Monday, 17 November 2008

Putting the southern politics hat on

As James Joyner posts today a recent Strange Maps entry has produced a bit of buzz by showing the overlap between cotton production in 1860 and Democratic voting in 2008. Of course, a map of cotton production in 1860 and Democratic voting in 1908 would also look very similar, but for very different reasons, as Key points out in Southern Politics in State and Nation:

In its grand outlines the politics of the South revolves around the position of the Negro. Whatever phase of the southern political process one seeks to understand, sooner or later the trail of inquiry leads to the Negro.

For those not familiar with Key’s argument, he essentially argued that understanding the politics of the south (at least through the late 1940s, the time Southern Politics was written) required an understanding of how the political structures of the cotton belt states were designed to reinforce the supremacy of “black-belt whites,” the plantation owners who would have been outnumbered politically if blacks had a meaningful right to vote. Democratic single-party rule in the south, and the Democrats’ fortunes nationally, rested on this core of rabid support which saw Republican rule in the south or federal interference as nothing less than an existential threat. Obviously things have changed a great deal due to generational replacement and the changes wrought by the Civil Rights Movement, but it remains an interesting correlation as James points out.

Meanwhile, Kevin Drum argues that the South has lost influence in Washington due to the return of unified government under the Democrats, although a look at the chamber median (I haven’t run CJR on the latest House data, but I assume the results are likely to be similar) suggests that the “Blue Dogs,” most of whom are moderate-to-conservative southern Democrats, will have far more influence over what passes and fails in the 111th Congress than Drum might like.

Also of potential interest, Andrew Gelman looks at the relationship between county-level returns and race in various regions of the country.

Incidentally, I usually juxtapose two similar maps (one from Key, one from Gavin Wright’s work on southern economic history) in my Southern politics course—although I’m damned if I know when I’ll ever get the opportunity to teach it again, which is one of the drawbacks of teaching outside the “real” South.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Another day, another article

Read about the new south. I don’t think this one is as good as the busing article, but I can’t think of much I could do to improve it either. Next up: George Wallace (not the comedian).

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Project of the day

Read everything you’d ever want to know about busing. Comments welcome.

Thursday, 19 July 2007


An item potentially of interest to SN readers: I blogged earlier today about the recent federal court ruling ordering Mississippi to limit its primaries to registered party identifiers at OTB.

Saturday, 26 May 2007

Southern politics stuff

I’ve spent more time today than I meant reading through some books I checked out at the library and fiddling with (read: completely overhauling) my Southern Politics syllabus.

The primary challenge of the exercise is keeping the readings manageable after adding two recent books (Woodard’s The New Southern Politics and Lassiter’s The Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South) and adding readings from the new edition of Bullock and Rozell’s The New Politics of the Old South; I probably have 2000 pages on the syllabus, even after some chopping. I still need to add some stuff on the 1866 riot, 1874 White League coup attempt, and the 1900 Robert Charles Riots in New Orleans—and not get too bogged down in history while I’m at it.

Monday, 23 April 2007

Accent problems

I spent several years of my life learning to pronounce a proper name like the locals did… but for the next 24 hours, to avoid sounding like a southerner (usually not a problem for me, except for the occasional “y’all”), I have to consciously pronounce the name the way northerners pronounce it—if only so people can understand the proper name I’m using.

Wednesday, 11 October 2006

The Black Primary

The New York Times reports on the bizarre case of Democratic party operative Ike Brown of Noxubee County, Mississippi, who faces a federal lawsuit under the Voting Rights Act for suppressing the voting rights of whites. Probably the most fascinating passages in the article, which read like something out of a 1960s era lawsuit with the races reversed:

Mr. Brown is accused in the lawsuit and in supporting documents of paying and organizing notaries, some of whom illegally marked absentee ballots or influenced how the ballots were voted; of publishing a list of voters, all white, accompanied by a warning that they would be challenged at the polls; of importing black voters into the county; and of altering racial percentages in districts by manipulating the registration rolls. ...

The Justice Department’s voting rights expert is less reserved [than local white residents]. “Virtually every election provides a multitude of examples of these illegal activities organized by Ike Brown and other defendants, and those who act in concert with them,” the expert, Theodore S. Arrington, chairman of the political science department at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, wrote in a report filed with the court. ...

There are so few whites in the county, Mr. Brown suggests, that the tactics he is accused of are unnecessary to keep blacks in office.

“They can’t win anyway unless we choose to vote for them,” he said with a smile. “If I was doing something wrong — that’s like closing the barn door when the horse is already gone.”

Of course, the key point of practices like the white primary in most of the South wasn’t to prevent blacks from outvoting whites per se—even in the early 20th century before extensive outmigration of African-Americans, whites typically outnumbered blacks in most counties outside the “black belt” plantation counties—but instead to ensure that blacks and lower-to-middle class whites would not form cross-racial voting coalitions in support of white or black candidates that would displace the local elites from office.

Assuming white block voting for white candidates, even in a county that’s 75% black like Noxubee white candidates could win elections with 30–40% black support depending on the turnout ratio… so, if techniques like pressuring blacks through appeals to racial solidarity to also block vote against white candidates breaks down, the illegal tactics Brown is accused of orchestrating would be very helpful in maintaining and/or expanding control of elected offices.

þ Rick Hasen.

Thursday, 1 June 2006

Wilmington Race Riot commission issues recommendations

The AP has a story on the release of recommendations from the state commission investigating the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot, a chapter of the state’s political and social history reasonably well-known to those who study Southern politics but one that’s been rather obscure otherwise.

There is something of a strange passage in the story, however:

[State Rep. Thomas] Wright said the next step is to file a bill with the recommendations—which include that the parties responsible for the violence atone for their own involvement and that the true story of the incident be taught in North Carolina schools—in the Legislature. That won’t happen before 2007 because the deadline for filing new legislation has passed this session, he said.

My suspicion is that the “parties responsible for the violence” are, without exception, dead, so they probably won’t be doing a lot of atoning. I suppose the North Carolina Democratic Party could issue some resolution of apology, but I’m not sure it would reflect anything other than empty symbolism as the current party, other than organizational continuity, has nothing much in common with its century-old counterpart.

Thursday, 19 January 2006

More Ford Theater

At some level, it’s a shame that I don’t have more stuff on Southern machine politics in my southern politics seminar. Memphis’ latter-day Crumps, the Fords, remain masters of the art form, which is well-typified in the current dispute over Ophelia Ford’s apparently fraudulent election to replace brother John (whose own shenanigans were a Signifying Nothing staple from back when Signifying Nothing was a pathetic little website called MemphisWatch nearly a decade ago).

Anyway, a Ford chum sitting on the U.S. district court has now decided to grant (Ophelia) Ford’s request for a restraining order stopping the state legislature from refusing to seat her, pending a hearing next week, thereby vitiating the hopes of anyone wanting this mess resolved any time soon.

See Bob Krumm, Mike Hollihan, and Adam Groves for all the commentary and details you can shake a stick at. (þ: Instapundit)

Thursday, 27 October 2005

Franklin on Parks

Political scientist Charles Franklin takes time out from the pretty graphs to reflect on the meaning of Rosa Parks’ role in history, echoing some themes of discussions I’ve had with Mike Munger and others who grew up in the segregated South.

Tuesday, 25 October 2005

Rosa Parks, RIP

Rosa Parks, the woman whose refusal to give up her seat sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott and helped catalyze the civil rights movement, passed away yesterday at the age of 92; there’s more from the Montgomery Advertiser.

Wednesday, 7 September 2005

Yet another "only acceptable form of bigotry"

While I’m not a huge fan of the canard that “the only acceptable form of bigotry these days is against so-and-so,” largely because there are enough values of so-and-so that it’s invalid—fat people, Southerners, whites, straight people, smokers, short people, ugly people, ad nauseum. Nonetheless Matt Stinson has a point:

A sizable number of those who relentlessly mock Southern speech and culture do so because they enjoy the thrill of “superiority” which comes from being bigoted without the stain of seeming prejudiced against a racial or ethnic minority.

Tuesday, 9 August 2005

Leaving the South

Russell Arben Fox has penned a retrospective on his time living in the South; it’s an interesting read, and while politically we’re probably quite different I think he captures the essence of the region (both positives and negatives) quite well.

Mind you, a lot of folks would say I’ll be leaving the South too, the Triangle having relatively little in common with Mississippi beyond good-looking women and a physical location south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Friday, 15 July 2005

Mississippi: now with less Klan!

Jerry Mitchell asks in this morning’s Clarion-Ledger whether the Klan is in terminal decline. One would hope so, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

Tuesday, 28 June 2005

Shelby Foote, RIP

Popular civil war historian Shelby Foote passed away last night in Memphis, according to the Associated Press.

Tuesday, 14 June 2005

Progress and regress

As reputed Klansman Edgar Ray Killen goes on trial for his role in the Philadelphia Three murders, the U.S. Senate decided to apologize for its complicity in Klan terrorism, which I suppose would be a more meaningful gesture if more than 6% of the Senate had shown up for the vote or if either senator from Mississippi, a.k.a. Lynching Central, had co-sponsored the bill. Steven Taylor has more thoughts on the belated apology.

Mind you, I’m not sure which is worse… the locals who are ignorant of the past or the non-locals who are ignorant of the present.

Thursday, 31 March 2005

Intellectual diversity

Todd Zywicki has a lengthy post at The Volokh Conspiracy on the merits of intellectual diversity on campus, most of which I am in full agreement with. However, Zywicki seems to have picked a rather poor example of indoctrination:

My “History of the American South” class was a one semester narrative by a Marxist professor on how rich southern whites had conspired to manipulate racist sentiments among lower-class whites to keep them from banding together in the “natural” economic alliance of poor whites and blacks to plunder the property of rich whites. He was the only one who taught it, so if I wanted to take it (I was from South Carolina, so I was interested in it), I had to take it from him.

I hate to break it to Zywicki, but that’s basically what rich whites did during the post-Civil War era in the South, a phenomenon that continues (in diminished form) to this day. You don’t have to be a Marxist to buy that argument, although I suppose it helps.

Granted, there are other important aspects of Southern history and politics (although most of them are connected, at least somewhat, to the twin issues of elite dominance and race as well), so if the entire semester was just a rant on that particular topic I’d say Zywicki had a rather poor instructor. But “divide the have-nots through racist appeals” was a cornerstone of planter-elite strategy to maintain political and economic power, particularly in the Deep South, well into the 1960s.

Thursday, 17 March 2005

Off the QT

Now it’s public, I’d like to congratulate my cousin Melvin Patrick Ely, author of Israel on the Appomattox and professor of history and African-American studies at the College of William and Mary, on winning the Bancroft Prize in American History. More here.

Friday, 18 February 2005

Reason 732 to dislike Ann Coulter

James Joyner caught this nugget from Ms. Coulter at CPAC today:

Oddly, the woman who calls everyone who disagrees with her on international affairs a “traitor” and idiotic comments by college professors “treason,” is a big supporter of the Confederate flag. Even divorced from its civil rights era racial connotations, the flag represents treason against the Union in the most literal sense.

Wednesday, 16 February 2005

It's not scholarship just because you got one to go to college

Everyone’s favorite piece of neoconfederate propaganda, The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, continues to pile up negative reviews, this time from Max Boot in The Weekly Standard. (þ: Instapundit and Eric Muller)

Sunday, 16 January 2005

Roy Moore: on the ballot in 2006?

Sunday’s Mobile Register carried an interesting piece showing former Alabama supreme court justice Roy Moore (of “Ten Commandments” monument fame) with an eight-point lead over incumbent governor Bob Riley among likely GOP primary voters in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup, in a poll conducted by the University of South Alabama. (þ: How Appealing)

Update: A shorter version of the piece is making the rounds Tuesday.

Monday, 27 December 2004


My cousin Melvin Ely’s most recent book, Israel on the Appomattox: A Southern Experiment in Black Freedom from the 1790s Through the Civil War continues to draw rave reviews; the latest is from James A. Miller in Sunday’s Boston Globe.

Update: Joe Gandelman uncovered the article on his own and has some interesting thoughts (and discussion) on the matter. Comments of my own below the fold.

Sunday, 7 November 2004

Alabama's blue belt

Looking at the red/blue county map, it’s pretty easy to correlate most of the blue counties with major urban population centers.

One thing that has me mystified, though, is the neat blue line bisecting otherwise red Alabama horizontally, seemingly following the path of Highway 80, as far as I can tell, and bleeding over slightly into Mississippi and Georgia on either side. Montgomery, Alabama’s capital and second largest city, is in the middle of the blue strip, but what about the rest of it? What’s the explanation of Alabama’s “blue belt”?

Update: Chris explains in comments that Alabama's "blue belt" is Alabama's black belt.

Tuesday, 5 October 2004

Working on earning his own category

There’s a metaphor about holes and digging that I think Jim DeMint needs to seriously consider paying attention to. Better yet, the partisan nitwits at Redstate are still backing the guy.

Monday, 4 October 2004

Deux mots

A couple of words for my friends at Redstate: bad timing.

Gays and lesbians should not be allowed to teach in public schools, Republican Jim DeMint said Sunday in a U.S. Senate debate.

The remark came late in the first debate between DeMint and Democrat Inez Tenenbaum — a testy and acrimonious hour that broke little new ground on their positions on most issues.

DeMint, a Greenville congressman, said the government should not endorse homosexuality and “folks teaching in school need to represent our values.”

The good news is, at least someone’s patriotism was questioned in the debate. (Couldn’t have a good debate without some patriotism-questioning.)

Tenenbaum, the state education superintendent, called DeMint’s position “un-American.”

DeMint said after the debate that he would not require teachers to admit to being gay, but if they were “openly gay, I do not think that they should be teaching at public schools.”

Tenenbaum later told reporters that “the private life of our teachers should stay private. I was shocked to hear him say that.”

And we have a nominee for “bad paraphrase of the day”:

College of Charleston political scientist Bill Moore said DeMint’s position would be unconstitutional…. [I didn’t truncate the quote; the ellipses are in the original. Go figure.]

No, DeMint’s position isn’t unconstitutional. A law that implemented DeMint’s position might be—presumably, Lawrence v. Texas and Roemer v. Evans would be controlling precedent, but I don’t think the Supreme Court has ruled that employment discrimination against homosexuals is unconstitutional.

The most amazing thing about this whole situation: Congress has virtually nothing to do with the hiring practices of local school districts (which are solely state and local responsibilities, even under cooperative federalism), so why on earth was this even being debated in the first place? Sheesh.

Oh, and for the donors who contributed to DeMint’s campaign via the Redstate effort, I have three more words: ask for refunds.