The Southern Regional Council Beginning the Fifth Decade: Our Annual Report

The Southern Regional Council Beginning the Fifth Decade: Our Annual Report

By Staff

Vol. 7, No. 3, 1985, pp. 21-26, 28-30

1985 marks the forty-first anniversary of the founding of the Southern Regional Council. Today, as in the past, the Council’s vision of the South’s future radiates from a belief in democratic principles. And, as in the past, the Council’s task remains that of providing research, information, and technical assistance to individuals and groups who are able to bring change, and of providing forums out of which Southerners of goodwill can think and act together.

Our agenda for the future has been drawn around several broad concerns in which democratic principles must be affirmed and extended: the ballot box, the schoolhouse, the courthouse, ideas and information, the uses of technology and the workplace.

Sidebar: The Ballot Box: Democratic Government in the South

-extending research and technical assistance to assure that the Voting Rights Act is fully enforced in the South.

-drawing model redistricting plans to promote democratic government while avoiding dilution of minority voting strength. The SRC’s Voting Rights Project has drawn more than 350 state and local plans.

-providing state legislators in the Deep South with nonpartisan research, analysis, model legislation, and current information about issues relating to the poor and minorities.

-assessing policies at all levels of government that affect the poor and minorities.

-researching working conditions, rights and earnings of workers, and worker ownership.

-monitoring the South’s electric utility cooperatives as major democratic, economic institutions that provide vital services to rural people.

Voting Rights Project

The Southern Regional Council maintains the only project that systematically monitors compliance with Section Five of the Voting Rights Act in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Florida. We work with local community groups and their lawyers to oppose racially discriminatory changes in voting laws and jurisdictions. The Voting Rights Project examines proposed changes and assists local groups in preparing comment letters that demonstrate how the changes discriminate against black voters. The Project also files such letters on behalf of local groups.

To enable minority communities to elect candidates of their choice to public office, the Voting Rights Project reviews and designs redistricting plans, primarily–in the last year–for city, county, and school system governing boards. These plans are used by lawyers in Section Two litigation, by community groups seeking equitable representation, or they are submitted to the Justice Department for review under Section Five as fairer alternatives to discriminatory plans. All of our plans are designed to incorporate population and registration patterns that reflect real levels of political participation.

The Project is making special efforts to assist state and regional groups in developing their capacities and their constituents’ interest in voting rights enforcement. The SRC Voting Rights Project serves as a clearinghouse for information on voting rights issues. We are asked to provide counsel, courtroom testimony, legal and technical assistance, information, and referrals to community groups, the media, lawyers and scholars. In 1984 the Project began publishinga quarterly newsletter, The Voting Rights Review–an effort to develop a better system of sharing information among voting rights activists. Alex Willingham, a political scientist, expert witness and Rockefeller Foundation Fellow,

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edits The Voting Rights Review which circulates among community leaders, experts, lawyers, and government officials. A complimentary copy is available by writing the SRC offices in Atlanta.

Voting Rights Review is a quarterly newsletter designed to cover a broad range of issues relevant to voting rights. For information write to Alex Willingham, Southern Regional Council, 161 Spring Street, NW, Atlanta, Georgia 30303.

Local Redistricting

Constitutional challenges to at large election systems have increased substantially since extension of the Voting Rights Act. Community groups such as local chapters of the NAACP and local voter leagues seek legal remedies when governing bodies do not voluntarily abolish at large election schemes.

In 1984, the Voting Rights Project drafted sixty-six redistricting plans, as well as numerous revisions and modifications. Requests for SRC assistance came from Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, and New York.

Only a few sources exist which provide redistricting and mapping services that truly represent minority interests in the South. Some state agencies draw plans for local governing authorities. In Louisiana and Mississippi, private firms compete for lucrative contracts to prepare reapportionment plans for cities and counties. Without the assistance of the SRC Voting Rights Project, the interests of many black communities would get left out of the planning and decision making in reapportionment.

Section Five Monitoring

In 1984 the Voting Rights Project examined over 150 election changes in election laws for their discriminatory effects. We assisted community groups in twenty administrative cases under Section Five.

When called on to comment on election law changes at the Justice Department, we present information about the totality of circumstances in a community that inhibit black registration, voting, or election to office. We point out any retrogression which may be present in proposed election law changes, show the discriminatory results, and evident racial intent.

The Southern Regional Council has adopted the following goals for its continued involvement in voting rights activities in the South:

  • Continue to draft model redistricting plans.
    • Monitor and assist in the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act.
      • Assist groups to prepare for redistricting following the 1990 Census and to carry out more technical work for themselves.
        • Develop a systematic collection and analysis of the major indicators of political participation, such as voter registration rates, turnout rates, voting records and patterns.

        Southern Legislative Research Council

        The Southern Regional Council began a special project in 1979 to determine if improvements in non-partisan research, analysis and technical assistance would help state legislators better address the needs of poor and black constituents.

        The Southern Legislative Research Council (SLRC) has aimed its work in three directions. First, because the legislative black caucuses represent the greatest institutional presence for minorities and the poor in Southern legislatures, the SLRC has assisted the caucuses in developing a capacity for effective use and analysis of information in state government.

        Second, the SLRC has provided assistance to all legislators whose records and constituent populations suggest that its services could be useful on issues relating to the poor and minorities. Finally, the SLRC makes available its information to community groups, government staff members or any legislator.

        The Southern Legislative Research Council provides reference services on specific issues, as well as on the drafting and analysis of legislation. The project’s intern program assists legislators by monitoring daily legislation and committee work, by analyzing proposed legislation, and by providing summaries.

        The SLRC’s expert network includes researchers from institutions across the South who offer technical assistance in preparing materials. The SLRC’s information exchange consists of bulletins to legislators, interested groups and individuals about legislative events.

        In 1984, the SLRC helped increase the independence of its client legislators. The Alabama and Georgia black caucuses have incorporated and are seeking non-profit status. Now, both can receive outside funds for education: and research. Also, the SLRC helped the black caucuses hold successful fundraising dinners featuring nationally known

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        speakers. The Georgia Caucus raised over $60,000 and the Alabama Caucus more than $50,000.

        The Georgia Caucus has opened an office in the state capitol, hired a small staff, and has begun–with support from Atlanta University–an intern program. The Alabama Caucus is pursuing the development of an intern program.

        Grappling with the increasing cuts in federal funds, much of the SLRC’s effort in the past year has focused on state budget issues. Client legislators have won increased funding for Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), Medicaid programs, and education-including both public and private black colleges.

        Client legislators have also secured state money for sickle-cell anemia programs, health services to the poor, community action agencies, and the Federation of Southern Cooperatives. Georgia and Alabama black caucuses were instrumental in the passage of legislation providing for increased minority firms’ share in state contracts; urban enterprise zones in economically depressed inner-city areas of Birmingham and Atlanta; stronger state regulation of employment discrimination; reform in voter registration and election laws; and the passage of state laws making the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a holiday.

        In the coming months, the Southern Legislative Research Council will extend its presence and its influence beyond the borders of Alabama and Georgia. The SLRC will

        • organize conferences for legislators in which model legislation will be produced around specific issues
          • expand its legislative bulletin to include analysis on regional issues throughout the eleven Southern states
            • expand the project to other states in the South, providing them with staff and intern support during the legislative session, and ongoing assistance during the interim period.
  • Sidebar: The Schoolhouse: Equal Opportunity to an Excellent, Integrated Education

    -assessing educational reforms in the region to help maintain integration and improve education in the schools.

    -examining the effects of segregation academies on Southern public education.

    Equal Education Project

    Thirty-one years after the Brown decision, hostility and neglect–in the South and in the nation–have rendered almost immobile the historical, broad-based movement for integrated public schools as an essential element of an excellent education. The Reagan Administration has opposed, and reduced appropriations for, almost every special educational program for the poor, minorities, and the disadvantaged while it has supported special treatment for already privileged students, and even for segregation academies.

    The number of private schools in the South stands at an unparalleled high. Some are struggling, others are prosperous. A few have a handful of blacks, most remain segregated. In Alabama, for example, the most prosperous private schools belong to one of two state associations. There is the Alabama Christian Education Association with seventy-four elementary and secondary schools and the Alabama Private School Association which represents fifty four schools unaffiliated with any church. In these 128 private schools of the two associations, only a total of sixty black students are enrolled among a student population of

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    65,000. The other thirty or forty private schools not in the two state associations apparently have no black students at all.

    The continued growth of the private, segregated academy is having a direct, damaging effect on public schools. In the rural South, especially, many public schools remain virtually segregated because whites are attending segregation academies.

    Too often, white parents South who send their children to segregation academies join ranks to oppose, successfully, sufficient financial support for the public schools. Because local taxes are a primary factor in school financing in the South, the growth of the private segregation academies has often resulted in the refusal of local white voters and rural white legislators to support increases in local taxes to keep up with inflation. The consequences have been a physical deterioration of schools and the use of inferior equipment.

    Reform of school financing in the Southern states appears to find its strongest oppositon [sic] among legislators and officials from areas where segregation academies continue to operate most successfully.

    Last year the Southern Regional Council held several meetings around the region to identify new opportunities for activities to promote equal education and to determine the best role for the Council’s research and technical assistance.

    We are completing and will soon publish a computer based, annotated bibliography on the problems of Southern schools–especially the problems of desegregation–during the last ten years.

    Also, the Council is preparing the first substantial study and analysis of private schools in the South in over a decade. Focusing largely on the role and impact of segregation academies on public education in the South, the final report should be completed in early 1986 and will become the basis for test litigation and proposals for changing public policies.

    Sidebar: The Courthouse: Just Men and Women in the Institutions of Justice

    • providing research and technical assistance to groups assessing employment practices of Southern state and federal courts.
      • analyzing the pattern of appointments of judges in the South to state and federal appeals courts.

      Southern Justice Project

      With some fourteen-thousand employees working in more than two-hundred courts, the federal court system is a major employer. Its practices with regard to equal employment opportunity set standards in federal and state courts. From 1978 through 1980, the Southern Regional Council reported on the appointment of federal judges, the prevalence of their membership in discriminatory private clubs, and the employment patterns of Southern federal courts. In 1979 the US Judicial Conference adopted its first affirmative action plan after Congressional hearings were prompted by the SRC findings.

      As federal courts become more integrated, they stand to become institutions with employees who appreciate the issues of equal opportunity and affirmative action in employment, housing, voting, and public accommodations.

      Most federal court employees work in the central cities of the major metropolitan areas where minority unemployment is highest. The jobs in the courts require a wide range of experience and qualifications, but most do not require law degrees. Commonly, court employees are concerned with the processing and use of information, a kind of occupation that is among the fastest growing in the country.

      Over the last five years, there has been no consideration of the changes and progress, if any, which federal courts have made in employment. The Council is beginning to do that study in a project that will collect and analyze the annual employment reports in all federal courts for 1979 to the present, examine and critique the adopted affirmative action plans of the federal district and circuit courts, and encourage compliance with affirmative action goals in the courts by acting as a referral and coordinating agency for openings in the federal courts in the South.

    Sidebar: Ideas and Information

    • assessing and reporting upon governmental activities and political participation.
      • publishing Southern Changes, our journal of opinion, and syndicating SRC-produced materials.
        • working to establish regional radio programming not now available in the South.
          • beginning production of alternative cable television programming.
            • preparing a unique microfilmed database with an on-line computer abstract and index of more than one million newspaper clippings (from 1944 to 1976) about Southern people and events.

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            SRC Reports

            While the Southern Regional Council continues to find practical ways for government to work for all people, it continues its long and useful tradition of monitoring and assessing government policies and levels of political participation with regard to the region’s poor, women and minorities. In 1984, the Council published two major reports on poverty and government programs for the poor. The findings of these reports document an unprecedented rise of poverty in the South and the nation and a dramatic decline in the federal assistance to the poor since roughly 1980.

            The Council’s report, Patterns of Poverty, found that poverty in the eleven states of the South had increased sharply since 1979, ending a twenty year decline. Poverty among blacks in the eleven Southern states has probably risen to thirty nine percent, a rate which means that almost two out of every five Southern blacks are poor.

            A second Council report, Public Assistance and Poverty, examined the claim that government benefits discourage the poor from working. We found that in 1982 seventy-nine percent of all major government assistance to the poor in the South went to households headed by women with children or by persons sixty-five years or older.

            Our reports show that the work ethic remains strong among the poor. Nationwide, in 1982, the majority of all poor persons from fifteen to sixty-five worked part-time or fulltime in 1982. We also found that when poor families headed by women with children under six, and by persons sixty-five years or older are excluded, almost three-fourths of the remaining poor families had someone working full-time or part-time in 1982.

            Public Assistance and Poverty revealed that almost one and a half million recipients of federal assistance in the eleven Southern states have been removed from federal poverty programs since 1980. Literally millions of the poor who continue to receive assistance have fallen significantly deeper into poverty because of reductions in levels of assistance. The largest number of recipients removed from the programs were children. The Council estimates that almost 680,000 children were among the 1.4 million recipients eliminated from poverty programs in the eleven Southern states.

            These findings of these SRC reports have been well publicized across the nation, but especially in the South. In fact, most of the major daily newspapers in the eleven Southern states gave the stories front page coverage. Many television newscasts included details and interviews. The reports were used as the basis for many local follow up stories.

            Helping to sustain an awareness and discussion of poverty and the government’s responsibility to address it, the Council’s reports are sought and used by a wide range of community leaders, poverty rights advocates, lawyers, and public officials in and outside the South.

            Southern Changes is the bi-monthly journal of the Southern Regional Council. It serves as a forum for ideas, opinion and analysis on issues and events of importance to the South. Southern Changes seeks to involve readers and writers both inside and outside of the South in reflections upon past circumstances, present conditions and future prospects for social and economic justice.

            SRC Newsclip Service

            The Southern Regional Council maintains a collection of materials that provides daily, detailed coverage of a thirty year period of extraordinary change in the South and the nation: the dismantling of the Southern system of racial segregation and the beginning of an end to white supremacy. The collection consists of more than one million newsclippings and three thousand rare, weekly newspapers. It is unique in the nation. No other collection of news clipping on the subject can match its scope and no collection of newspapers matches its ease of accessibility.

            Most of the collection was compiled from 1944 through 1974 by the staff of the Southern Regional Council. Over the years, the Council also has received limited collections of clippings from the US Commission on Civil Rights, the American Friends Service Committee, and the Southern Education Reporting Service.

            The SRC newspaper collection can serve the needs of researchers, activists, lawyers, reporters and others who

            Spectrum Cable

            Building upon our experience with the SRC-sponsored Southern Network–which telecast programming by

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            satellite to more than forty cable systems in Florida, Alabama, and Georgia each week night in early 1984–the Council is laying the groundwork for a national satellite network on cable television–called Spectrum Cable.

            From January through mid-March, 1984, the Southern Network sent out ninety hours of original programming on the presidential primaries in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia to an audience of between 600,000 and a million cable television viewers. The project involved the cooperation of some forty cable systems, two satellite companies and numerous political and community leaders. The programs were produced as an alternative to the encapsulated candidate’s “image” usually presented in paid campaign spots and network news coverage. Southern Network ran gavel-to-gavel debates and unedited campaign speeches from all over the region. The Network also produced programming that examined the key issues of the 1984 presidential election. The audience, and the reaction from the participating cable systems, indicate there is a strong interest in alternative forms of television programming.

            Spectrum Cable is now proposing a programming service which addresses the full range of issues in domestic and international affairs, includes cultural and musical programming, and provides a broad spectrum of progressive, civil libertarian, minority, womens and labor groups an opportunity to reach to a wider audience. A project of this scope requires extensive consultation with groups who have national and regional members and who produce programming. It also needs substantial funds and dedication over a few years to assure that it happens.

            We are now searching for ways to place these newsclips on microfilm and to develop a complete and easy computerized indexing system.

            Regional Radio

            No concept in broadcasting has been underused as much as regionalism. Because of the structure of the broadcasting industry, programming has usually been local or national in nature. Local stations cover and produce programming on local events, and national networks cover the nation and the world. As a result, regional programming has been usually spotty or only espisodic.

            Ad hoc regional networks are often formed to distribute programming that covers sporting events. Also, state networks offering news, sports, and information are commonplace. In this void, a regional radio network can provide a wide, rich variety of unique programming that covers the people, places and events of the American South through narration, interviews, music, and drama.

            The Council’s efforts to develop a regional network of radio programming has been slowed by a several costly technical problems in the proposed distribution system. One of the solutions to distribution may come as more radio’ stations obtain satellite dishes to receive programming from national networks. Meanwhile, the Council continues to capture on audio tape aspects of the South’s rich history and current affairs which escape the attention of the national media.

            Press Institute

            The Council continues to assist the news media in the region and the nation to understand the American South. Throughout 1984 the SRC staff consulted with producers and reporters on hundreds of occasions about developing news stories. The Council assisted almost every major newspaper and news weekly in the country, as well as reporters from national television and radio networks in analysing regional trends and in locating experts and local leaders who could articulate problems and issues.

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      • Sidebar: More Democratic Use of Technology

        • developing specific, direct uses of inexpensive, accessible computers.
          • locating existing, inexpensive databases for use by community groups in the South.

          Project for Community Technology

          The application of computer technology continues to change every aspect of American society. Almost half the labor force in the United States now holds a job involved with the production, processing or distribution of information. Thirteen percent of all homes presently have computers. Almost 750,000 subscribers now connect their computers to a national databases. Micro-computers are now found in approximately eighty-five percent of the nation’s school systems. In the next five years the federal government expects to spend $23.5 billion on software alone.

          As in past societal transformations, the wake of the information revolution may leave the least resourceful of this generation as the least able of the next generation.

          Perhaps the most obvious barrier to new technologies is their cost. Many modest non-profit organizations face steep financial costs (up to $200 per hour) for the use of most available databases. A wealth of both private and public information, once available at little or no charge, is increasingly being converted to databases that require a high fee for access. Also, less than one percent of the currently available software is designed for any kind of not-for-profit organization.

          The consequences of this inaccessibility of non-profit groups to the new technologies could be far-reaching and severe. The capacity of groups who have been traditionally under-represented will be further taxed if their ability to use computers and other communications technologies does not grow.

          The Council is intent on increasing computer use by local and state community-based, nonprofit organizations who have a proven record of representing the poor and minorities in the South. While the SRC has used mainframe computers for various tasks in the past, we have operated our own computer system for only the last three years. In 1980, we helped to create a project that explores new means by which video technology may assist local community groups. The Council is building an internal computer library from the reports, documents, and statistics whit we produce. The SRC now uses some national database’ and receives as well as sends information, including the text of Southern Changes, by computer to locations across the country. Also, efforts are underway to increase access to and use of computerized census data in developing model plans for reapportioning local and state government districts.

        Sidebar: Economic Democracy and the Workplace

        • monitoring and reporting upon the South’s electric utility cooperatives.
        • assessing the rights and conditions of workers in the South.

        Co-op Democracy and Development Project

        Few private or governmental institutions play a more important role than electric utility cooperatives in the lives of the rural poor. These co-ops are the largest corporate citizens and the largest non-governmental employers in the rural South. Unlike investor-owned utilities which have huge standing plants, electric co-ops are largely distributors of electricity and have a potential, corporate self-interest in finding ways of conserving energy and creating jobs at the same time. By law, cooperatives are intended to be democratic institutions, supposed to be controlled by the customers they serve.

        The SRC’s Co-op Democracy and Development Project assists poor and black Southerners in rural areas in making electric utility cooperatives more democratic and more responsive to the needs of their local communities. From Arkansas to Virginia the aim of the Coop Project is to change

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        the role of the coop by changing the control of the corporation. In the Mississippi Delta, litigation is being pursued to halt the electric cooperatives’ mischief with democratic practices. In only two or three areas of the South have co-ops’ management made even small efforts to include blacks and the poor on their governing boards.

        The experiences of the Co-op Project and community groups in the last two years reveal the tactics that current cooperative managements use in order to stay in control of the corporation: denial of access to financial data and membership lists, the quick changing of by-laws and procedures to fit the management’s immediate needs, and the use of co-op resources–telephone, personnel, trucks, mailing facilities–to recruit support for the incumbent management. All of these maneuvers rest upon the coop management’s misuse of information and resources.

        The Council is completing a report on the status of co-ops in the South. A small portion of the report–relating to the absence of blacks on co-ops boards of directors–was pre-released earlier. The coverage led to meetings with the National Electric Cooperative Association to discuss the plans and progress of the coops.

        The forthcoming SRC co-op study addresses the cooperative managements’ self-perpetration; their exclusion of blacks, Hispanics, and women from decision-making positions on boards and management; their patterns of financial irregularities; poor employment patterns; high electricity rates; and their minimal efforts to create jobs.

        Southern Labor Institute

        One of the earliest areas of concern of the Southern Regional Council was the South’s workplace. In 1945, the organization’s first major publication criticized Southern states for their “attack on union organization” and tied the

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        South’s low standard of living with the region’s low wages. Since then, Council analysis has continued to show the damaging effects of Southern state policies that promote low wages and ineffective job training.

        The Council has worked to assure fair employment practices throughout the region. An early SRC project helped to launch successful campaigns that resulted in blacks being hired for the first time as policemen in major Southern cities. In the ensuing three decades the Council’s research helped to document the need for federal legislation to assure equal employment opportunity. SRC technical assistance contributed vitally in integrating public and private workplaces throughout the region.

        The Council’s concern for the workplace is more than a matter of history. We continue to report on employment patterns in the region and to help community groups and labor unions combat discriminatory practices when they are revealed. Because of the need to improve the level of wages and working conditions of Southerners today, the Southern Regional Council has created the Southern Labor Institute.

        The Southern Labor Institute strengthens the historical commitment of the Southern Regional Council to address the problems of low wages and non-union working conditions in the South and to unite the goals of the civil rights movement with the struggle for economic justice.

        Currently, the Southern Labor Institute is assembling data on the status of workers in the South, especially with regard to wages, working conditions, unionization, industrial trends, occupational hazards and discrimination. In the process the Institute is establishing a network of people, institutions, and organizations doing research and analysis about the needs and problems of workers in the South. Using the analysis and data of both SRC and others, the project is currently preparing a report on the “Workers Climate” in the South–a unique ranking of how states treat and reward workers.

        For more than four decades, the Southern Regional Council has assisted community groups concerned about political, social and economic change in the American South. Now, as in the past, the Council’stask is to provide research, information, and technical assistance to individuals and groups who are able to bring change.