SOUTHERN POLITICS:Panelists look at Southern Political System
By Jean Jones
Vol. 1, No. 7, 1979, pp. 26-27
“Tyranny and tragedy have been and still are the core of the Southern experience,” Dr. Samuel Dubois Cook, president of Dillard University, remarked during an afternoon session on politics in the South at the Annual Meeting of the Southern Regional Council.
The plight of Southern politics was analyzed by Dr. Cook, Nashville Tennesseean Publisher John Seigenthaler and Atlanta City Councilwoman Panke Bradley in a panel discussion. While recognizing the great social changes made in the political system of the South, each had enormous misgivings.
“The South and the Southern political system are not ‘free at last,’ Cook continued. “In spite of the impressive gains in elective politics, tokenism is still king in this Southern political system and social order.”
Seigenthaler noted that the social changes we cherish in the South today had to overcome harsh racist attitudes of high-level positions. Now, it is not very popular to be a public racist. Still, progressive and liberal politicians who once opposed racists have now become moderates. “They cleave to the middle of the road as if the holy grail were there. We used to call for moderation. Now we have it, I don’t much care for it,” Seigenthaler concluded.
Blacks have been elected to decision-making positions with “the largest concentration of Southern, Blacks in municipal government,” Bradley said. Yet, there is a significant drop in Southern Blacks in state, federal, and law enforcement positions, she said.
“It’s much harder for Blacks to go further, no matter how popular or guaranteed their election may be on local levels,” Bradley said. “Blacks, especially Black women, are locked in municipal positions” since they usually cannot afford to seek higher office.
Through all the gains in the Southern political structure, it is a long way from being a “postracial South,” Dr. Cook concluded. “A post-racial South is an illusion which allows the South to indulge in selfcongratulations and selfrighteousness in relation to the North and the rest of the country.”
A 1978 graduate of Clark College, Jean Jones lives and works in Atlanta. She also wrote the introduction to “Role of Law in the South” carried in this issue.