Wednesday, April 27, 2011

SRC Works to Reintroduce Civil Rights Audio History

Since its founding as the Commission for Interracial Cooperation in 1919, the Southern Regional Council (the "Council") has pursued a mission of promoting racial justice, protecting democratic rights and broadening civic participation in the Southern United States. During the 1940s the Council led the campaign to end all-white primary elections, and in the 1960s and 1970s the Council registered an unprecedented two million African American voters through its Voter Education Project.

During the 1990s, with major support from the Ford Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities ("NEH"), the Council engaged in a major effort to conduct interviews and assemble an oral history of the American Civil Rights Movement. This effort resulted in the release of Will the Circle be Unbroken? An Audio History of the Civil Rights Movement in Five Southern Communities and the Music of Those Times. This 13-hour, 26-episode production, which was broadcast several times nationally on public radio, received a Peabody Award in 1997. The Council also produced a limited number of CDs and tapes which were made available for sale to the general public and to institutions, with modest revenues going to support the work of the Council.

Building on the success of this effort, the Council developed a teacher's guide, as well as a curriculum for use in teaching the lessons of the Civil Rights Movement in middle and high schools. The curriculum was successfully piloted in the public schools of Columbia, South Carolina and DeKalb County, Georgia.

The Council is justifiably proud of the Circle project. Scholars have reported that the original interviews - now housed at Emory University - foster a unique appreciation of the role of countless unsung heroes in bringing about tremendous social change in our part of the country. Part of the project's appeal stems from the fact that it combines original oral history, archival material, and the music of the period. Institutions have reported that the project's dramatic blend of interviews and music results in a singularly effective teaching tool. The Council continues to receive inquiries regarding this work. Every year the Council receives numerous requests for copies and requests for the right to rebroadcast all or part of the series. As many states have mandated the teaching of African American history, the council also sees an increasing demand for the sort of curricular material which we have developed.

However, the Council presently finds itself unable to address these needs. The rights which it acquired in the music were for a limited time, for a limited number of copies, and the time has expired and the licensed quality of copies has been virtually exhausted. The rights also covered a limited range of media: While these rights covered CDs, tapes and broadcast, they did not extend to Internet, digital and new media.

Over the last year, the Council has pursued an effort to make the Circle project available to the wider world once again through renewal and extension of the intellectual property rights, the production of additional copies, release through the Web and new media, and the revision and promotion of the companion curriculum. Working with Circle's original director George King, the Council has engaged Louise Shaw as Project Director, engaged Kevin Bronski as Project Manager, initiated a collaboration with Emory University to work with the archival and other materials associated with the project, partnered with the Atlanta College of Art on the design and production of a new website, worked to establish other institutional partnerships in support of the project, assembled a team of reviewers to update the curriculum, worked to assemble a panel of scholars, and initiated discussions with NEH regarding possible NEH support of this effort.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sociologists Honor Charles S. Johnson, Former SRC Chairman

The Southern Sociological Society (“SSS” or the “Society”) has announced the posthumous appointment of its former President Charles S. Johnson to the Society’s Roll of Honor. The Society celebrated this appointment in festivities at its Annual Meeting in Jacksonville, Florida on April 8, 2011.

SSS was established in 1935 to promote the development of sociology as a profession and scientific discipline by the maintenance of high academic professional and ethical standards, and by encouraging effective teaching of sociology, valid and reliable methods and research in the study of human society, diffusion of sociological knowledge and its application to societal problems, cooperation with related disciplines and groups, recruitment and training of sociologists, and development of sociology programs in educational and other agencies. The Society's 2010 Annual Meeting featured a program exploring the Southern Regional Council's recent study of collaborations among African American and Latino communities.

Appointment to the Society's Roll of Honor is greatest recognition which the Society can bestow, recognizing a career of distinguished intellectual contribution to Sociology.

Johnson was born in Bristol Virginia and attended Richmond's Wayland Academy. Following his graduation from Virginia Union, Johnson pursued his graduate studies at the University of Chicago under the tutelage of the venerable Robert A. Park. Working with the Chicago Urban League and the Chicago Commission on Race Relations, Johnson played a key role in the publication of The Negro in Chicago, a landmark study of conditions which led to the deadly Chicago Riot of 1919. In 1921 he relocated to New York, where he served the National Urban League as Director of its Department of Research and Investigations and editor of its house organ, Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life.

In 1928, Johnson relocated to the campus of Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, where he established a nationally-known Department of Social Sciences and an internationally-known Department of Race Relations. His numerous sociological publications include Shadow of the Plantation and Growing Up in the Black Belt. He assembled a distinguished team of researchers who did pioneering work in he application of the survey method and the “sociology of tensions.”

In 1943, a meeting was held in Atlanta which resulted in the establishment of the Southern Regional Council, with Johnson as Chairman of the Executive Committee and Will W. Alexander as Chairman of the Board.

In 1945, Johnson was elected President of the Southern Sociological Society. He presided over the Society’s Annual Meeting in Atlanta in 1946 (his last year as Chair of the Fisk Department Social Sciences and immediately preceding his appointment as the first Black President of Fisk). The announcement of the Atlanta meeting noted that the meeting would be held at the Atlanta Biltmore Hotel, that a block of rooms was being held at the Biltmore, and that “[o]ther accommodations” would be available at Atlanta University. The “other accommodations,” of course, were for the use of the Society’s African American members.

Johnson’s leading biographers have commented on this incident as follows:

“Johnson, then in his last year as chairman of the Department of Social Sciences, was caught in one of the many ironies of Jim Crow. As a scholar who was recognized by both his black and white peers as one of the most profound sociologists in the South and as the duly elected president of the Southern Sociological Society, Johnson was being given the highest honor that his regional peers were capable of bestowing. At the same time, he was denied the right of public accommodations afforded the white members of the society, including T. Lynn Smith, whom he had defeated [in his race for the Presidency of the Society].”*

The Society's celebration included a panel discussion on "The Work and Career of Charles S. Johnson." Papers were presented by Earl Wright II of the University of Cincinnati ("Charles S. Johnson, Fisk University and the Tradition of Black Sociology"), John H. Stanfield II of the University of Indiana ("Charles S. Johnson: The Need for Reappraisal") and Tomeka Davis of Georgia State University ("Hope Betrayed? Black Schooling and Economic Outcomes in the 21st Century"). Other presenters included Jeh Vincent Johnson of Vassar College, Charles S. Johnson III of Holland & Knight and the Southern Regional Council, and Winifred M. Johnson of Bethune-Cookman University ("Charles S. Johnson's Life and Legacy: A Family Perspective").

Other family members present included Norma E. Johnson, Rosemary, Matthew and Anthony McDaniel, and Sondra R. Johnson


*Patrick J. Gilpin and Marybeth Gasman, Charles S. Johnson: Leadership Beyond the Veil in the Age of Jim Crow, p. 156.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Remembering the 2008 Lillian Smith Book Award Ceremony

As we look forward to this year's Lillian Smith Book Award Ceremony, scheduled for September 4, 20011, we also reflect on the moving presentations at the 2008 Award Ceremony.


The first presentation was by Joseph Crespino, author of In Search of Another Country: Mississippi and the Conservative Counterrevolution.

In the 1960s, Mississippi was the heart of white southern resistance to the civil-rights movement. To many, it was a backward-looking society of racist authoritarianism and violence that was sorely out of step with modern liberal America. White Mississippians, however, had a different vision of themselves and their country, one so persuasive that by 1980 they had become important players in Ronald Reagan's newly ascendant Republican Party.

In this ambitious reassessment of racial politics in the deep South, Joseph Crespino reveals how Mississippi leaders strategically accommodated themselves to the demands of civil-rights activists and the federal government seeking to end Jim Crow, and in so doing contributed to a vibrant conservative countermovement. Crespino explains how white Mississippians linked their fight to preserve Jim Crow with other conservative causes--with evangelical Christians worried about liberalism infecting their churches, with cold warriors concerned about the Communist threat, and with parents worried about where and with whom their children were schooled. Crespino reveals important divisions among Mississippi whites, offering the most nuanced portrayal yet of how conservative southerners bridged the gap between the politics of Jim Crow and that of the modern Republican South.

This book lends new insight into how white Mississippians gave rise to a broad, popular reaction against modern liberalism that recast American politics in the closing decades of the twentieth century.

Professor Crespino's presentation was followed by a moving presentation by Wesley Hogan, author of Many Minds, One Heart: SNCC's Dream for a New America.

How did the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee break open the caste system in the American South between 1960 and 1965? In this innovative study, Wesley Hogan explores what SNCC accomplished and, more important, how it fostered significant social change in such a short time. She offers new insights into the internal dynamics of SNCC as well as the workings of the larger civil rights and Black Power movement of which it was a part.

As Hogan chronicles, the members of SNCC created some of the civil rights movement's boldest experiments in freedom, including the sit-ins of 1960, the rejuvenated Freedom Rides of 1961, and grassroots democracy projects in Georgia and Mississippi. She highlights several key players--including Charles Sherrod, Bob Moses, and Fannie Lou Hamer--as innovators of grassroots activism and democratic practice.

Breaking new ground, Hogan shows how SNCC laid the foundation for the emergence of the New Left and created new definitions of political leadership during the civil rights and Vietnam eras. She traces the ways other social movements--such as Black Power, women's liberation, and the antiwar movement--adapted practices developed within SNCC to apply to their particular causes. Many Minds, One Heart ultimately reframes the movement and asks us to look anew at where America stands on justice and equality today.


Join us for this year's ceremony.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Dekalb County Courthouse

Dcatur, Georgia

Lillian Smith Book Awards: List of Nominees Released

The Southern Regional Council (SRC) recently announced that forty-eight books have been nominated for the Lillian Smith Book Awards for 2011, to be presented in Decatur, Georgia on September 4, 2011.

SRC is an inter-racial organization founded in 1919 to combat racial injustice in the South. SRC initiated the Lillian Smith Book Awards shortly after Smith's death in 1966 to recognize authors whose writing extends the legacy of the outspoken writer, educator and social critic who challenged her fellow Southerners and all Americans on issues of social and racial justice. Since 2004 the awards have been presented by SRC in a partnership with the University of Georgia Libraries, whose Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library houses a historic collection of Lillian Smith's letters and manuscripts. The Georgia Center for the Book became a partner in 2007, when the awards ceremony first became part of the Decatur Book Festival.

The number of nominations is up this year, in comparison to the forty-three nominations for 2010, apparently reflecting a growing interest in the awards. The award recipients for 2010 were Lynching and Spectacle: Witnessing Racial Violence in America, 1890-1940 by Amy Louise Wood and The Price of Defiance: James Meredith and the Integration of Ole Miss by Charles Eagles.

The 2011 nominees include:

Killing Time: An 18-year Odyssey From Death Row to Freedom John Hollway and Ronald M. Gauthier Skyhorse Publishing

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness Michelle Alexander The New Press

Crave Radiance: New and Selected Poems 1990-2010 Elizabeth Alexander Graywolf Press

Skin, Inc.: Identity Repair Poems Thomas Sayers Ellis Graywolf Press

Missing You, Metropolis Gary Jackson Graywolf Press

The Queen of Palmyra: A Novel Minrose Gwin HarperCollins Publishers

The Eyes of Willie McGee: A Tragedy of Race, Sex, and Secrets in the Jim Crow South Alex Heard HarperCollins Publishers

Father Dirt Mihaela Moscaliuc Alice James Books

Phantom Noise Brian Turner Alice James Books

Shahid Reads His Own Palm Reginald Dwayne Betts Alice James Books

At The Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance – A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power Danielle L. McGuire Alfred A. Knopf

Girl in Translation: A Novel Jean Kwok GP Putnam’s Sons/Riverhead Books

The Gendarme: A Novel Mark T. Mustian GP Putnam’s Sons/Riverhead Books

Yellow Dirt: An American Story of a Poisoned Land and a People Betrayed Judy Pasternak Free Press/Simon and Schuster

Long Way Home: A Young Man Lost in the System and the Two Women Who Found Him Laura Caldwell Free Press/Simon and Schuster

Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion Gregory Boyle Free Press/Simon and Schuster

Olivia’s Story: The Conspiracy of Heroes Behind Shelley v. Kraemer Jeffrey S. Copland Paragon House

Partly Colored: Asian Americans and Racial Anomaly in the Segregated South Leslie Bow New York University Press

Love and Strange Horses Nathalie Handal University of Pittsburgh Press

Coming of Age in Utopia: The Odyssey of an Idea Paul M. Gaston NewSouth Books

Weepin’ Time: Voices of Slavery in Coastal Georgia Rand Wood Tuttle iUniverse

Our White Boy Jerry Craft with Kathleen Sullivan Texas Tech University Press

Signs of the Times: The Visual Politics of Jim Crow Elizabeth Abel University of California Press

The Indignant Generation: A Narrative of African American Writers and Critics, 1934-1960 Lawrence P. Jackson Princeton University Press

The Warm of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration Isabel Wilkerson Random House

Jury Discrimination: The Supreme Court, Public Opinion, and a Grassroots Fight for Racial Equality in Mississippi Christopher Waldrep University of Georgia Press

Sitting In and Speaking Out: Student Movement in the American South 1960-1970 Jeffrey A. Turner University of Georgia Press

Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast Natasha Trethewey University of Georgia Press

Rabble Rousers: The American Far Right in the Civil Rights Era Clive Webb University of Georgia Press

Colonial Georgia and the Creeks: Anglo-Indian Diplomacy on the Southern Frontier, 1733-1763 John T. Juricek University Press of Florida

Reconstituting Whiteness: The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission Jenny Irons Vanderbilt University Press

To Right These Wrongs: The North Carolina Fund and the Battle to End Poverty and Inequality in 1960s America Robert R. Korstad & James L. Leloudis University of North Carolina Press

Right to Ride: Streetcar Boycotts and African American Citizenship in the Era of Plessy v. Ferguson Blair L. M. Kelley University of North Carolina Press

The Admirable Radical: Staughton Lynd and Cold War Dissent, 1945-1970 Carl Mirra The Kent State University Press

Speak Truth to Power: The Story of Charles Patrick, A Civil Rights Pioneer Mignette Y. Patrick Dorsey University of Alabama Press

Sacrifice Zones: The Front Lines of Toxic Chemical Exposure in the United States Steve Lerner The MIT Press

Benching Jim Crow: The Rise and Fall of the Color Line in Southern College Sports, 1890-1980 Charles H. Martin University of Illinois Press

Carry the Rock: Race, Football, and the Soul of an American City Jay Jennings Rodale

Freedom Flyers: The Tuskegee Airmen of World War II J. Todd Moye Oxford University Press

Freedwomen and The Freedmen’s Bureau: Race, Gender, & Public Policy in the Age of Emancipation Mary Farmer-Kaiser Fordham University Press

Bridges of Reform: Interracial Civil Rights Activism in the Twentieth-Century Los Angeles Shana Bernstein Oxford University Press

The Color of American Has Changed: How Racial Diversity Shaped Civil Rights Reform in California, 1941-1978 Mark Brilliant Oxford University Press

Downhome Gospel: African American Spiritual Activism in Wiregrass County Jerrilyn McGregory University Press of Mississippi

God-Fearing and Free: A Spiritual History of America’s Cold War Jason W. Stevens Harvard University Press

Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South Stephanie McCurry Harvard University Press

Near Andersonville: Winslow Homer’s Civil War Peter H. Wood Harvard University Press

Setting Down the Sacred Past: African-American Race Histories Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp Harvard University Press

Our South: Geographic Fantasy and the Rise of National Literature Jennifer Rae Greeson Harvard University Press

Lillian Smith Book Award Ceremony, 2010

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Lillian Smith Book Award Ceremony, 2008


Lillian Smith Book Awards for 2001

From Southern Changes, Vol. 24, No. 1-2, 2002 pp. 15-17

Each year, the Southern Regional Council hosts the Lillian Smith Book Awards in honor of the most liberal and outspoken of white mid-twentieth century Southern writers. In works such as Strange Fruit (1944) and Killers of the Dream (1949), Lillian Smith wrote boldly on issues of social and racial justice, calling persistently for an end to segregation. The Smith Awards honor authors today who, through their writing, carry on Smith's legacy of illuminating the condition of racial and social inequity and proposing a vision of justice and human understanding. The 2001 Smith Awards honored the works of four writers. Pam Durban received the fiction award for So Far Back (New York: Picador USA, 2000). Natasha Trethewey received the poetry award for Domestic Work (Saint Paul: Graywolf Press, 2000). Hal Crowther received the non-fiction award for Cathedrals of Kudzu: A Personal Landscape of the South (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000). Robert P. Moses received a special lifetime achievement award, recognizing his years of civil rights service in the Mississippi Delta and Boston as well as his book, co-authored with Charles E. Cobb, Radical Equations: Math Literacy and Civil Rights (Boston: Beacon Press, 2001). Following are excerpts from Durban, Trethewey, and Crowther's acceptance speeches and a review of Moses and Cobb's Radical Equations. So Far Back Lillian Smith Book Awards juror Pegram Harrison introduces Pam Durban:

In So Far Back, Pam got the history of Charleston, its architecture, its mores, the names of its people, just right. She also got "just right" the complex, painful, horrific relationship that existed then and now among blacks and whites in that particular part of the world. She presents it sensitively, eloquently, and in such a way that you feel that there may be some hope for us after all. She says she didn't set forth to include a moral in her book, that all she did was follow her characters as far as they took her. Well, I think that the fact that her characters took her as far as they did suggests that her profoundly insightful presentation of those tragic relationships emerged from her innate decency and sensitivity. Her book is elegiac, graceful, atmospheric, and elegant. It raises issues that we deal with today. We are fortunate to have Pam Durban use her powers of fiction to help us understand our complex frightening past.

Pam Durban:

For a short time in the early 1970s, I lived on a plantation on the Edisto River south of Charleston. The place was very old. I've seen it marked on a French trading map, dated 1698. When I lived there, the outlines of that older world were still visible: the big house on the river bluff, surrounded by live oaks; the shape of rice fields still sketched in the marshes; a row of falling down shacks back in the pines.

At the time, the importance of that place, its meaning as anything more than a world of ease and beauty was invisible to me. Nothing in my education or upbringing had taught or encouraged me to see or to understand it as anything other than the setting of the great Southern romance of the past. Growing up in the South in the 1950s, I'd been raised on stories in which it seemed to me that we white Southerners were the only ones who had lived there. And so I grew up blind and I grew up innocent of the larger story of Southern history. But I write in part to discover what I know and so I wrote So Far Back to explore and question the stories about the Southern past in which I was raised. Those stories and the innocence they often insist on, are the source of the inherited blindness of nostalgia which for so long has shaped the history of the South as it has been past down by generations of white Southerners.

I did research in all of the major Southern archives--in the South Caroliniana Library, the South Carolina Historical Society, and the Southern Historical Collection in ChapelHill. I was glad to find the stories there in those primary sources, reach beyond the nostalgia, in a million pieces. It is there in letters, diaries, newspapers, magazines, books of law, and books of architecture. Then I had to research into myself to see if I could imagine the past without nostalgia and I found that it was hard work. I saw how ingrained those attitudes were about race and history and how easily I could find and warm to them.

I set the novel in Charleston and the surrounding countryside because that place feels to me like the center of the slaveholding world and the place where white South Carolina's idea of itself was planted and grew and flourished. My intention was to bring to life that world and the world of the city of Charleston in order to question its assumptions and to trace the influence of its attitudes and opinions down to the present time. I did this not to refute or to deny what I found but to widen my sense of the South's history beyond the romance on which I was raised in order to understand my people's part in creating the story that we black people and white people have lived together for so long. In a way I wrote this book with my character Louisa's resolve not to hand the story on unchanged. It seems to me that it is necessary to know and to acknowledge the part we play in things because, by acknowledging who you are and what you have done, you break down the belief in your own innocence and that is a healing act.

Domestic Work Lillian Smith Awards Jury Chair Patricia Derian presented the Smith poetry award to Natasha Trethewey:

Natasha Trethewey was born in Gulfport, Mississippi and attended Atlanta schools. She is the daughter of a poet and a very early reader. Natasha is the future of writing fulfilled and is now an assistant professor at Emory.

Her book is not only beautiful looking, but it is filled with beautiful, wonderful poems, just really spectacular.

Drapery Factory, Gulfport, Mississippi, 1956

She made the trip daily, though
later she would not remember
how far to tell the grandchildren--
Better that way. She could keep those miles
a secret, and her black face
and black hands, and the pink bottoms
of her black feet a minor inconvenience.

She does remember the men
she worked for, and that often
she sat side by side
with white women, all of them
bent over, pushing into the hum
of the machines, their right calves
tensed against the pedals.

Her lips tighten speaking
of quitting time when
the colored women filed out slowly
to have their purses checked,
the insides laid open and exposed
by the boss's hand.

when she recalls the soiled Kotex
she saved, stuffed into hag
in her purse, and Adam's look
on one white man's face, his hand
deep in knowledge.

Natasha Trethewey:

My parents met at Kentucky State College. My father was a poor white boy from Canada who wanted to go to college and got out a guide to American colleges and universities and picked a really cheap one where he could get a track scholarship. So, he rode the bus and hitchhiked all the way down from Halifax, Nova Scotia, and ended up at an historically all-black college, very surprised. But he stayed and there he met my mother.

Because I was going to grow up both black and mixed-race in the South, my father always told me that I had something to say, that I had stories that needed to be told. However, some time ago when I was in graduate school, I was told that I was too concerned with my message to write real poetry. In that statement was imbedded the idea that a message had no place in a poem. Perhaps what was meant also had something to do with the kind of subjects deemed appropriate: social justice and universal understanding not among them, being too political.

Like any writer, I love words, the sound of them, the way that they feel in my mouth when I speak them. The way that figurative language can make the mind leap to a new apprehension of things. But I have always been more concerned with people than with words. Poet Phil Levine has said, "In my ideal poem, no ideal words are noticed. You look through them into a vision of people." Levine's is a vision that reminds us that words are not mere playthings, nor are they pure sound, divorced easily from their meaning and power. We know all too well the weight they carry. I am honored then most to be recognized for using them not only in the service of art, but also in the service of justice and understanding. Cathedrals of Kudzu Pegram Harrison introduced non-fiction winner Hal Crowther:

Hal Crowther, author of Cathedrals of Kudzu, is a journalist and an essayist. E.B. White said, "An essayist can pull on any sort of shirt, be any sort of person, according to his mood or his subject matter. He can be a philosopher, a scold, a jester, a raconteur, a competent, a pundit, a devil's advocate, and an enthusiast." Hal Crowther wears all these shirts and more. His essays are carefully constructed. They are of a piece. They are finely written. His writing is often lyric and often acerbic. It is always analytic. It is always incisive. He rejoices in spotting unclothed emperors. He gives unstinting praise where it is due. He enshrines with all their warts and faults some of his favorite authors such as James Dickey, Walker Percy, and Cormac McCarthy, and his other heroes, Judge Frank Johnson and Doc Watson. And he sings lovely songs to that god-given quintet: trees, drinking, dogs, poetry, and Southern belles. He deplores and excoriates racism. And he takes a lick at nostalgia and the myth of the old South. We are richer for his profound insights and skilled presentation.

Hal Crowther:

H.L. Mencken said once that his writing was "free of moral purpose. I am never much interested in the effects of what I write. I live in a deliberate vacuum." That is exactly the opposite of my attitude toward my work. I have never written a word without that stump preacher's prayer that everyone who reads it will see the light and accept the spirit. When I look at the list of past winners of the Smith Award, I see a lot of my friends and also my idols and role models. Several, like Denise Giardina, Will Campbell, and John Egerton, are both. I always thought of myself as a kind of an Atticus Finch, a careful small town liberal who might risk tar and feathers for a principle to do the right thing, but who is kind of uncomfortable when he sees men sitting in church without neckties.

What I love about Southern liberals, epitomized by the SRC, is that they are practical, hard-working, no-nonsense liberals and they have had to be. Down here, people committed to progress and justice had real dragons to slay and real crosses to bear. They didn't waste their time or energy on the nitpicking and backbiting that provides the Rush Limbaugh's of this world with easy charicatures of liberals. Down here, our liberals want your heart and your vote. They don't want to prune your vocabulary. Liberals are a minority in this country. We can't afford to squander our capital on the Lilliputian language wars. We can't afford to appear petty or ridiculous.

"Drapery Factory, Gulfport, Mississippi, 1956" Copyright 2000 by Natasha Trethewey. Reprinted from Domestic Work with the permission of Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minnesota.

Race and Redistricting: Myths, Truths and Facts

By Todd A. Cox

From Southern Changes, Vol. 24, No. 1-2, 2002 pp. 13-14

Federal court decisions regarding redistricting over the past several years have caused some to question how district line drawers can create redistricting plans that will provide all voters equal opportunity to elect candidates of choice. Since Shaw v. Reno, the courts have clarified the criteria for drawing district lines and made it clear that race can be a factor in redistricting and these clarifications have supported lawmakers and grassroots organizers who sought redistricting plans that allow fair representation for minorities in many states and localities since 2000.

But, the process of redistricting is not complete throughout the South. States like Louisiana and North Carolina are still developing plans and, more importantly, countless communities across the South have yet to draw new city council, county commissioner, and school board plans. For this reason, it is imperative that local activists supporting fair representation for minorities are well informed of the role which race may play in redistricting. Line drawers may still try to argue against creating districts that fairly reflect minority voting strength. These arguments will essentially be based on myths about the role of race in redistricting. In order to advocate for the creation of fair redistricting plans, be prepared to debunk these myths.

Myth: Race cannot be considered during redistricting.

Truth: It is okay to be conscious of race during redistricting. It is, however, important to avoid violating "traditional redistricting principles." These include: making sure that the districts are compact and contiguous (ensuring that all parts of the district touch); respecting political subdivisions; and preserving communities of interest.

States and local jurisdictions are permitted to express and meet political goals even if the result is the creation of majority-minority districts. Hunt v. Cromartie, issued in April 2001, is the latest word from the U. S. Supreme Court on the role of race and politics in redistricting. In that case, a group of white voters sought to have North Carolina's new 12th and 1st Congressional Districts ruled unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. The Supreme Court, however, found the 12th District constitutional. The Court pointed out that the North Carolina General Assembly simply sought to create a district containing very loyal Democratic voters and in so doing created a district that had a large concentration of African Americans who tend to vote Democratic, writing, "A legislature trying to secure a safe Democratic seat is interested in Democratic voting behavior. Hence, a legislature may, by placing reliable Democratic precincts within a district without regard to race, end up with a district containing more heavily African-American precincts, but the reasons would be political rather than racial."

Myth: Jurisdictions are not required or permitted to create majority-minority districts.

Truth: Jurisdictions are permitted and may even be required to create majority-minority districts. Those drawing lines during the redistricting process are required to comply with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which forbids the adoption of redistricting plans that have the result of denying voters an equal opportunity to participate in the political process because of their race, color, or membership in a language minority group. Those drawing lines must avoid creating redistricting plans that result in diluting the voting strength of minority voters. Dilution occurs when concentrated minority populations are fragmented or split between districts or over-concentrated in a district, resulting in minority voters having less of an opportunity to elect their candidate of choice than other voters.

Despite the requirement that line drawers not dilute minority voting strength, some individuals and groups may still advocate for dismantling a majority-minority district and spreading its voters between various districts in order to achieve some partisan political advantage. The determination of whether a particular redistricting plan violates Section 2 is very complicated and specific to the area being examined. It requires complex political and social science analyses of electoral behavior and of a community's political history. Without this analysis, it would be inappropriate for those drawing district lines to dismantle majority-minority districts or fail to create them merely based, for example, on anecdotal information of minority electoral victories or hypothetical promises of future success.

Myth: The redistricting process is closed to the public.

Truth: Redistricting should be an open process. The redistricting process is open for participation by anyone, including individuals and grassroots organizations.

To get involved, first, educate yourself about the redistricting process in your state and community. Find out the redistricting schedule, the timing for hearings and developing plans, and how you can participate. You should get a copy of any proposed redistricting plans from the body charged with redistricting in your community and find out if the state or local government will provide the public access to redistricting computers so that you may develop your own alternative plans. Also, you should familiarize yourself with the census population data for your community, evaluating population characteristics and assessing the various demographic trends that have developed over the last decade. This data is available from various sources, including the U.S. Census Bureau.

Second, assemble the information you need to make your case for a fair redistricting plan and share it with redistricting officials. Make sure information proving the need for the creation of a particular majority-minority district is included in the redistricting record. This can take the form of letters, public hearing testimonials, studies, reports, articles, or expert analyses and should include:

  • maps showing that reasonably compact majority-minority districts can be drawn;
  • an examination of whether voting is racially polarized in your community;
  • an assessment of the history of discrimination in your community and in the state, particularly to voting;
  • a list of current electoral practices that have a discriminatory impact on the ability of minorities to cast an effective vote;
  • an assessment of the extent to which minority candidates are excluded from nominating processes;
  • an assessment of the social and economic disparities between minorities and whites in your community and the state in areas such as education, employment, and health;
  • examples of overt or subtle appeals to or reference to race that have been made in elections;
  • a record of the electoral successes and losses suffered by candidates of choice of minority voters;
  • the lack of responsiveness of the governing body being redistricted to the needs of the minority community; and
  • an assessment of how insubstantial a jurisdiction's policy reason may be for not creating majority-minority districts and maintaining the current plan.

Third, some jurisdictions--including many in the South--are required to submit their redistricting plans to the federal government for review under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Under Section 5, certain jurisdictions with a history of discrimination in voting ("covered jurisdictions") must submit any changes in law that could affect voting, such as redistricting plans, to either the Department of Justice (DOJ) or the federal district court in the District of Columbia for review to make sure that the law is not racially discriminatory. Even if a jurisdiction is only partially covered by Section 5, congressional and state legislative redistricting plans for the entire state must be submitted for review. Most jurisdictions submit voting changes to the DOJ which has sixty days to review and decide either that a given change is not discriminatory and approve or "preclear" it or that the change is discriminatory and disapprove or "object to" it. The states covered entirely under Section 5 are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia. States of which only certain counties or towns are covered under Section 5 are: Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, and South Dakota.

The DOJ welcomes the participation of individuals and community groups during the Section 5 process. Your goal should be to assist the DOJ in making a decision and your comments should include your perspective on the facts leading to the creation of the proposed redistricting plan. Your letter should be addressed to Chief, Voting Section, Civil Rights Division, Department of Justice, P.O. Box 66128, Washington, D.C. 20035-6128. The envelope and first page should be marked "Comment under Section 5." Also, you may call the DOJ with your comments at: 1-800-253-3931 or: 202-307-2385 or arrange to meet with the Department to discuss the proposed plan. You may check the status of the DOJ's review by visiting the Voting Section's website at: After the DOJ has made its determination, you should receive a copy of the decision if you participated.

It may be beneficial for you to seek the assistance of experts--a demographer, historian, or political scientist--who can help you in collecting and developing the information you will need during the redistricting process. A demographer uses census data to draw or redraw redistricting maps and can analyze the proposed redistricting plans and create alternative plans on your behalf. A historian will study the political and social history of your community, providing information about race relations and the interests that all members of your community have in common, and that, therefore, should be respected during the redistricting process. A political scientist will analyze election information to determine voting patterns among voters, including the degree to which minority voters have an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. You may also wish to seek the aid of an attorney who can suggest the types of experts you need, provide advice about the redistricting process, and provide important legal arguments on your behalf in court or before the DOJ.

Redistricting offers a chance to maintain or alter the political dynamic on elected bodies. The right to vote is one of the most precious rights we enjoy in this country. Participating in redistricting gives true meaning to the right to vote by helping to create electoral plans that afford all voters an opportunity to participate in the political process.

At the time of this writing, Todd A. Cox was an Assistant Counsel with the Washington, D.C. office of NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. For more information about its political participation program or to request copies of publications, call: 1-800-221-7822.