By Steve Suitts
Vol. 2, No. 5, 1980 pp. 2-3
“Being right never won an election.” Eugene Witherspoon:, once told me and others as we sat on the hog fence outside of Freedom Quilting Bee in Alberta, Alabama. “It takes all the votes of all the Black folks and smarts enough in figurin’ out how to win before the White people do,” he said.
As a local sage whose survival in his early years required good instincts and common sense, Mr. Witherspoon was always trying to get young and old Black people in Wilcox county to register and vote so that the majority Black population could have its voice in local government. Yet, years of dodging the “White man’s trouble” in the early 1900S convinced him that even in a majority Black county, Blacks as well as Whites – in competition, or in concert – must know one another and each’s values.
While he died before seeing the first Black elected to an important county office in Wilcox, Mr. Witherspoon’s rural wisdom introduces the question of everyday life which the region faces and this issue addresses: what specific strategies in the stateways and folkways of the South are Black and White people using to render change in the region and to understand one another?
Two of our contributors this month offer analyses of elections held late last year in Tennessee and Louisiana and tell of how Blacks and others are attempting to make politics work. Despite the election of an arch-conservative as governor of Louisiana, Norma Dyess suggests that the politics of compromise with an unusual coalition of Louisiana interests may give the state, and especially Blacks and women, a progressive administration. It is a view of politics that has often been the hope -after election returns had soured. Still, such hopes and analyses are increasingly adopted as the best course even before the balloting.
Closer to the North and South border, Terry Ketter takes a critical review of the defeat of a Black, former state court judge Otis Higgs, in his bid for the mayor’s office in Memphis. Ketter explains that, while the Black candidate lost simply because of the burden of his race, it’s not entirely clear that Higgs was destined to lose, especially if he had developed a better campaign. The appraisal of the Memphis election should remind us of how fragile are the coalitions upon which politics is built and how important is the art of effective politics if there is to be political changes.
With a keen eye towards many of the hidden assumptions of Southern living, Ray Gavins reviews the impact of desegregation in schools and on the values of our entire society. By trying integrated education, Professor Gavins believes that the education of Blacks has been improved, Black protest in other fields has been encouraged, and White resistance has mellowed. Just as in politics, the movement toward integrated schools has demanded specific strategies which have something of a mixed record.
Betty Green Stokes worries in her short piece about how much of the work of Blacks and Whites today appears to be sanctioning a sense of everyday separatism and Peter Young writes to remind us that even the most troubling events in race relations have a history and perhaps a cause far deeper than current events suggest.
Betsy Brinson also reports on the strategies offering hope for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, Despite little. time and increased opposition, the ERA may prevail because coalitions of new groups and peoples are finding their own self interest in the issue and are more willing to do some old fashion political organizing.
In our department pieces we read of a study from the
Southerners for – Economic Justice telling us that workman’s compensation laws now provide largely for employer’s compensation and an analysis of the recent Congressional vote on limiting powers of the Federal Trade Commission – a movement which Southerners led with swiftness and overwhelming support – offering some notable contrast with their votes on welfare reform reported last issue.
In all these areas and enterprises, honorable or ignoble, people are searching for ways in which to protect their values and further their own interests and those whom they support. It’s a process of trial and error for which there is no clear reward to tell us who is trying rightfully. Knowing what is wrong and what fails is much easier in hindsight. Eugene Witherspoon had his own system: for his friends and those of whose work he approved, he went to the hen house and gave them eggs. Mr. Witherspoon’s insight that “being right” isn’t enough should be tempered with the recollection that he did kn6w and value his friends, even if in his lifetime he couldn’t get them all to do right.