming series titled Public Health and/in the US and Global South. Southern Spaces publications analyze and explore real and imagined places in the US South; make connections and comparisons between southern regions or locales and places in the wider world; and challenge conventional ways of understanding the people, places, and cultures found in and across the South.
This 2015–2016 series will examine the relationship between public health and specific geographies—both real and imagined—in and across the US and global South. The journal welcomes projects relating to any time period or genre. Interdisciplinary frameworks, critical approaches to space and place, and work that foregrounds a transnational approach to public health are especially encouraged. Where possible, proposals should include media—sound, video, maps, images.
|From Gwen Ottinger, Ellen Griffith Spears, and Kate Orff, "Petrochemical America, Petrochemical Addiction."|
Possible topics include but are not limited to the following themes framed in relationship to the US and/or global South:
- The relationship between health and migration,
- Public health and its material culture(s)
- Intersections of public health with place, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class
- Campaigns for immunization, safe food, clean water, and disease eradication
- Forms of healing (religious, spiritual, nutritional, and medicinal)
- Historically Black Medical Schools
- Disease specific analyses: sickle cell anemia, malaria, pellagra, hookworm, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, alcoholism, Ebola, HIV/AIDS
- Disability studies
- Local, state, and federal public health programs and institutions: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Institutes of Health (NIH), Public Health Service (PHS), Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA)
- Drug testing, DNA analysis, and genetic screening programs
- Prisoners and public health
- Health insurance: Medicare, Medicaid, Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and the Affordable Care Act
- Public health and racial segregation
- Labor and public health, corporate medical policies, work-related health issues
- Rural poverty and well-being
- Mental health
- Food deserts and place-based food insecurity
- Health-focused writing: fiction, memoir, and (auto)-biography
- Domestic violence
- Gun control and public health
- Maternal and child morbidity and mortality
In addition to essays, photo essays, and short videos, this series will feature peer-reviewed digital projects. Please contact the journal if you have any questions about the submission process or other aspects of digital project publishing. Southern Spaces editors are committed to assisting scholars at all levels of technological proficiency and support journal authors in selecting and producing multi-media materials to accompany their scholarship.
|From Christie Herring, Bodies and Souls.|
While the journal will accept full essays during this initial call, the editorial staff encourages interested authors to submit proposals (350–700 words) at this stage. Selected proposal authors will be asked to submit a full essay for internal and eventual peer review. See the Southern Spaces submissions guidelines for style and formatting. All proposals should be submitted to email@example.com by March 31, 2015.
The following pieces provide examples of the critical, interdisciplinary, and multimedia engagement with public health in the US and global South that this series seeks to expand:
- Takeuchi-Demirci, Aiko. "The Color of Democracy: A Japanese Public Health Official's Reconnaissance Trip to the US South." Southern Spaces, March 18, 2011. http://southernspaces.org/2011/color-democracy-japanese-public-health-officials-reconnaissance-trip-us-south.
- Herring, Christie. Bodies and Souls. Southern Spaces, November 30, 2009. http://southernspaces.org/2009/bodies-and-souls.
- Kirplani, Neeta and Emily Jackson. "Birth Right." Southern Spaces, January 12, 2010. http://southernspaces.org/2010/birth-right.
- Ottinger, Gwen, Ellen Griffith Spears, and Kate Orff. "Petrochemical America, Petrochemical Addiction." Southern Spaces, November 26, 2013. http://southernspaces.org/2013/petrochemical-america-petrochemical-addiction.
- Hill, Sarah. "Cherokee Removal Scenes: Ellijay, Georgia, 1838." Southern Spaces, August 23, 2012. http://southernspaces.org/2012/cherokee-removal-scenes-ellijay-georgia-1838.
Election Day, 2014. I agreed to be a poll worker in the predominantly rural, working-class white precinct in Transylvania County, North Carolina, where my wife and I vote. After a couple of hours setting up the machines Monday night, I was back at the precinct at 5:30 a.m. Interesting, but not fun—and that's not just because of the long hours and the results. Still, it was an educational experience sitting there and chatting with the other five poll workers. One was a quiet Democrat. I think the others were Republicans in affiliation or outlook. They were extraordinarily warm and pleasant, but over the next fourteen to fifteen hours I learned more about the political culture of working class conservatism than I would have gleaned from reading a dozen books on the subject.
|Location of Transylvania County in North Carolina (top) and location of the Pisgah Forest Precinct in Transylvania County, North Carolina (bottom). Maps by Southern Spaces, 2014.|
I also discovered (as I had during the May primary) that it was relatively easy to spot most Republicans before handing them their voting forms, since they often shared a common facial expression: anger. To paraphrase the oft-quoted line from the 1976 film Network, they were mad as hell and they weren't going to take it anymore.
When we closed up the polls at 8:30 p.m. and printed out the results, I didn't need a statewide exit poll to know what had happened. In a precinct where registered Democrats made up 37 percent, Republicans 30 percent, and "unaffiliated" 33 percent, the incumbent Democratic US senator Kay Hagan earned 38 percent of the vote, losing to a widely disliked Republican opponent who had led the GOP's attack on public education in North Carolina. In her 2008 election, Hagan had lost to Elizabeth Dole by 1 percent in Transylvania County. Hagan's defeat could be blamed on the links between the senator and president Obama. As her opponent and the dark money supporting him said in their commercials, she had supported the president "96 percent of the time."
But in local races where Obama's name was seldom mentioned, the results were the same. There were two slots open for the county commission. One incumbent was a conservative activist whose sarcastic letters in the local newspaper attacking liberals and Democrats in general and Barack Obama in particular have been tempered since his 2010 election. But as far as I could tell, his primary campaign message was to remind voters, "It's your money, not the government's." The second incumbent was against gay marriage, the Affordable Care Act, tax increases, any form of zoning or community planning, and regulations on business ("Job killers"). He was for Second Amendment rights. From my perspective, neither of these Republican incumbents extensively campaigned.
Lee McMinn (University of Texas graduate, retired Marine lieutenant colonel, Vietnam veteran/helicopter pilot with two graduate degrees and years of community activism) and Sam Edney (a local businessman and committed environmentalist whose special passion is the problem of food insecurity for children) ran as Democrats. The two worked seventy-hour weeks, spoke and shook hands at every gathering available and met with smaller groups of voters in dozens of homes across the county. They presented a thoughtful program that they posted on their websites and promoted through all forms of social media, including Facebook. They described the kinds of constructive measures that have worked across Transylvania County to develop environmentally responsible and appropriately scaled industry in order to improve the county's struggling economy. While avoiding the word "zoning" (the third rail of local politics), they emphasized the need to engage in coordinated planning to protect the community's greatest resource, its natural and unspoiled beauty. Since the commission levies taxes for the county's excellent but strained schools, they emphasized the importance of adequately funding Transylvania County's school system. They promoted these positions extensively and worked closely with the local Democratic get-out-the-vote campaign.
In the weeks leading up to the election, I heard enough angry remarks from voters, many bearing all the marks of poverty (or barely hanging on to middle class), to become persuaded there is little future here beyond right-wing sound bites—at least not in my lifetime. For the last four years, Republican legislators in Raleigh have engaged in a relentless war on public education. When a teacher came in to vote, openly clutching her Republican ballot sheet, it was all I could do to keep from asking: "Do you always lick the boots that kick you?"
Of course one western North Carolina precinct is not a profile of the nation. This one is overwhelmingly white and has a percentage of retirees twice that of the state as a whole. But in some ways, the vote in this county is a microcosm of what is happening across America. When my wife, Jane, and I moved here part-time in 1991, the county commission was majority Democratic. While Republicans gained the majority over the next several election cycles, on local issues the commission was fairly progressive, supporting education funding, county planning, and investment in new facilities like the state-of-the art county library. Transylvania was included in the congressional district of Charles Taylor, a right-wing Republican. During these early years, county representation in the state house and senate moved back and forth between fairly conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans and there was considerable cross-party cooperation.
|Party affiliation by race in Pisgah Forest Precinct, Transylvania County, North Carolina, 2014. Chart by Southern Spaces.|
Although the latest election, like that of 2010, was a disaster for Democrats, the political center had been shifting rightward over the last fifteen years. In part this was simply a reflection of national trends, but it also reflected the powerful role of Art Pope, North Carolina's version of the Koch Brothers. Through the 1990s and the last decade, the wealthy retail magnate relentlessly promoted a right-wing agenda even as he used his considerable clout to defeat moderate Republican office-holders. (A Tea Party-endorsed candidate unseated the county's moderate Republican state representative in the 2010 GOP primary.)
Today the city of Brevard (population 7,700) remains Democratic—though by a reduced margin—but Tea-Party Republicanism has been on the rise here and throughout western North Carolina, Asheville excepted. As I looked at the precinct returns at election headquarters on election night, I was struck by the voting unity of white working class voters and well-to-do retirees. In the western end of the county, retirees in upscale developments around Lake Toxaway joined hands with some of the poorest residents of the county to vote solidly Republican. (Whites in Transylvania County have a poverty rate that is 20 percent higher than that of whites across the state.) The same pattern appeared in the precinct encompassing Connestee Falls, the large middle/upper-middle class gated retiree community a few miles south of Brevard.
The final element cementing this political shift is the ruthless efficiency with which the North Carolina GOP pushed through its gerrymandering project in 2011. It is conceivable that Democrats can compete in statewide elections, and there are a few areas of the state where countywide elections and a fairly even party balance can create competitive races. But the scalpel-like precision with which national Republican redistricting guru Tom Hofeller carved up congressional and state legislative districts in this state means that most elections are as pointless as those in North Korea. In this election less than half of the state senate and house incumbents faced opposition, and the election produced almost no change in party composition. Given the difficulty of unseating incumbents in their safe districts, the number of challengers in 2016 is likely to decline even further. Our neighboring South Carolina offers a window into the future. In this most recent election less than 25 percent of South Carolina legislators faced opposition. Not a single seat changed parties.
|Moral Monday march on Raleigh, North Carolina, February 8, 2014. Photograph by James Willamor, CC-BY-SA 2.0. In September 2013 Dan T. Carter wrote for Southern Spaces about the tumult in North Carolina government.|
It is a pattern repeated across the South. In the aftermath of the 1968 presidential election, Kevin Phillips assured his boss, Richard Nixon, that the 95 percent support of black voters for John Kennedy was a blessing in disguise. The GOP, said Phillips, could "build a winning coalition without Negro votes. . . . Indeed," he said, "Negro-Democratic mutual identification" was a critical factor in the growth of the Republican Party in the South which would become the foundation of a new Republican majority. With the Democratic Party becoming the "Negro party throughout most of the South," the Republicans would soon dominate that section of the country. That same policy of "Negro-Democratic identification," he added, would attract disenchanted white working class voters in the North as well.1 That memo has been the driving Republican strategy from Phillips through Lee Atwater and on to Karl Rove. With the added lift-off furnished by many white southerners' visceral hatred of a black president, it has made the white Republican South the lynchpin of the GOP's congressional majorities in the US House and Senate.
I have continued to work and write and speak about progressive politics after Reagan, driven by disgust over what I saw as the triumph of greed in our economic system and contempt for those who are not "winners" in our increasingly dog-eat-dog society. Optimistically, I concluded that I would probably be dead before the final triumph of our corporate plutocracy. But I did not want to see my children and grandchildren inherit this political dystopia.
While the 2008 election seemed to offer a possibility of change it now seems more like a mirage in our political downward spiral. I've often felt depressed, most recently after the 2000, 2002, 2004, and 2010 elections. My usual response to disappointment has been to feverishly read the analysis of state and national political pundits, searching for what went wrong, grasping for the silver linings.
Not this time. I know it was a debacle, but I still haven't read political coverage in a newspaper, and I've tuned out television, magazine, and internet post-mortems. Nor, after decades as a political news junkie, have I any desire to follow the coverage.
Two days after the election, in an attempt to avoid such depressing reflections, I went into my shop to catch up on one of my duties at the Unitarian-Universalist Church here in Brevard: making obituary "leaves" for the sculptural tree in our memorial garden. (A local blacksmith did the tree; I engrave the names of deceased congregation members with birth and death dates, cut them into leaves, and epoxy them to the tree.) As I finished the seventh and last leaf, I looked at the birth dates. One was 1919, another 1927, the rest from the 1930s and 1940s. I realized suddenly that one was my age; another was younger.
|The good old days. Detail from "Don't Sit under the Mushroom," 1956. Pamphlet promoting atomic bomb safety by Seattle and King County Civil Defense Departments. Courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives, CC-BY 2.0.|
Except for the normal problems with memory that we have as we get older—particularly names, where I have to rummage around to pull the rabbit out of the hat—I am in good physical and mental health. But I don't think I want to spend the years I have left feeling angry, bitter, and frustrated. It pains me to say it, but I think this new rancid form of conservatism has won the underlying battle of ideas for the foreseeable future. Over the last thirty-five to forty years, the war against the very notion of the common good and government as a tool in reaching that common good has sometimes retreated one step backward, but retreat was always followed by two steps forward.
Religious fervor centered around the issues of abortion, gay rights, and other social issues has played a powerful role in the shift. And I can understand the deep nostalgia of frightened voters who want to return to that "golden age"—say 1953—when blacks knew their place, women were happy as homemakers, most people went to church on Sunday and anyone—anyone white at least—with a high school education and a strong back had a future with relative security.
If nostalgia and religious reaction play a major role in our political transformation, it is money that calls the tune. The new plutocracy and its well-paid pimps have had the advantages of vast wealth and a news media that gives the phrase "shallow and superficial" a whole new meaning. How do we make thoughtful political decisions in a country where reporters solemnly balance the views of crackpot climate-change deniers and the 97 percent of earth scientists who have spent their careers analyzing the data? Given the deep seated anti-intellectualism that permeates our culture, should we really be surprised to learn that more Americans believe in the physical existence of angels than in the theory of evolution? Or that, as several studies have shown, our college educated generation is no better informed on basic civic information than a Depression generation dominated by grade school and high school graduates?
And so a parasitic financial industry grows exponentially as it shuffles money from the middle class to the rich with all the skills of a side-walk hustler plying his shell game to clueless marks; the super-rich and those just below them see their portfolios fatten while middle class, working class, and poor Americans watch their incomes stagnate or decline; a generation of children remain trapped in schools overwhelmed by the complex ills of poverty and isolation; we continue to incarcerate young men (mostly black and brown) at a staggering rate; growing numbers of Americans remain food insecure in the richest nation on earth; despite the gains of the last year, millions continue to lack health care insurance at a time when every other advanced democracy in the western world sees this as a basic human right; young people graduate from college overwhelmed with debt; a bloated defense industry siphons hundreds of billions into the sinkhole of sleazy contractors and useless weapons systems; global warming threatens the future of our planet; our national infrastructure continues its slow but inexorable decline toward third world status . . .
And millions of voters seem convinced that the greatest threat to our nation is the "war on Christmas" or—in the words of the late Ronald Reagan—the "strapping young buck" who buys T-bones with food stamps. As a civically engaged electorate retreats with each election, I've reluctantly come to believe that it's what most people want, or if that's not what they want, it's not very important to resist. I can understand the feeling. Watching Dancing with the Stars or fondling an iPhone is a lot more relaxing than confronting the cynical, money-driven political system in Washington and Raleigh.
|Millions of voters seem convinced that the greatest threat to our nation is the "war on Christmas." This still is from the December 2, 2014 episode of the The O'Reilly Factor on Fox News.|
Something has soured as the American dream of mobility and economic security drifts further away. What if the right is winning not because of its financial clout or its political skills but because they have tapped into the authentic core of the new American psyche? What if racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, and hyper-individualism are all bound together by a fear that somewhere, someone struggling one step below on the ladder of life will get a free meal at "my" expense? Perhaps the intensity of the hostility toward "Obamacare" is more than a reflection of the very real racial hostility toward Barack Obama. Perhaps it lies in the belief that this program is just one more handout for the undeserving poor, paid by "my" money.
Americans can be generous volunteers, givers of charity, filled with compassion. My own community has a dozen or more organizations struggling heroically to fill the needs of our poorest residents. But I've concluded that much of this generosity extends only so far as the "giver" chooses the level of giving and the objects of his or her charity. The notion that there is some fundamental principle of justice that requires us to relinquish that individual choice to a democratic government is simply not going to carry the day—at least in my lifetime. As the top vote-getting commissioner says to voters in my county, which has one of the lowest tax rates in the state, "It's your money, not the government's."
Couple that with the fact that we have become a nation of voters who shrink from any demands on our pocketbooks or any personal sacrifice of our "liberties" for the common good and you have the new America. This is now the subliminal default position among voters or at least among those who bother to vote. I acknowledge that there is an understandably cynical view that voting really doesn't count. As I look at the groveling subservience of much of the Democratic Party to the same financial interests and K Street lobbyists that are corrupting our teetering democracy, I keep thinking of the late George Wallace's complaint that the difference between Republicans and Democrats was "tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum." Of course there are differences: just ask the millions of Americans who now have healthcare as a result of the expansion of Medicaid and the passage of the Affordable Care Act. In the case of both parties, however, the subservience to Wall Street and the one percent differs only in degree.
I recently read through the major speeches of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan in preparation for an interview in CNN's planned series on the 1970s. In the face of the gas crisis of 1979, Carter called upon Americans to turn down their thermostats, car pool, and drive less. After the 2001 9/11 attack, George Bush insisted that tax cuts should go forward as planned and he urged Americans to take their families to Disneyland and "enjoy life the way we want it to be enjoyed." Whatever his faults, Jimmy Carter was the last president who asked for broad sacrifice from the American people, who bluntly told them there was no free lunch. And Americans hated it. Ronald Reagan set the template: every candidate that followed, with the exception of the hapless Walter Mondale, has had to promise ever-expanding programs for the middle and upper classes without increasing taxes, the good times for all without sacrifice by anyone. There is little support for a national leader who tells us to eat our peas instead of "freedom" fries.
|"NC GOP Redistricting," November 10, 2014. Political cartoon by John Cole. Courtesy of the cartoonist.|
Having retired, I now live in the midst of great natural beauty here in the western mountains of North Carolina; every day I encounter friendly neighbors who make day-to-day life worthwhile. But I also live in a county that just rejected two outstanding candidates while reelecting our reactionary Republican commission members; in a county that voted two-to-one for a mean-spirited Tea Party state senator and a Christian nationalist state representative. I live in a state where those who bothered to vote have chosen as their United States senator a man who led his party in slashing public education; manipulating homophobia for political gain; enacting voter laws that take their inspiration from the days of Jim Crow; granting tax cuts to his rich backers; rejecting federally funded medical care for our poorest citizens through Medicaid; cutting unemployment insurance to some of the lowest levels in the nation; and in general serving as a faithful gofer for every right-wing financial interest ready to open a check-book for his party's next political campaign.
As I have watched these events unfold I have reluctantly concluded that seeking justice by placing our faith in a public dialogue over "the facts" is as fantastical as Don Quixote's mounted charge against the tattered windmills of seventeenth century Spain. Frederick Douglass may have been a great orator who believed in the power of language to rouse his supporters, but in bringing about genuine change he was nearer the truth when he wrote that "power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."2
I'm no Henry David Thoreau and I don't plan to retreat to my own version of Walden Pond. I am taking a break from my day-to-day obsession with politics and the avalanche of information that—I fear—leaves us adrift in understanding what has been happening to our nation and what we might do to reverse course. Perhaps I will have a flashing insight as I cut, plane, and assemble into furniture the hardwoods of these mountains that I have come to love.
About the Author
Dan Carter is Educational Foundation Emeritus Professor at the University of South Carolina. He is the author of numerous books and articles including The Politics of Rage: George Wallace, the Origins of the New Conservatism, and the Transformation of American Politics (Louisiana State University Press, second edition, 2000).
Good-Bye to All That?»
Big Ten football has received plenty of criticism in recent years, much of it well deserved. The conference clearly isn't what it used to be, and Marc Tracy recently identified some of the reasons why in an excellent piece in the New York Times, concentrating on the Rustbelt's economic and demographic decline, which has left it with fewer resources and top players versus other regions, particularly the Sunbelt.1 Tracy missed one very important point, however, one that is vital to understanding both the Big Ten's former preeminence and its long-term slide: the easing of the "color line" in major southern athletics conferences in the 1970s.
The Big Ten's modern heyday in football was in the 1950s and 1960s. The conference's strength, particularly from the mid-1950s on, was due in large part to the fact that its schools recruited talented African American athletes earlier than a number of other power conferences, most notably, of course, those in the South. Before the early 1970s, a minuscule number of African Americans from the South played football in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), the Southeastern Conference (SEC), and the Southwest Conference (SWC), leaving the best African American high-school players with two options: play at one or another of the region's many historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) or play outside the region. Thus, the origins of both the terrific teams fielded in the 1950s and 1960s by HBCUs such as Grambling, Florida A&M, Tennessee State, Alcorn State, and Prairie View A&M (and as late as the mid-1970s by South Carolina State) and the flow of African American talent to the Big Ten. Two cases from the mid-1960s illustrate this point: the recruiting practices of the University of Minnesota and Michigan State University.
|Bobby Bell played for the University of Minnesota before turning professional as outside linebacker with the Kansas City Chiefs. In 1983, Bell was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Photograph by University of Minnesota Football, ca. 1962. © Golden Gopher Gridiron, University of Minnesota Football.|
The case of Bobby Bell, a North Carolina player recruited by the University of Minnesota, sheds light on a state, a region, and a school. Almost every expert in the history of college and professional football would later include Bell among the greatest players ever. A star running back and later quarterback at segregated Cleveland High School in Shelby, North Carolina, in the late 1950s, Bell was essentially unrecruitable by the ACC or the SEC, despite the fact that his off-the chart talent was well known. Six feet-four, about 235 pounds, and exceptionally fast for his size, he played defensive line in college and as outside linebacker during his twelve-year professional career with the Kansas City Chiefs. His coach with the Chiefs, Hank Stram, wasn't kidding when he said that Bell "could play all of the twenty-two positions on the field, and play them well."2 Bell was a two-time All American in college, a winner of the Outland Trophy in 1962—the same year he placed third in the Heisman race—and a perennial All-Pro in the 1960s and early 1970s. He starred on the Chiefs's Super Bowl–winning team in 1969, was voted to the All-Time American Football League (AFL) team and the National Football League (NFL) All-Decade Team for the 1970s, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983.
Bell might have been able to play all twenty-two positions on the football field, but coming out of high school, he wasn't going to play any of them at a school in a major conference in the South. He therefore accepted a scholarship to play under Coach Murray Warmath at the University of Minnesota. Warmath, a native of Tennessee, had played football at the University of Tennessee. He came to Minnesota as head coach in 1954 after two seasons as head coach at Mississippi State. He remained at the University of Minnesota through 1971 and is remembered today as one of the first coaches at any major US university to recruit significant numbers of African Americans in a given signing class. Bell enjoyed an illustrious career at Minnesota, winning a national championship in 1960 and the Rose Bowl in 1962.3
Joining Bell on defense was another African American football player from North Carolina: defensive end Carl Eller, who came to Minnesota from Atkins Academic & Technology High School in Winston-Salem. Eller, a year behind Bell in school, was also a two-time All-American at Minnesota and was runner-up for the Outland Trophy in 1963, going on to an outstanding NFL career, making All-Pro numerous times. Like Bell, Eller was named to the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 1970s, to the College Football Hall of Fame, and to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Another talented African American football player from the South—Aaron Brown from Lincoln High School in Port Arthur, Texas—joined Eller in the Minnesota defensive line in 1963 and enjoyed a fine career at Minnesota. A first-round draft pick with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1966, Brown started on the team when it won the Super Bowl in 1970, playing in the NFL through the 1974 season.
|1965 Michigan State University varsity football team. Photograph reproduced by permission of the MSU Photograph Collection, Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections, 1965. © Michigan State University.|
The Michigan State University (MSU) Spartans of the mid-1960s provide a second case study. The Spartan teams of 1965 and 1966 are remembered today for their strong performances. MSU earned a 19-1-1 record over the two seasons, including the 10-10 tie with Notre Dame in the latter year, and had claims to national championships in both years—not least because of the dazzling array of talent on the roster. Some of the most illustrious stars on these teams were African American players from the segregated South, most notably George Webster (Anderson, South Carolina), Charles "Bubba" Smith (Beaumont, Texas), and Gene Washington (La Porte, Texas), all of whom went on to outstanding professional careers. Charles Thornhill (Roanoke, Virginia) was also an outstanding member of the team, but did not go on to the professional leagues. As Adam Rittenberg pointed out in an incisive piece for ESPN.com in 2013, the Spartans's 1965 roster included eighteen African Americans (nine from the South), with seventeen African Americans (ten from the South) on the roster the following year.4 Few of these players could suit up for major schools in their home region in the mid-1960s. Smith wanted to play for the University of Texas, but Coach Darrell Royal could not offer him a scholarship. MSU coach Duffy Daugherty was tipped off about Webster by legendary Clemson coach Frank Howard, who knew all about Webster (from segregated Westside High School in nearby Anderson, South Carolina), but couldn't recruit him. Perhaps even more surprisingly, Thornhill found his way to MSU as a result of a phone call to Daugherty from another big-time southern coach—none other than the University of Alabama's Paul "Bear" Bryant—who had met Thornhill at the awards dinner of the Roanoke Touchdown Club. (Thornhill had been named the club's player of the year after scoring more than 200 points as a running back his senior year.)
Another great African American football star at MSU from earlier in the 1960s, long-time college and NFL coach Sherman Lewis, captured what was going on in the minds of many elite African American athletes living in the South at the time. Lewis hailed from Louisville, Kentucky, where he had an outstanding record in high school as a running back and track sprinter, but according to a 2007 interview, he knew "blacks couldn't play in the SEC. I had to go somewhere West or North." Claiming he knew about Michigan State long before it knew about him, Lewis elaborated:
When we watched games on TV in the '50s, we were always looking for black athletes. . . . Minnesota had a lot. Iowa was loaded. And Michigan State had a history. It had 'em and played 'em. I remembered that from watching the Rose Bowl.5
In the 1950s, MSU featured outstanding African American running backs such as Clarence Peaks (from Michigan) and Herb Adderley (from Pennsylvania). Other Big Ten schools also played black athletes, including the University of Illinois, where Chicago's Buddy Young played as early as the mid-1940s and J. C. Caroline—from segregated Booker T. Washington High School in Columbia, South Carolina—shined as a sophomore in 1953, leading the nation in rushing. Caroline learned about the Big Ten not from television, but from a white man who operated a grocery store near Booker T. Washington High School. According to Caroline:
From what he [the grocer] had heard, he told me he thought I could play football in the Big Ten. . . . He told me about Buddy Young having a great career at the University of Illinois and how black players were finding a place in the Big Ten. I had always figured I would go play football at a black school in North Carolina, so I let him contact people at Illinois.6
In Rittenberg's article, Lewis provides additional context about the Big Ten:
There's always been great players down [South]. . . . They were all going to Grambling, Florida A&M, Tennessee State, Texas Southern. But when the Big Ten started recruiting them, instead of Florida A&M, they were going to Michigan State, or instead of Texas Southern or Grambling, they were going to Minnesota.7
|Program for the 1966 Rose Bowl featuring Michigan State vs. UCLA. The Michigan State Spartans won the 1954 and 1956 Rose Bowl games. However, the Spartans lost the 1966 match up with UCLA. Photograph reproduced by permission of the Duffy Daugherty Papers, Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections, 1966. © Michigan State University.|
Instead of going to Kentucky, Lewis attended MSU. There, he became both a sprint champion and a star running back, twice winning All-American honors (1962, 1963). He was named player of the year by the Football News in 1963, when he also finished third in the Heisman balloting. Other talented African Americans followed his lead.
Some journalists and historians of sport have suggested that the "tipping point" for desegregating big-time sports in the South occurred on the night of September 12, 1970 at the University of Alabama's Legion Field, when the USC Trojans—starting an all-African American backfield—destroyed the still all-white Crimson Tide by a score of 42-21.8 The Trojans were led by African American running backs Sam "Bam" Cunningham (135 yards on twelve carries and two touchdowns) and Clarence Davis, a native of Birmingham. This view compresses and, in so doing, almost certainly oversimplifies things. Even before the game, Alabama's Coach Bryant had seen the writing on the wall and already had a highly touted African American running back from Alabama (Wilbur Jackson) playing on the freshman team. Indeed, ever since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, pressure had been mounting on Alabama and other major southern programs to recruit African American athletes.
Clearly, though, by the early 1970s (around the time of the USC game), there was no turning back either for Bryant or Alabama or for other schools in the ACC, SEC, and SWC. Some colleges had already been making tentative moves to integrate. Even the rudest attempts at cost-benefit analysis—whether explicit or implicit, and whether cast in terms of wins and losses on the playing field, social stability, or potential political problems with the Feds—suggested that the dismantling of the color barrier would not only continue but intensify.
College Football Hall of Fame coach, Jerry Claiborne, an assistant at Alabama in 1970, famously remarked, "Sam Cunningham did more to integrate Alabama in sixty minutes than Martin Luther King, Jr. had accomplished in twenty years." This is a great line, but one that surely overstates football's role and understates civil rights activists' accomplishments. A less famous quote seems more on the mark regarding Bear Bryant's role in breaking the SEC football color line. According to sports journalist Don Yaeger, Bryant, when asked in the mid-1960s if he would start recruiting black athletes to play for the University of Alabama's Crimson Tide, replied "I won't be the first. But I won't be third."9
Once big-time southern football programs began to recruit African Americans aggressively in the 1970s, the Big Ten's pipeline to black talent from the South was punctured. The Big Ten continued to recruit players from the South, but seldom the best. Purdue's great running back, Leroy Keyes, who grew up in the talent-rich Tidewater area of Virginia and was Heisman runner-up to O. J. Simpson in 1968, was one of the last Big Ten All-Americans from the South until Michigan's Anthony Carter, who was from Riviera Beach, Florida, and played for the Wolverines from 1979 to 1982. At the end of the day, there are many reasons for the relative decline of the Big Ten and Marc Tracy has deftly discussed most, but not all of them. The integration of big-team football programs in the South hurt the Big Ten badly, just as it did the former football powerhouses among the South's HBCUs.
About the Author
Peter A. Coclanis is Albert R. Newsome Distinguished Professor of History and Director of the Global Research Institute at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
This is an open access work distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution No Derivatives 4.0 License.
- 1. Marc Tracy, "As Big Ten Declines, Homegrown Talent Flees," New York Times, October 3, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/03/sports/ncaafootball/as-big-ten-declines-homegrown-talent-fades-and-flees.html.
- 2. Larry Watts, "The Coachable One," Big Ten: Celebrating Black History Month, February 2, 2010, http://www.bigten.org/genrel/020210aab.html.
- 3. Incidentally, that team, which had also gone to the Rose Bowl in 1961, was led on offense by future College Football Hall-of-Famer Sandy Stephens, the school's first African American quarterback who was from Uniontown, Pennsylvania.
- 4. Adam Rittenberg, "Spartans Blended Race in 1960s," ESPN.com, February 21, 2013, http://espn.go.com/college-football/story/_/id/8970293/segregation-led-star-players-michigan-state-spartans-1960s-college-football.
- 5. Sherman Lewis, "Sherman Lewis: All-America Halfback and Longtime Coach," Michigan State Official Athletic Site, February 17, 2007, http://www.msuspartans.com/sports/m-footbl/spec-rel/021707aaa.html. During the 1950s, MSU played in and won Rose Bowls in 1954 and 1956.
- 6. Larry Watts, "True to Oneself," Big Ten: Celebrating Black History Month, February 4, 2010, http://www.bigten.org/genrel/020410aaa.html.
- 7. Rittenberg, "Spartans Blended Race."
- 8. See, for example, Steven Travers, One Night, Two Teams: Alabama vs. USC and the Game that Changed a Nation (Lanham, MD: Taylor Trade Publishing, 2007); Mark Wangrin, "The Gradual Arrival of Integration Revolutionized the Sport," in ESPN College Football Encyclopedia (New York: ESPN Books, 2005), 48–51. For more judicious insights, see Charles Martin, Benching Jim Crow: The Rise and Fall of the Color Line in Southern College Sports, 1890–1980 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2010), 255–258.
- 9. Walter Payton and Don Yaeger, Never Die Easy: The Autobiography of Walter Payton (New York: Random House, 2001), 48.