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Mobilizing key groups can change politics of the Deep South

Freddie Allen | 6/27/2014, 4:30 p.m.
As voters’ rights advocates and civil rights leaders commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1964 “Freedom Summer” in Mississippi, a ...
One of many "Freedom Summer" activities, where hundreds of civil rights activists gathered in June 1964 to train for voter registration of Blacks in Mississippi. Y Larry Rubin as part of the SNCC Legacy Project

NNPA

WASHINGTON – As voters’ rights advocates and civil rights leaders commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1964 “Freedom Summer” in Mississippi, a new study by the Center for American Progress finds that shifting demographics in the South can help to accelerate meaningful social and political change.

The report titled, “True South: Unleashing Democracy in the Black Belt 50 Years After Freedom Summer,” defined the Black Belt, a region known for its rich soil and history of plantation slavery, as regions in the following: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

According to the report, between 2000 and 2010, “the non-Hispanic White population in the South grew at a rate of 4 percent, while the so-called ‘minority’ population in the region experienced a 34 percent growth, the greatest out of any region in the country.”

Nearly 60 percent of Blacks live below the Mason-Dixon line and Blacks account for about 20 percent of the total population in the South. The report also noted that 40 percent of the Blacks that relocated “to the South since 2000 were between the ages of 21 and 40 years old” and researchers said this group will likely settle and start families, increasing the number of Blacks living in the region.

The report continued: “These trends could have a major effect on the region’s politics because voters of color tend to be more progressive and vote overwhelmingly for progressive candidates.”

Changing demographics, frustration with right-wing extremists and the growing number of young voters will play a role in the growing progressive electorate pushing back on “a long history of polarization” in the Black Belt.

Republican state lawmakers in the Black Belt, who may feel threatened by the growing diversity among potential voters, have enacted a number of laws that have a disproportionate impact on the quality of life of the poor, Blacks and other minorities.

According to the report, “nine states have passed laws requiring voters to bring photo identification to the polling booth in order to cast a traditional ballot” and governors in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, “effectively denying health care to millions of their citizens, overwhelmingly the poor and people of color.”

The report continued: “Eleven states have passed ‘right-to-work’ laws, which discourage organizing by unions. They are: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.”

During a panel discussion about the CAP report, Derrick Johnson, president of the Mississippi NAACP State Conference and the national co-chair of the Mississippi Freedom Summer 50th Anniversary, said that there’s “a deficit of morality in the South, because people are not seen as people they are seen as exploitable cheap labor.”

Johnson added that access to the polls free of voter suppression, access to quality education, access to health care and workers’ rights are the primary issues that civil rights activists must focus on and organize around so that the South can progress.