Friday, December 31, 2010

Who and What Runs Georgia?

By Calvin Kytle and James Mackay

From Southern Changes, Vol. 22, No. 1, 2000, p. 28

In 1948, four years after the Supreme Court nullified the white primary, Herman Talmadge ran for governor of Georgia equipped with a strategy to keep the white primary intact. Alarmed, George Mitchell, then- executive director of the Southern Regional Council, commissioned Calvin Kytle and James Mackay to conduct a study to determine what had precipitated this development and what could be done in response. Below is a segment from the report, first published in book form by the University of Georgia Press in 1998 as "Who Runs Georgia?: A Contemporary Account of the 1947 Crisis that Set the Stage for Georgia's Political Transformation."

Money, we repeat, does run the politics of Georgia. But this does not refute the fact that ignorance is the root evil. The powerful men of wealth who back a candidate for private gain, who block legislation for the general welfare to gratify immediate self-interest, are ignorant. If the rich and privileged were not so ignorant, they would prefer to invest their money in honest government rather than pay it to shakedown administrations; they would know that government by the few can only lead to government by the fewer; and they would put their surplus profits in a program for human advancement.

All this considered, before we can plan any campaign to rid ourselves of a perpetuating condition of political injustice, we must answer these basic questions:

Is it possible to educate our people to the responsibilities and sacrifices of democratic government?

If we can educate only those people without property interest who now benefit little from government, would the resistance of men with money now controlling the government be so great as to keep the majority politically sterile?

Is there enough money to be had from people opposed to the present political setup to launch and sustain such a campaign?

If these three questions can be answered yes, then the general pattern of a long-range program is clear. But equally clear is that any potentially successful program will require two complementary statewide organizations--one to awaken Georgians to what "good government" can be, the other to show how good government can be achieved.

An education agency is needed that can effectively reach people of all ages and economic groups. Its purpose should be threefold: (1) to acquaint people with the facts of Georgia politics and government; (2) to stimulate thought and discussion on the needs of the state; and (3) to sell actively a nonpartisan program of advancement. Its program should be directed toward a mass audience, and it should employ the full resources of all communication media.

At the same time, a second party is needed to build a shorter route to reform. Two things argue for this: (1) under the county unit system of the Democratic Party, the state's progressive forces are virtually disfranchised; (2) the current leadership of all too many county election committees is indifferent to democratic values. Since the county unit system perpetuates itself through assemblymen dependent on it for election, the only way to bypass it is to force the decisive vote into the general election, where the winner is determined by popular vote. Similarly, rather than try to replace the present Democratic Party's election managers, it would be easier to elect new managers for a second primary and to ensure an honest count of general election returns by the presence of trained poll watchers.

If these recommendations seem too demanding, then it is only because these are demanding times. The situation is such that nothing less can offer a prospect of constructive government and guarantee its permanency. We can no longer afford to default to the cynical men of wealth and to the politicians of vaulting ambition, whose pursuit of profit and power degrade the idea of democracy and would deny us the right and the means to make it real.

Calvin Kytl was a writer and publisher who lived in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. James Mackay was a Georgia state legislator and U. S. Congressman. In 2000 he lived in Rising Fawn, Georgia.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Please Consider Making a Year-End Contribution to the Southern Regional Council

As we near the end of a challenging year and approach the beginning of a new one, we are hoping that southernchanges followers, friends and family will join us in supporting the work of the Southern Regional Council. It's a great cause that promotes justice, protects democratic rights, and broadens civic participation in the American South.

The Council has a rich history of making a difference in a very unique part of our country. The Council's agenda in 2011 will include work toward the re-launch of the Council's landmark civil rights audio history, Will the Circle Be Unbroken? A Personal History of the Civil Rights Movement in Five Southern Cities and the Music of Those Times. You can learn more about the Circle series by viewing pages of our archived website, which may be reached by clicking here. Note that, until the re-launch is complete, it will not be possible to order copies of the series on-line.

Please consider a year-end contribution, and together we can work toward a more just society in our Region.

You can make a year-end contribution by clicking here. You can learn more about the Council by viewing the following video:

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Racial Discrimination in Florida: Election 2000

by SRC Staff

From Southern Changes, Vol. 22, No. 4, 2000 pp. 15-16

Testimony about racial discrimination in the Florida elections was re
ceived at a hearing sponsord by the NAACP on November 11. Following is one personal story from the NAACP hearing and an excerpt of a report by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Advancement Project, and The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights documenting charges of racial discrimination on November 7, 2000, as minority voters exercised their right to vote in Florida.

Donisse DeSouza testified she has been registered to vote in Florida since 1982 and has voted in all major elections. She has lived in the same majority-black precinct for the past six years.

On Election Day, DeSouza, an African-American resident of Miami, went to the polling place listed on her new Voter ID Card. She had waited until late in the day so she could take her five-year old son to teach him the importance of voting. She arrived in the vicinity of the polls at 6:30 p.m., but a police officer was keeping voters' cars in a long line waiting for parking spaces. A small lot provided the only place to park. After waiting for twenty minutes, DeSouza entered the polling place and presented her driver's license and voter registration card to a white poll worker who explained that DeSouza was not listed on the registration rolls and instructed her to move to another line to address the issue. DeSouza stood in the other line with approximately fifteen others. At 7 p.m. they were informed that the polls were closed. They were not offered an affidavit ballot or other assistance; they were told that nothing could be done if their names were not on the registration rolls. These citizens were refused the right to vote.

After the election, DeSouza went to the Board of Elections and found that her name did appear on the voter register. She was also told that all voters inside the polling place at 7 p.m. should have been permitted to vote andthat the Board of Elections continued to take calls and clear up irregularities after the polls closed.

Since November 7, there have also been substantial, credible allegations, like DeSouza's, of disfranchisement of minority voters in several Florida counties.

There are compelling reasons to address these complaints of disfranchisement immediately, and with the utmost gravity:

  • Florida has a long, well-documented history of discrimination against African-American voters. Because of their history of discrimination, five Florida counties are "covered" jurisdictions under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
  • There have been reports of hundreds of African Americans, Haitian Americans, and Puerto Ricans who may have been denied their constitutionally guaranteed right to vote in the November 7 election in Florida.

Civil rights organizations associated with the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) received complaints of widespread denial of the right to vote, predominantly affecting minority voters and heavily-minority precincts.

Alleged Abuses

The information gathered by civil rights organizations, including the NAACP, details allegations of several forms of denial of the right to vote, intimidation, and barriers that prevented or discouraged voting. All of the following types of disfranchisement-alleging serious violations of the U.S. Constitution, the Federal Voting Rights Act and the National Voter Registration Act, as well as Florida Election Law and Florida Civil Rights Laws-have been described in complaints to LCCR organizations.

Longstanding minority voters reportedly were told that they did not appear on the voting lists. Some said they were turned away because they did not have photo identification, even though Florida law provides that registered voters without photo IDs may cast "affidavit ballots." In some counties there were reports that minority voters were asked for a photo ID while white voters were not. Some minority voters were turned away even when they appeared at the polling place with both their voter card and a photo ID.

Voters who did not appear on the voting list or have a photo ID were shunted into a "problem" line, where they waited for long periods of time after being told that election officials were trying to telephone headquarters. Because phone lines were jammed and many of these calls never went through, many voters said they became discouraged and left without voting.

Voters reported being sent from polling place to polling place, with no real effort to determine where they were supposed to vote. Some claimed to have been turned away from not just one, but three or four polling places.

Other voters reported being denied the right to vote because of minor, immaterial discrepancies in their names as they appeared on registration lists and in their proof of identification-such as their use of middle initials.

Poll workers reportedly were instructed to be particularly "strict" in challenging voter qualifications because of aggressive voter registration and turnout efforts.

Large numbers of minority voters who claimed they registered before the October 10 deadline, did not receive their voting cards before November 7. When they appeared at the polls, they were told they were not on the voting list and were not permitted to vote.

Witnesses also reported that one, and possibly more, polling places were moved without notice to the voters and without the placement of a sign at the site, as required by Florida law. Minority voters served by this polling place had to locate their new polling place on their own.

Intimidation and Irregularities

Witnesses reported police checkpoints or stops of voters near several polling places in African-American neighborhoods.

Some voters who requested absentee ballots alleged that they did not receive them and were not allowed to vote when they went to the precinct in person on election day. In addition, a witness has reported that, in one county, hundreds of absentee ballots of registered voters were rejected by the Supervisor of Elections and not counted.

Miami-Dade County passed an ordinance in 1998 requiring that ballots in Creole be provided at forty-seven majority-Haitian precincts in the county. Complaints allege that these ballots were not available at some of these precincts.

Many Haitian-American voters also requested the assistance of a volunteer Creole/English speaker willing to translate the ballot for those with limited English proficiency, but were denied such assistance, despite provisions of Florida election-law.

Voters also reported being denied a second ballot to correct an error in the first one.

Democracy Denied

The allegations of exclusion and intimidation that civil rights investigations have uncovered show a possible pattern of disfranchisement of large numbers of minority voters in several counties. African-American, Haitian-American, and Hispanic voters who tried to vote, and who made heroic efforts to overcome barriers and refusals, must not be left voiceless in our democracy.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

On Barack Obama and Oscar Grant - Listening, Hearing, Responding

By Julianne Malveaux

There was something heady in the air on January 20 2009, so heady, hot and special that I barely felt the bracing cold as I sat outside to watch our President take the oath. Hope was in the air, high energy. There were pronouncements that this was a new, post-racial era. And even as I shared high hopes and high energy, I was skeptical of any post-racialsim. You see, in the same month that the first African American was inaugurated as President of the United States, another African American man, an unarmed Oscar Grant, was executed by a transit police officer Johannes Mehserle says he mistakenly shot his gun instead of his Taser in Oakland, California, and Grant, unarmed, handcuffed, and the father of a baby girl, was pronounced dead on January 2, 2009.

Fast-forward nearly two years. The day after the grim election night, President Obama somberly took responsibility for the whopping that his party took and for the colleagues who lost their jobs in the Republican and Tea Party rout. This was a different Obama than the exuberant President we saw dancing the night away on January 20, 2009. This Obama was chastened, even humbled, by an election that can be interpreted as a repudiation of his two years in office. Or, it can be interpreted as a referendum on an economy that remains sour, despite tiny positive signs. In any case, the photo of our President biting his lip and eating humble pie was troubling. Every post-mortem of the elections says that Democrats didn’t turn out like they could have, that young people didn’t come out the same way they did in 2008, that the Tea Party held sway, even though they told lies, and that, given that Senator Mitch McConnell has prioritized the defeat of President Obama in 2012 as his highest priority (higher than job creation, economic revitalization, world peace) there is a real threat that the Obama presidency will be a one-term presidency.

I didn’t think the week could get any worse. Indeed, I decided that I suffered from post-election stress syndrome and self-prescribed the cure of some non-political reading. As soon as I roared back from my 48-hour virus, there was more bad news.

Oscar Grant, murdered in the same month that President Obama was inaugurated, was a symbol of police brutality and the devaluation of black male life by law enforcement officials. Such anger and controversy swirled around the Grant case that the Johannes Mesherle was tried in Los Angeles, supposedly more neutral territory. Mesherle sobbed on the witness stand that he did not intend to kill Oscar Grant. A sympathetic jury found him guilty of involuntary manslauthter, the least punitive thing they could find him guilty of. No involuntary manslaughter, no second-degree murder charge. No responsibility for not knowing the difference between a Taser and a gun. Involuntary manslaughter. No gun enhancement, which would have added to his sentence. On Friday, a judge sentenced Mr. Mesherle to two years in state prison, with credit for time served. Mesherle may be out of jail in time to go to the beach this summer. Oscar Grant will never enjoy a beach again.

Perhaps the only thing President Barack Obama and Oscar Grant have in common is that they are men of African descent whose causes experienced a setback last week. If President Obama didn’t dance election night away, though, he was dancing by the time he got to India, shrugging off the election results for the business at hand. And John Burris, the talented Oakland lawyer who represents Oscar Grant’s family, is weighing his next steps as he continues to fight for some justice for his dead client.

On Friday night in Oakland, young folks and some not so young took it to the streets. More than 160 were arrested. Some of these same folk turned out to vote in 2008, but their taking it to the streets suggests that they don’t always trust electoral results to result in right outcomes. They don’t feel heard, and they feel a need to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with a justice system that too often produces unjust results where African Americans are concerned. The Tea Party people said they didn’t feel heard either, and thanks to our latest election, we will certainly hear from them now. Already their leaders are selling wolf tickets and offering rhetorical smackdowns. What can the young people protesting in the streets of Oakland learn from the Tea Party? What can President Obama learn? It is this learning that will shape the next two years and the outcome of the 2012 election.



Dr. Julianne Malveaux is an economist, author and commentator and the fifteenth President of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina. She can be reached at

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Thanks To Those Who Helped Me Celebrate My Birthday With a Gift to the Southern Regional Council

The Southern Regional Council’s recent work has followed a progressive path that was charted long ago by leading Southern progressives, including my grandfather Charles S. Johnson. I am honored to be among those continuing along that path in a new century.

That's why I celebrated my birthday with a gift in support of the Council's work. I'm grateful to those who joined me in this effort including:

  • Friends who contributed by check, including Julianne Malveaux, Katherine Bowman, Rosamond Johnson and Glenn Washington.
  • Friends who contributed through Causes on Facebook, including Muriel Mitchell Lawrence, Thomas Cox, Tom Willingham, Cory Buckner, Bernadine Layne, Pamela Harris, Martha Rachel Grogan and Brian Poe. For more on these contributors, click here.
  • Friends who made pledges, including Belinda Stinson-Head.

The support of these friends enabled to us exceed our goal of $1,000 from this campaign. It's not too late for you to join this effort by clicking here.

Charles S. Johnson

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Why I'm Celebrating My Birthday With a Gift to the Southern Regional Council

I was drawn to the work of the Southern Regional Council because of its distinguished progressive history, and because of a strong family connection to this history.

The Council traces its origins to 1919. In that year, the Commission on Interracial Cooperation was founded in Atlanta in response to the epidemic of racial violence that swept the country in that year. This epidemic included the landmark Chicago race riot, which was the occasion for Charles S. Johnson’s first major publication, The Negro in Chicago.

Throughout the 1920’s, the Commission mediated and organized concerned citizens willing to work to improve race relations in the South. This work included a campaign to reshape the coverage of African Americans in the media. In the 1930’s, the Commission initiated the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching. Notable Commission publications during the period included The Tragedy of Lynching by Arthur Raper, as well as two works that are widely credited as having helped to shape rural policy during the Roosevelt Administration: Sharecroppers All, by Ira Reid and Arthur Raper, and The Collapse of Cotton Tenancy by Charles S. Johnson.

Toward the end of the Second World War, Southern progressives felt the need "to attain through research and action the ideals and practices of equal opportunity for all peoples of the region." In 1944, following a series of meetings of Black and White leaders, the Commission was transformed into the Southern Regional Council. The Council’s first President was Howard Odum, Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina. The first Chair of the Council’s Executive Committee was Charles S. Johnson, who then served as President of Fisk University. Some of the Council’s early funding came from Dr. Johnson’s contacts in the philanthropic community.

In the ensuing years, the Council worked in the courts and in local communities to encourage speedy desegregation of public schools; formed a Task Force on Hunger which helped to shape the Food Stamp Program; supported rural economic development through the Federation of Southern Cooperatives; began the registration of two million voters through the Voter Education Project; worked to implement the Voting Rights Act through the development of redistricting plans and by encouraging the election of African Americans to public office; chronicled the Civil Rights Movement through its award-winning audio series “Will the Circle Be Unbroken"; celebrated progressive writing about the South through the Lillian Smith Book Awards; and exposed barriers to civic participation throughout the South.

The Council’s recent work has followed a progressive path that was charted long ago by leading Southern progressives, including my grandfather Charles S. Johnson. I am honored to be among those continuing along that path in a new century.

That's why I'm celebrating my birthday with a gift to the Council. You can join me by going to

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Ninth Circuit, in Flawed Decision, Upholds Washington State's Ban on Inmate Voting

By Leland Ware

In Farrakhan v. Gregoire, federal Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on October 7, 2010 issued a decision that upheld the State of Washington’s ban on voting by prison inmates. The Court ruled that a challenge under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) requires proof of intentional discrimination. Evidence of racial disparities in the criminal justice system was not, in the Court's view, sufficient to establish a violation.

The Farrakhan decision is a flawed interpretation of the VRA. It will hamper efforts to reform felon disenfranchisement laws that disproportionately affect the voting rights of African American and other minority communities.

Washington’s state constitution denies the right to vote to “[a]ll persons convicted of infamous crime unless restored to their civil rights.” An “infamous crime” is one that is “punishable by death . . . or imprisonment in a state correctional facility.” This law was challenged under Section 2 of the VRA.

A violation of Section 2 of the VRA occurs when, “based on the totality of circumstances . . . the political processes leading to nomination or election in the State or political subdivision are not equally open to participation by members of a [racial or language minority].” To prevail on a claim under Section 2, a plaintiff only has to prove that minority voters “have less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice.”

In 2003 the Ninth Circuit held in Farrakhan v. Gregoire (Farrakhan I) that Washington’s felon disenfranchisement laws could be challenged under the VRA using statistical evidence. When Frarrakhan I was sent back to the trial court, the plaintiffs argued that Washington's disenfranchisement law interacted with racial bias in Washington’s criminal justice system in a manner that denied racial minorities an equal opportunity to participate in the state's political process.

The plaintiffs' evidence showed significant racial disparities in the criminal justice system including searches, charging and bail, length of confinement and incarceration. These practices combined with the disenfranchisement law operated to exclude a significant percentage of African Americans from the voting population and diluted that community's voting strength in the state's elections.

The trial court ruled that while there was evidence of discrimination in the state's criminal justice system, this was only one of the factors in Section 2’s “totality of circumstances” test. The court concluded that the plaintiffs' did not present enough evidence of the other factors to establish a violation of Section 2.*

The trial court's decision was appealed and on January 5, 2010, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit reversed. In a 2-1 decision, the panel ruled that the plaintiffs' evidence of statistical disparities among racial groups in Washington's criminal justice system was adequate proof of discrimination. The disparate impact on minorities was sufficient to show that the African American community's voting strength was being diluted by felon disenfranchisement.

The case was reheard en banc (by the full court). This time the Ninth Circuit observed that the First, Second, Sixth, and Eleventh Circuits had disagreed with its ruling in Farrakhan I and upheld state laws that prohibited felons from voting. Those Courts ruled that such laws are categorically exempt from challenges under Section 2. The Ninth Circuit concluded, in light of these developments, that "the rule announced in Farrakhan I sweeps too broadly."

The Court went on to hold that a Section 2 challenge requires proof of intentional discrimination or proof that the legislature enacted the law with an intent to disenfranchise racial minorities. Since the plaintiffs did not present any evidence of intentional discrimination they did not establish a violation of the VRA.

The Ninth Circuit's opinion in Farrakhan is reductive and analytically flawed. The Court's imposition of a discriminatory intent requirement is at odds with the 1982 amendments to the VRA. In Mobile v. Bolden, 446 U.S. 55 (1980), the Supreme Court held a plaintiff had to prove that a voting practice was enacted or maintained with discriminatory purpose.

In 1982, Congress overruled Mobile v. Bolden and amended Section 2 to allow a plaintiff to establish a violation if the evidence established that the procedure being challenged results in the denial of denial of a minority community's opportunity to participate equally in the political process. Congress rejected Mobile's discriminatory intent requirement in 1982 and it should not have been imposed in this case.

The Farrakhan decision did not address the crux of the plaintiffs' vote dilution claim. The question was whether the exclusion of felons from the electoral process adversely affected the ability of minority communities to participate equally in Washington's elections. That there was no evidence of an intent to exclude minorities does not preclude liability. The VRA allows courts to consider the discriminatory effects of a state's laws and practices. The disenfranchisement law's adverse impact on the voting strength of minority communities coupled with the racial disparities in Washington's criminal justice system provided enough evidence to prevail on a Section 2 claim.

The Farrakhan decision not only departs from Section 2 precedent, it is a significant setback to efforts to challenge felon disenfranchisement laws that disproportionately affect African American communities.


*The Senate Judiciary Committee's1982 report on the amendments to the VRA suggested several factors for courts to consider in a Section 2 challenge. These factors include: the history of official voting-related discrimination; the extent to which voting in elections is racially polarized; the extent to which the jurisdiction has used voting practices that tend to enhance the opportunity for discrimination against the minority group; the exclusion of members of a minority group from candidate slating processes; the extent to which minority group members bear the effects of discrimination in areas such as education, employment, and health, which hinder their ability to participate effectively in the political process; the use of racial appeals in political campaigns; and the extent to which members of the minority group have been elected to public office in the jurisdiction.


A recent report by the Southern Regional Council on Trends in Voting Policy includes a survey of felon disenfranchisement laws in six southern states. To view a complete copy of the SRC report, click here or on the image of the report (which appears to the right).

About the Author

nd Ware, a member of the Board of the Southern Regional Council, is Louis B. Redding Chair and Professor for the Study of Law and Public Policy at the University of Delaware.He is the author of numerous publications, and he served as co-editor of the recently-published volume, Choosing Equality: Essays and Narratives on the Desegregation Experience.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Charles Eagles Accepts Lillian Smith Book Award for 2010

The Price of Defiance: James Meredith and the Integration of Ole Miss

From the time that the Southern Regional Council initiated the Lillian Smith Book Awards in 1968 until this year, only two have won the award twice. The first was acclaimed author and poet Alice Walker in 1973 and 1984. The second was civil rights activist and writer Constance Curry in 1996 and again last year for her work on Bob Zellner’s memoir. This year Dr. Charles Eagles becomes the third.

Dr. Eagles is the William F. Winter Professor of History at the University of Mississiippi. He first won the Lillian Smith Book Award in 1993 for Outside Agitator; John Daniels and the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama. This year we lift up a new scholarly accomplishment, The Price of Defiance: James Meredith and the Integration of Ole Miss.

Most with a basic familiarity with the events of the Civil Rights Movement know something of James Meredith’s admission to the University of Mississippi and the violence that followed, but never before has the story been recounted with such detail and in a manner that is as thoroughly grounded in its historical context. In reviewing the book, Gary Lavergne wrote that, to the extent that an institution can be an actor in a drama, Charles Eagles’ character development of Ole Miss is first rate. Dr. Eagles provides the most insightful characterization that we have of the controversial and enigmatic James Meredith. His coverage of Ross Barnett is so even-handed and so credible as to have the effect of making Governor Barnett seem even less sympathetic than if he had used hyperbole in describing him. Dr. Eagles has written a remarkable and unflinching history of the institution for which he works.

Charles Eagles on the Haley Barbour Controversy

In the summer of 2010, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour was considered a serious contender for the Republican Presidential Nomination. He gave several interviews at that time as part of an effort to re-introduce himself to a national audience. In the course of those interviews, Governor Barbour attempted to distance himself from his State's segregationist past, noting among other things that he had even gone to "an integrated college."

As part of her effort to fact-check Governor Barbour, Rachel Maddow spoke with Charles Eagles, Professor of History at the University of Mississippi and, in one of her nightly broadcasts, she reported on her conversation with Professor Eagles.

Those who attended the 2010 Lillian Smith Book Awards Ceremony got a chance to hear directly from Professor Eagles. After accepting an award for his recent book "The Price of Defiance," Professor Eagles was asked to share his thoughts about Governor Barbour's recent comments.

After noting that "he is my employer," Professor Eagles observed that Governor Barbour's view of his generation is "not the view of many people of that generation" and that he didn't think it would sell.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Amy Louise Wood Accepts Lillian Smith Book Award for 2010

The Southern Regional Council, the University of Georgia Libraries and the Georgia Center for the Book presented a 2010 Lillian Smith Book Award to Amy Louise Wood, author of Lynching and Spectacle: Witnessing Racial Violence in America, 1890 - 1940.

Between 1880 and 1940, more than 3,000 African Americans were lynched in the U.S., often in very public displays of torture and suffering. Amy Louise Wood is not the first to document these atrocities, but in her book, "Lynching and Spectacle," she gives us an entirely new perspective on this difficult and horrific subject.

Dr. Wood places lynching within the “larger culture of spectacle” of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which arose out of other highly public events such as executions and religious gatherings. Depictions of lynching in the emerging medium of the motion picture and via widely distributed still photography made it an intensely public activity. These popular visual representations of lynching initially promoted the crime, but ultimately contributed to its decline. The overall effect of Lynching and Spectacle is to portray a region and a nation engaged in a painful and often brutal transition to modernity.

In his review of Lynching and Spectacle, Guy Lancaster calls the book “phenomenal.” Michael Pfeifer asserts that it should be read by “all who are interested in the cultural relations of lynching.” For J. Vincent Lowry, Wood “helps us better understand why the freedom struggle took so long.”

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Remembering Ron Walters

Ron Walters - A Scholar and a Gentle Man

By Jualianne Malveaux

Ron Walters was a gentle man. Yes, he was brilliant, insightful, a political genius with a passionate love for African American people and for our advancement. But he was also gentle and kind in a way that many with genius are not. He balanced life skillfully, caring for issues, but also for people. He was my friend, sometime my partner in activism. I will miss him.

Indeed, I cannot adequately express my disbelief upon learning of his death. He was sick, and in these last months, even frail. We were together when Dr. Ron Daniels convened a Capital Hill meeting of the Shirley Chisholm Commission on Presidential Accountability, a group on which Ron Walters and I both served. He came in, looking a bit thinner than usual, with a voice softer than usual, and when I voiced concern, he said he had been ill. While there was evidence of illness in his physical countenance, there was none in his spoken presentation. Indeed, he was awesomely incisive in raising questions about issues of accountability and questions that must be raised to judge the Obama Administration. Always fair, he was also clear that the Chisholm Commission was not about holding this administration to a harsher standard than any other. Indeed, he was clear that accountability is something that is to be expected of any leader.

On Saturday morning, at the National Council of Negro Women prayer breakfast, the gathering was abuzz with news of Ron’s Friday evening death, voices somber and shaken at the magnitude of our loss. We have lost a phenomenal analyst, a caring advocate, an inspirational mentor, and a dazzling teacher. Ron Walters was not only a leader; he was an adviser of leaders. His relationship with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, whose 1984 and 1988 campaigns he played pivotal roles in, is an example of the groundbreaking work he has done, both as a political scientist and as a political activist. At the NCNW breakfast, someone asked how long I’d known Ron Walters. After some reflection, I had to reply that I simply didn’t know.

I do remember a call from him, though, back in 1984. We didn’t know each other well, then. I was a professor in San Francisco and had been involved in the Jackson campaign. He was one of the campaign leaders and keeping things together. One of the San Francisco radio stations had asked that a Jackson, Mondale, and Hart representative do a morning conversation each day during the convention about its happenings. Ron Walters asked me if I’d speak for Rev. Jackson and I, of course, enthusiastically agreed. I’m as volatile as Ron is calm, so after my first radio appearance I got some coaching on how to “tone it down”. The coaching was offered so gently that it had to be considered. I still chuckle at the memory.

We worked together, again, during the 1988 Jackson campaign. I’m not sure what all Ron Walters had me doing, but I remember both writing about the convention and running from one meeting to another to be helpful to the campaign. Our paths continued to criss cross over the years, more so when I moved to Washington in 1994 and we saw each other more frequently. We presented on panels together, worked on causes together, and sometimes connected just because each of us needed to bounce ideas off a like-minded colleague. Whether we spoke one on one or in a group, my recollection is that Ron had plenty to say and was measured in how he said it. Again, the word “gentle” comes to mind.

Our gentle friend left a legacy of excellent and thorough political analysis. He was more than a political analyst and teacher, though. He was the “scholar activist” that WEB DuBois so often spoke of, the person who takes information and data and uses it to empower a people. Ron Walters was not about the bloodless political analysis that manipulated numbers to come up with results. Nor was he about the passionate pronouncements some pundits offer that often come out of nowhere. Instead, he balanced the two with gentle grace. He cared about black people, about inequality and injustice. He cared about historically black colleges and universities. (A graduate of Fisk University, he spent much of his career at Howard University. When we last spoke, he was considering an invite to come to speak at Bennett College for Women in the spring). We will miss his gentle caring. We will miss a gentle man. And we are so very aware of how blessed the African American community has been to have him with us for the 72 years of his amazing life.


Former Southern Regional Council Board Member Ron Walters - who served as director of the African American Leadership Institute and Scholar Practitioner Program and Distinguished Leadership Scholar at the James MacGregor Burns Academy of Leadership, and respected professor in government and politics at the University of Maryland - passed away on September 10, 2010.


Dr. Julianne Malveaux is an economist, author and commentator and the fifteenth President of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina. She can be reached at

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Remembering the 2010 Lillian Smith Book Award Ceremony

From "Bill's Book Blog" by the Georgia Center for the Book

Lillian Smith was one of Georgia’s most distinguished — and certainly controversial — writers. Sh e was white, liberal and outspoken about racial issues at a time, in the 1930s and 40s, when her native region remained in the tight grip of Jim Crow laws. She boldly and insistently called for an end to segregation. And her 1944 novel “Strange Fruit” focused on illicit interracial love.

In 1966, shortly after her death when the South struggled with the desegregation effort, the Southern Regional Council created a book award in her name: the Lillian Smith Award would recognize books of outstanding accomplishment, whether for literary merit or moral vision, that honestly examined the people, promises and problems of the South. Since then, more than 50 books have been honored with a Lillian Smith Award, and among the authors are Eudora Welty, John Egerton, Natasha Trethewey, Anthony Grooms, Peter Taylor, Will Campbell and C. Vann Woodward.

The Southern Regional Council now shares the administration of the Lillian Smith Award with the University of Georgia Libraries and the Georgia Center for the Book. Together, we honored this year’s winners at the AJC Decatur Book Festival over the Labor Day weekend.

Two books were chosen for the award this year. Charles W. Eagles, a long-time history professor at the University of Mississippi, was honored for his powerful, compelling book, “The Price of Defiance: James Meredith and the Integration of Ole Miss” (University of North Carolina Press). This is a definitive moment-by-moment account that traces in all its complexity ”James Meredith’s courage against the intransigent white racism of a university that surely knew better.” It is a significant, deeply researched narrative of the 1962 desegregation of Ole Miss that remains one of the landmark events in the struggle for African American equality and justice.

The other book recognized this year was “Lynching and Spectacle: Witnessing Racial Violence in America, 1890-1940″ (University of North Carolina Press) written by Amy Louise Wood, who is assistant professor of history at Illinois State University. Utilizing an amazing number of resources, including early films and photographs, she writes insightfully about the culture of lynching and those who watched the brutal executions of more than 3,000 African Americans during that period. Her book is “an important contribution to our understanding of the American South and violence there” and demonstrates how beliefs in white superiority were reinforced by the spectacle of lynching.

Both of these books give lie to those who find history dry. While written by scholars and buttressed with careful research, they explore with riveting perspective events and people from our past whose lives and decisions have helped create our region, our nation. They reflect vividly on conversations about race in America we confront today, whether those conversations focus on President Obama or Dr. Laura. They are also reminders of the deep truths of William Faulkner’s words: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”