Segregation has come to the South once again, if it ever left, that is. A new report from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington, DC-based think tank, warns that the blacks are out of luck in Dixie, and out of the game.
With their lockstep support for the Democratic Party in the South — and with white Republicans controlling state governments — African-Americans are seemingly returning to the old Jim Crow days of political powerlessness.
And these days, with blacks comprising a majority of Democratic state lawmakers in Southern states such as Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi, black equals Democrat. And the white Southern Democrat is becoming an endangered species.
For Southern blacks, that in itself is not a problem. Many enjoyed being in the Democratic majority through the 1990s and up until the 2010 midterm elections. But Republicans, at least for now, are the only game in town. And in the former Confederacy, legislative black caucuses find themselves in the same kind of wilderness that led to their formation in the first place.
You can blame it on a number of things. Herman Cain would attribute it to a brainwashed black voter base. Meanwhile, African-Americans vote their interests, which do not lie within the ultra-conservative, Tea Party-infused, nearly-exclusively white Republican Party.
Although white Southern Republicans would claim to vote in their interests, they would have to ask themselves why their Republican-controlled states suffer from some of the highest levels of poverty, and the lowest educational and health standards in the nation.
The story of the GOP in the South is one of white Dixiecrats trading donkeys for elephants. After Lyndon Johnson passed the historic civil right legislation of the mid-1960s, disaffected conservative Southerners commenced the process of white flight from the Democratic Party.
The impetus was racial hostility and fear — often couched in innocuous terms such as lower taxes and smaller government. Social programs and welfare became a proxy for the n-word.
Voting rights and redistricting led to black power in the form of majority black districts. However, the unintended consequences were whiter, more conservative districts where Democrats — particularly moderate and liberal white Democrats — are unable to compete.
Meanwhile, Republican majorities put themselves in charge of a process of racial gerrymandering, allowing them to stoke the fires of racial polarization, and further segregate the South for political gain.
Plus, the Obama era has created a far more conservative Republican Party completely opposed to bipartisan compromise, and bent on shutting down a black president they believe is a Muslim socialist.
Such an environment makes it increasingly difficult for a black candidate for statewide office — most recently the defeat of Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree in his bid for Mississippi governor, in the blackest yet the reddest state — to win in the South.But if Republicans believe they will enjoy permanent dominance in the South as a nearly exclusively white party which alienates racial and ethnic minorities, current trends suggest they are sorely mistaken.
Acting against the former party of Lincoln, emancipation and the Thirteenth. Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments are shifting demographics. It comes down to more black folks and more Latino folks moving in. In other words, a potential Republican nightmare.
For blacks, it means coming back home. The South’s share of black people — 57 percent, up from 53 percent in the 1970s — is at its highest point in over 50 years. In 1900, all but 10 percent of black people lived in the South. The nation’s five blackest counties in 2000 — Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Cook (Illinois), Wayne (Michigan) and Kings (New York) — have lost black people in the past ten years.
Atlanta, which gained half a million blacks in a decade, has surpassed Chicago as the metropolitan area second only to New York City in its number of black people. And three-quarters of the 25 counties with the largest increase in black population are in the South.
So, a loss in Brooklyn, Detroit and Los Angeles is a gain for Dallas, Charlotte and Miami.
At the same time, the urban North, with its economically depressed cities and police brutality, is not the promised land for black people it once seemed to represent years ago. Now, 1 million black Southerners were born in the Northeast, a significant reason why the South is the fastest growing region in the U.S.
“Economic progress, cultural ties and an emerging black middle class have driven greater numbers of blacks to prosperous Southern metropolitan areas like Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and Raleigh,” says William Frey of the Brookings Institution.
In many cases, they are moving to the suburbs, and areas that did not attract African-Americans in the past. After all, the Southern counties with the highest black growth rate had black populations of 10 percent or less. This demographic shift threatens to change the political flavor of Southern states, and it should be noted that Obama manages to win traditionally Republican-leaning states such as Florida, North Carolina and Virginia due to energized black voter turnout.
Another part of the equation is the rise of Latinos in the South. The nation’s 50.5 million Hispanic population is growing faster than expected, with a 57 percent rise in the first decade of this century, in contrast to the 14 percent growth for the nation as a whole. Latino population growth in Tennessee was an explosive 134 percent over the past decade.
Recent polls have Obama as a favorite among Latinos, ahead of Republicans by an extremely wide margin. Latinos, who at 66 percent are far more approving of the president than the rest of the nation, are expected to play an even greater role in the 2012 election than in 2008. Harsh anti-immigration policies in states such as Alabama and South Carolina have left Latinos disillusioned with the Republicans, and with good reason.
Latinos are a majority in 28 U.S. cities, including a number of places in Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia, and already a majority in the Texas public schools. And states including Georgia have white populations nearing the tipping point of 50 percent.
For the Republicans, Texas — where whites are now a minority, and Latinos are poised to become a majority — is not unlike a slow-moving political train wreck. Republicans dominate the Lone Star state for now, this is true.
Yet, it is not so hard to envision Texas, already majority of color, in Democratic hands in the not-too-distant future — if blacks and Latinos decide to vote, or a sufficient number have not been disenfranchised through Republican-promoted voter ID laws, that is.
Perhaps the South is witnessing a temporary political re-segregation. Nevertheless, the proponents of segregation are living on borrowed time and in denial.
When the South rises again, it will more likely appear in black and brown rather than stars and bars.