A New Magazine: Our Creed and Hopes By Steve Suitts
Vol. 1, No. 1, 1978, pp. 2-3
This first issue of Southern Changes is nothing new.
On four prior occasions during the last 34 years, the Southern Regional Council has announced the premiere of a new publication. Each has differed: one endured for 27 years and another did not live to celebrate an anniversary. All attempted to mark a new and distinct emphasis within the organization and a revived hope in the South’s future.
The publications’ names show, perhaps, the changing perception of the region by an organization born in the days when segregation of the races was fact enforced by law. The Southern Frontier was the Council’s first publication and lasted for two years. Then, in 1946, it was revised in title and format as the New South.
“The change lies in this,” the first edition of New South, stated, “that SRC will from now on strive to study and solve the problems implicit in (our) goals as parts – symptoms, if you like – of the overall problem of the South, which is the region’s need to develop a fuller use of its resources, both natural and human, to achieve a healthy balance between the agriculture and industry within the region. The democratic corollary to this, of course, lies in the duty of every Southerner to see to it that such development, as it is achieved, is used wisely and shared fairly by all, for all. It is to this development and the democratic shaping of the South’s growth that SRC will give most of its effort.” The magazine urged its readers to join in the task of making the “New South” a reality.
From 1946 until 1974, the magazine’s contributors wrote about the South with sympathy and outrage. They illuminated the obvious and obscure problems, pled with and cajoled Southerners to do better – to help bring social change.
Harold Fleming, a former director of the Council and one of the old hands at New South, reflected in its final issue that “to be honest, New South helped create the image of Southern readiness for change that somewhat exceeded the realities of the day.” Nonetheless, the New South found hope when it was scarce and marshaled an intellectual force which often plain facts could only bring.
It was just four springtimes ago when New South and its companion tabloid, since 1970,South Today, were merged into a new, colorful, and glossy magazine, Southern Voices. Although its editor observed that “there is even a Southern feel to the universe, suggesting that perhaps the stars are ironically right for this unprecedented venture,” it was not to be. After ten months, financial problems silenced Southern Voices.
During its short life, the magazine marked a change in perception. It was a time, the Council decided, when Southerners of all persuasions could speak to one another about problems and solutions – a time when the entire collected expressions of the South reporting, poetry, fiction, art, photography -could be reproduced in one medium for all to see.
With the echoes of Southern Voices still an influence today, we commence another publication. It too, has a new name and is the product of that mysterious process of “vision and revision,” influenced by the traditions, virtues, and the failures of those who came before. Compared to Southern Voices, this magazine is a modest undertaking. It has no color, no departments for art, fiction, or poetry.
The magazine will not attempt to attract every Southerner with the general, diverse expressions of Southern life and culture. Its appearance is different and the texture of its paper and its content feel different.
Hopefully, Southern Changes will have the riches of analysis, investigation, reporting, interviews, story-telling, and commentary. The magazine will mainly be a forum for reliable, concise reporting and interpretation on the issues and events of the South, with emphasis on the plight of the poor and the Black Southerners who, along with others, still seek a just settlement. It will attempt to review the moods, events, developments, and inactivities of the region. It will have little of the virtues and the sins of doctrinaire propaganda. It will attempt to show what is good and decent and hopeful about Southerners and their place. It will highlight the accomplishments of Southerners and the events of today and measure how far we have come in our march with the aspirations and ghosts of yesterday.
It will be called Southern Changes.
With only slight exaggeration, no single word has infiltrated the conversations of Southerners on the porches, in streets, or at statehouses more than the word “change.” For more than a century, it has been the inspiration of Black Southerners; for most of the Council’s existence, the hope of all liberal White and Black Southerners. It stirred the dreams and thoughts of some leaders and for others threatened the institutions and traditions they lived by. The prospects of change mothered racial tensions since folks, whom academicians called “change agents,” would not let it come in the by and by. The time for change was now.
Until the past few years, it was mostly the Southern liberals who wanted change to come rapidly. All others wanted none, thank you m’aam. Not so anymore, it seems.
Nowadays, many folk who once promoted race-mixing want to slow down some of the changes going on in our region. Poets wryly speak of losing our “distinctive Southern character.” Some writers yearn for the days before air conditioning when Southerners would sit and talk to one another. Others think we have gone far enough. Activists, who once marched to the hymns of “We Shall Overcome” and hummed the popular tune about “the times they are ‘a changin’,” now petition to stop the construction of super highways or nuclear plants.
However, not a few of those Southerners who never quite mastered the pronunciation of the word Negro now proudly boast that the South is changing. Industry, growth, money, skyscraper- they all dance in the minds of these and many others who have taken up the uncharacteristically Southern habit of judging success by a balance sheet. Perhaps, even the region’s identity is under change.
The South as a marked region is losing currency. The geography of the South has been enmeshed with a territory larger and more amorphous-the Sunbelt. It goes from the East Coast to Southern California. Some say it is a state of mind as well as place. When journalists, planners, and businessmen speak of our future, it is the Sunbelt, not the South which usually holds their attention. While some of us will not quickly cotton to the self-identity of a “sunbelter,” the changes which are spreading across the South must be reckoned with. The prospects of a better income which sometimes comes with economic development can’t be shooed away by the
poet’s turn of a phrase nor should it be dismissed necessarily as an attack upon our Southern way of life. In a region where 40% of the nation’s poor live, the promise of a decent income ought not be shunned. And it ought not be a hoax.
Amid the growth and changing nature of the South, there also remains too much unchanged. Life in the South for too many Blacks and poor is still as it was. Low pay, no pay, poor housing, no jobs, try again next week, they don’t work because of welfare (a grand total of $2,800 each year for a family of four in Mississippi), high infant death rates, dirt roads, impure water- the chant of conditions and attitudes continues to stir the cycle of poverty and discrimination. Also, other minorities and many women are denied opportunities which national goals should guarantee to all.
With and without the changes, clarity of purpose and unity of vision are rare commodities in our times. Events and developments seem duplicitous with promise on one side and failure on the other; the complexity of social issues and the failures of government to live up to its goals confuse us all. We live in a South where we must now select carefully the changes which we invite and the ones which we oppose. Hence, the subtitle, “a chronicle of the ongoing struggle for equality.”
This publication will attempt to help us all understand the region we know as the South and ourselves, our neighbors, and the forces which influence our lives. In doing so, Southern Changes claims a new creed which borrows heavily from those original thoughts of the 1940’s. If all else seems questionable, the major concern for Southerners at home and abroad today is how will our region change. We hope that this magazine and the Council, jointly and separately, will help us know the question and the answers a little better.
As a publication which will go mostly to individuals who are associate members of the Council, Southern Changes will be read by a community of people in and outside the region who know that the futures of the South and the country have always, and will always, be tied mysteriously into one fate. It possesses the adversarial and cooperative; the patriotic, loyal, and heretical – the opposing qualities which make living in the South exciting and worrisome.
If nothing else, Southern Changes will try to keep us all from masking our uncertainty with nostalgia or blind faith in the future’s holdings. We will try to understand ourselves and our region and our country. We will try to muster a sense of purpose and recognize accomplishments and failures in ourselves and our region’s work. It is a task which for all Southerners is as old as our history and for the Council as dated as its first publication.
Let us journey together.