In this Issue
By Steve Suitts
Vol. 2, No. 7, 1980, pp. 2-3
About this time of year in 1948 a simple, yet remarkable occurence took place in Richmond, Virginia. A Black man named Oliver Hill was elected to the City Council. In the next few years other political breakthroughs occurred. In Nashville in 1951 a Black attorney, Alexander Looby, was elected to the city’s governing board and in late 1953 the prominent Black educator Rufus Clement began to serve on the Atlanta school board.
Of course, it was not until after 1965 with the passage of the Voting Rights Act that more than 20 percent of the South’s population began to have more than a symbolic opportunity to exercise and franchise and to help put Blacks into office
In this issue and others to come this year, we will be looking closely at the status of Southern politics and especially the achievements, disappointments, and obstacles that Black voters and Black officeholders face. Like some other rural and urban places in the South, Richmond now has several Blacks on the city council and a Black mayor. Yet the problems and limitations with which these and other officials must function are considerable as they attempt to translate political gains into real and specific social and economic progress; moreover, in many Southern communities even basic political gains have not yet been realized.
To set the stage for this on-going theme, this month’s Southern Changes tells of both the immediate and historic problems with which the poor of any color in the South must live today. Veteran writer Wayne Greenhaw gives us a glimpse of the lives of the poor, rural Blacks and Indians in south Alabama where the myths about welfare recipients are tragically disproven. Probably supported more by their own fierce sense of heritage and independence, these Southerners are fighting for nothing more than survival.
Our managing editor, Janis Powell, also files a report on the Protest for Survival, a ten day series of events last month when groups across the South attempted to object loudly to the fact that the poor were the major victims of the congressional efforts to balance the budget. Also, we have a
soapbox piece which suggests that even when the federal government is not cutting back its programs touching the lives of the poor, its methods of measuring poverty to determine who will receive assistance is a distortion of need and reality.
Our two pieces on the political status of the South are case studies of two communities not greatly different in social and economic life. Both are located in the Black Belt of the South with large Black populations, an agricultural past,and little present industry. They differ perhaps most remarkably in their stage of political development.
From Dawson, Georgia, senior editor, Betty Chaney tells the story of recent Black achievements to break the racial barriers of elected office. We find here a sense of very real achievement and optimism on the part of Blacks who are the first to hold elected office. Even in “Terrible Terrell,” one of the life-long dreams of many in the Black community has finally come true.
As our cover story illustrates, the political journey in Lowndnes County, Alabama may be a sobering reminder of the difficulties that communities continue to face even after the political system has begun to change. A decade after Blacks began holding public office, Lowndes County’s Black and White officials find enormous economic and societal barriers that continue to stymie rapid change. With a caring view for detail and mood, Tom Gordon’s writing demonstrates that the burden of the past remains often the real limit for the future. Perhaps just as disturbing, the alternatives available to Lowndnes County in moving itself out of the poverty and racial conflict are clearly limited.
Finally, Patrice Gaines-Carter reviews for us the controversy in Florida over the McDuffie case where politics and the courts are being tested as means of dealing with the issue of police/community relations.
When finished with this issue, you may have a sense of frustration, puzzlement and perhaps even anger. At least these were some of my first reactions. At the same time I gather from these reports and perspectives some confirmation that the South retains a reservoir of energy, faith and devotion offering a possibility that this region may yet find and hold on to a better sense of community then has ever been known or practiced on this soil.