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The Nation: New Day A’Coming in the South

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“I say to you quite frankly that the time for racial discrimination is over. Our people have already made this major and difficult decision. No poor, rural, weak or black person should ever have to bear the additional burden of being deprived of the opportunity of an education, a job or simple justice.”

A PROMISE so long coming, spoken at last. Within the shadow of monuments to a different promise—the statues of Confederate soldiers, of the political captains of a demagogic past—James Earl Carter Jr., 76th Governor of Georgia, delivered his inaugural address. It heralded the end of that final Southern extravagance, the classic rhetoric of “never.” The reality of 17 years of court decisions, demonstrations, black-voter registration and legislation was clearly seen across the South as Carter and other moderate Governors took office this year, giving the region new political voices, new images, new goals.

The triumphs of last autumn, fulfilled in the January oath takings, did not happen without struggle. In South Carolina, Republican Albert Watson blatantly pitched his gubernatorial campaign to racial fears. He was defeated by Democrat John West, who pledged a “colorblind” administration and appointed a black to a top advisory post. West’s promises were rooted in more than altruism: political analysts attribute his slim victory margin to some 110,000 black voters. The altered arithmetic of South Carolina politics has even touched that prototype of the traditional Southern claghorn, Senator Strom Thurmond. Thurmond recently hired the former director of a black-voter registration project to run his home-state office in Columbia. Said one South Carolina politician: “Next to having that baby at age 68, it’s the best thing Strom has done.” Governors Reubin Askew of Florida, Dale Bumpers of Arkansas and Linwood Holton of Virginia are, like Carter and West, cut in the new moderate mold (see box, page 18).

Region of Investment

There are other harbingers. In the eleven states of the Old Confederacy, there are 665 black elected officials—state legislators, mayors, sheriffs and judges, county commissioners, city councilmen and school-board members. Last November, 110 blacks won political office, for a net gain of 75. Everywhere, the South’s 3,350,000 black voters are a powerful new factor in the region’s electoral equation. In some areas, black officials have taken control of the columned county courthouses that were the symbols of white domination; elsewhere, the impact of newly registered blacks has forced white politicians into accommodations that seemed unthinkable five years ago, with more to come.

Throughout the South, there are signs that the region is abandoning the fateful uniqueness that has retarded its development and estranged its people. William Faulkner’s South—heavy with ghostly Spanish moss, penumbral myths and morbid attachment to the past—is giving way to a South that has discovered it does not need fable to shore up its pride or the past to cloud its future. Moreover, a generation after the process was largely completed in the rest of the U.S., the South is caught up in an economic expansion that is reshaping its social order. The South has become at last a region of investment, both human and economic.

For the first decade since the Civil War, more people moved into the 16 states of the South and the District of Columbia from 1960 to 1970 than migrated to other parts of the country. The population drain in which 3.5 million residents fled the region between 1940 and 1950 was reversed in the last census. In a recent survey six of the ten states with the largest growth rate in new manufacturing plants were states of the Old Confederacy. The agrarian economy of King Cotton has been top pled by agribusiness. Sharecroppers have been replaced by machinery; new cash crops and livestock—peanuts, soy beans, poultry—have idled cotton gins and made rural entrepreneurs out of once hardscrabble farmers. Many of the rest simply moved off the land and into the cities of the North, West and, increasingly, of the South itself. There have been vast changes in where Southerners live, how they live, and the ways in which they must share that life with the region’s blacks. The South’s social and political institutions—and the convoluted psychology that was their mooring—are in the process being shaken into fresh alignments and priorities.

Nowhere can the promise—and the serious problems—of the emerging South be seen as readily as in Jimmy Carter’s state of Georgia. The Southern boom has urbanized and industrialized Georgia more quickly and completely than the rest of the Deep South. Georgia leads the region’s indexes of growth and change. However, at the same time, per capita income is only 80% of the national average, the dropout rate the nation’s highest, government expenditures for education and social services among the lowest. A rich cast of politicians continues to vie for the state’s allegiance.

For example, atavism has its champion in Lester (“Pick Handle”) Maddox, now lieutenant governor, and progressivism its spokesmen in Atlanta’s Jewish may or, Sam Massell, and black vice mayor, Maynard Jackson. Atlanta, the South’s showcase, has built skyscrapers and an enlightened image alongside black slums that are well on the way to duplicating the misery and hopelessness of ghettos in Northern cities. Savannah rebuilds its historic colonial neighborhoods while the city fathers worry that air pollution is killing the Spanish moss. The ear of memory rings with the voices of two Georgians who articulated the state’s opposites: Racist Demagogue Eugene Talmadge, who once said, “The Negro belongs to an inferior race,” and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who promised, “We shall overcome.”

A Tripartite State

Georgia’s landscape, like its people, is varied. To the south lies the coastal plain. There Savannah, one of the South’s busiest seaports, holds itself proud and aloof from the hinterlands.

Offshore are the pristine Golden Isles—Jekyll, St. Simon’s and Sea Island, where rooms for $12 a day are still available in high season. Near by, the primordial stillness of the dark brown waters of the Okefenokee Swamp keeps the secrets of another eon. This is Georgia’s black belt, where slaves worked cotton in the loamy soil and the plantation aristocracy held sway. Cotton is gone now, replaced by peanuts and the silent agriculture of Georgia pines oozing gum for turpentine.

The Piedmont plateau in central Georgia is the most populous region of the state. Atlanta, Macon, Columbus, Augusta, Athens are the population centers, and snaking away from them along the railroads and riverbeds is the ma jority of the state’s industry: the textile factories of the Chattahoochee Valley, the more sophisticated automobile assembly plants, mobile home manufacturers, apparel and food-processing plants. The Piedmont gives the state much of its new character—aggressiveness, prosperity, a willingness to homogenize its traditions in search of the economic mainstream. The North Georgia mountains have steeped a third element into Georgia. Life in the beautiful rolling hills of the Appalachians resembles that in Tennessee and West Virginia. With the exception of Dalton (carpet industry) and Gainesville (chicken processing), North Georgia is economically depressed, a region of fiercely individual mountain folk given to such older crafts as quilting, whittling and moonshining.

The Carters of Plains

Straddling this varied state is Governor Jimmy Carter, a South Georgia peanut farmer who is both product and destroyer of the old myths. Soft-voiced, assured, looking eerily like John Kennedy from certain angles, Carter is a man as contradictory as Georgia itself, but determined to resolve some of the paradoxes.

At a conservative speed of 30 m.p.h., a visitor needs just one minute, 43 seconds to drive from the flower-banked eastern boundary of Plains, Ga. (pop. 683), past the covered wooden sidewalks that front the town’s eight stores, beyond the huge sign that proclaims PLAINS, GEORGIA, HOME OF JIMMY CARTER, to the water tower at the west-side fringe. There have been Carters in Southwest Georgia for 150 years—cotton farmers, Civil War soldiers, merchants and businessmen.

James Earl Carter Sr. was in business when his first son was born on Oct. 1, 1924. He managed a grocery store, owned the town’s icehouse and dry-cleaning plant and later sold farm supplies. Jimmy’s uncle was a mule trader, and occasional trips to Atlanta with him to buy mules to work the fields were young Carter’s only exposure to nonagrarian society. At Plains High School he played basketball and went to “prom parties,” those heavily chaperoned Friday night socials where the boys signed the girls’ cards for a five-minute promenade on the front porch.

When he was 16, Carter went to college at Georgia Southwestern, nine miles away in Americus. He stayed only one year; he won an appointment to Annapolis, but had to spend another year at Georgia Tech brushing up on his mathematics. He arrived at the academy in 1943, rushing through accelerated wartime courses to graduate with distinction. After receiving his commission, Carter came back to Plains to marry his childhood neighbor, Rosalynn Smith, and they left Georgia for what was to have been a career in the Navy.

He served in the Navy for seven years, first in electronics, then on submarines. In 1951 he went to work for Admiral Hyman Rickover on the Navy’s nuclear-submarine program. For two years he watched over the building of one of the first nuclear submarines and the training of its crew by day and studied nuclear physics at night.

His military career came to an abrupt end in 1953 with the death of his father; Carter came home to manage the family interests. The couple arrived just in time to preside over a peanut crop failure; the business netted $184 that first year. Slowly Carter began to build, stepping up his father’s practice of buying local farmers’ peanuts, then selling in bulk to the big processors. Today Carter Warehouse grosses $800,000 annually, and the Carter family owns, through various partnerships, 2,500 acres in Sumter and adjoining Webster County.

But the work of a Plains businessman did not occupy all his energies. Carter launched a warehousemen’s association, ran for the school board, later the local hospital board. He joined civic groups, became a deacon of the Plains Baptist Church and finally wandered onto the political stump. His first whiff of electioneering was Georgia politics at its gamiest. During his election for state senator, the newcomer found some irregularities in one of the ballot boxes; an investigation and recount showed that Carter had been beaten by voters who were dead, jailed or never at the polls on Election Day. The election was reversed in his favor.

When Jimmy Carter went to the state legislature in 1962, he seemed just another country politician who had a special interest in education. But ten years out of his state, the exposure of travel and education, had changed Carter. He recalled the stunted development of the blacks of his youth: “We would play together as children, then something would happen at about age twelve or 14. Suddenly when you’re playing, he would step back and open a gate for you or you wouldn’t do certain things together any more. Then in later years, you’d go off to college or a job, and he would stay. And everyone kind of expected that.”

A Prophet Without Honor

The expectations of Plains were no longer those of the young politician: members of Carter’s church attempted to boycott his business after he made an impassioned speech against excluding blacks from church membership.

His first race for statewide office was the 1966 Democratic gubernatorial primary. Running on his progressive record as a state senator, he moved from the status of an unknown to a surprising third-place position in the crowded contest that, after a runoff, was finally won by Lester Maddox. Carter started preparations for the 1970 race immediately after that defeat. He took to poring over old Georgia budgets, and at the other extreme, stretching his mind on the likes of Reinhold Niebuhr and Dylan Thomas. Carter crisscrossed the state scores of times, delivering 1,800 speeches to small-town civic groups, schools and agriculture associations.

When the campaign officially opened in the summer of 1970, Carter’s contacts and grass-roots identification helped him put together a smooth political machine. To get elected, it was necessary to make some gestures toward the past: he opposed busing, visited a private segregated academy and said he would welcome meetings with George Wallace. He also appealed to the ever-potent populist instincts of the state by promising to oppose Establishment power brokers and big money interests. He beat former Governor Carl Sanders in the Democratic runoff and went on to a 200,000-vote victory over the Republican candidate, Atlanta Television Newsman Hal Suit.

Then came the inaugural. In the four months since taking office, Carter has expanded on the few startling sentences with which he began his administration. He told TIME’S Atlanta Bureau Chief Joseph Kane: “I know my people, and I am saying what they are thinking. The people of Georgia have been through periods of great crisis. My generation has had to assimilate many changes. Our black and white citizens have decided there will be no more restraint on their search to work together. Our problems and our opportunities are completely mutual. We have a lot of problems still left concerning race, but we are no longer preoccupied with this problem to the exclusion of others. There is a new dynamic, a new freedom that exists throughout the South.”

Bringing the South Back

This new dynamic that Carter sees at work in Georgia is in an odd fashion the outgrowth of that old preoccupation with racial issues. Says Emory University Political Scientist James Clotfelter Jr.: “The walls did not come tumbling down when schools were integrated. The people expected things to be so utterly bad that there was no way that integration problems could meet the expectations of the whites.” Indeed, that has been the story with each painfully wrought accommodation between the races, from desegregating public facilities to abolishing the dual school system. The apocalyptic prophecies of the racist Jeremiahs have gone unfulfilled; the South had unknowingly built a buffer out of its nightmares. Adds Clotfelter: “People who said, ‘Never, never, never!’ have done it, done it, done it. The South is used to losing battles; now it is making the best of the peace.”

The South is also being accorded its political due in new ways. Much of President Nixon’s Southern Strategy was unsound, for it appealed to the baser instincts of the South. But it also right fully acknowledged the necessity of restoring the region’s sense of belonging to the rest of the nation, of bringing the South into national political councils. The appointment of a Southern jurist to the Supreme Court was an admirable goal. But Nixon chose poorly in both his attempts. His efforts to slow the completion of school integration and to prevent busing as a means of racially balancing the South’s schools were likewise ill-conceived, and the Supreme Court has rebuked him at each turn.

Still, the presidential attentions lavished on the South are being furiously emulated by the Democrats. For the first time in almost a decade, Democratic presidential aspirants are courting the South. Edmund Muskie, Birch Bayh; Henry Jackson and Hubert Humphrey have recently called on Carter to discuss the lay of the votes in ’72. And Carter and his colleagues in the other Southern states are assembling a caucus to be reckoned with at convention time.

As ever in the background lurks George Wallace. Even George has caught the new spirit of the South to the extent that he has toned down his racial rhetoric. But his presence still serves to hold national politicians of both parties to the historic and fundamental Southern notion of populism: defending the little man, attacking the Establishment.

By far the most important factor in the emerging moderation is economic.

Successful industrialization has helped to ease the classic white fear: the loss of an already marginal existence to black competition. Says Clotfelter: “In prosperity, you don’t need scapegoats. You don’t have to blame or apologize for giving blacks jobs if you have enough jobs to go around.” The immigration of a new managerial class and the formation of strong business leadership have altered the state’s politics further.

The landed gentry from the antebellum mansions who had so long manipulated the state’s agrarian economy have yielded to commercial captains from suburban split-levels. Pickpocket politics no longer sets poor white against poor black for scarce jobs; rather it works in a growing job market to depress wages and make union organizing difficult. Growth has been slowed some what by the recession, but a firm federal floor under the Southern economy has so far protected the region from wide fluctuations. Military payrolls and farm subsidies—economic buffers care fully cultivated by the South’s high-seniority senators and congressmen—have cushioned the recession’s impact.

Atlanta: Too Busy to Hate

Economic expediency has also eased Georgia’s social reckoning, particularly in Atlanta. While other major Southern cities were witnessing the spectacle of defiance, in Atlanta a coalition of black and white businessmen, politicians, editors and civic leaders gathered behind then-Mayor Ivan Allen Jr. to shape a different image for the capital: “The city too busy to hate.” Dr. Vivian Henderson, president of Clark College, feels not too much should be made of Atlanta’s motives: “Self-enlightenment is not the takeoff point. The most potent factor has been the national policies that forced the South to change its ways of doing business—the court orders, the executive orders and the new legislation in civil rights. If it had not been for these factors, the steps the busi ness community would have taken would have been minuscule.” So the word went out. When the laws tumbled down upon the state, there would be no standing in the door, no fire hoses or dogs. There were exceptions, such as Lester Maddox brandishing his pistol and pick handle in front of his fried chicken emporium, students rioting at the University of Georgia when the first black students were admitted. But Mayor Ivan Allen was the first Southern politician to testify in favor of the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and Atlanta became a weekend oasis for civil rights workers from Mississippi and Alabama.

Atlanta is the state’s and the South’s showcase, the Southern city of the future. Its skyline has lifted with the boom. Major league sports teams have come to play in a new stadium; a $13 million cultural palace houses a theater company, an art museum and symphony orchestra. It is the sophisticated home of eager businessmen and dropped-out young people, Hari Krishna chanters and fundamentalist ranters, Lester Maddox and Ralph David Abernathy, braless Women’s Libbers and aging United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Repeating Older Mistakes

At opposite ends of Atlanta’s Peachtree Street, the white youth of the South stare across a gap within a generation. Airline stewardesses and young businessmen by the hundreds push into a converted warehouse called Uncle Sam’s six nights a week for beer and music. They are the city’s singles, decked out in bell-bottoms and hot pants, in from the fancy apartment complexes surrounding Atlanta. At midnight Friday and Saturday, they don Uncle Sam paper hats passed out by the management to the tune of The Battle Hymn of the Republic and Dixie. When Lieut. William Calley was released from the Fort Benning stockade, Owner Don Davis dedicated the night’s festivities “to Richard Nixon and Rusty Calley.” Says Davis: “This is where the Silent Majority can make noise.”

Farther downtown on Peachtree, another youth community holds sway. Boutiques and head shops, long hair and beards, communal living and radical politics set the residents of the counterculture’s Southern headquarters off from their contemporaries at Uncle Sam’s. Although resistance to the hippies has resulted in periodic crackdowns along “The Strip,” the community has emerged with its own self-help alliance to provide social and medical services to the permanent and transient members of the neighborhood. The hip community is now so firmly established on the city’s scene that Mayor Massell dropped in on a recent “People’s Fair” in nearby Piedmont Park. Massell’s ingenuous explanation: “I’m people, aren’t I?”

But there is a darker side to Atlanta, the hint of a Potemkin village that masks the same patterns killing cities elsewhere in the nation. Whites are fleeing to the suburbs, leaving behind an inner-city population that is 51.3% black. Unemployment among the marginally skilled blacks of the ghettos is three times that of the city’s whites. Although it boasts one of the world’s busiest airports and a rail network that feeds the Southeast, Atlanta’s commuters creep bumper to bumper in rush-hour traffic unrelieved by mass transit. Within minutes of downtown is bucolic countryside—but Peachtree Creek and the Chattahoochee River are badly polluted. Inexorably, Atlanta moves toward repeating the environmental and demographic mistakes of older cities. Neon and tacky developments push the city’s fringes across the landscape, and unified planning is just getting under way.

The Harvest in the Schools

Progress has its aesthetic price, too.

Poet James Dickey is a former Atlanta resident who has fled rather than pay it. Only 25% of today’s Atlantans are natives, and Dickey feels alienated from them: “The most valuable thing about the South was its sense of community. This is slowly disappearing with the onslaught of industry and the change it brings. There are restless, nomadic people coming to the South. There is a loss of grace, of leisure. Things will goand never reappear.”

As has been the case throughout history, the destinies of white and black Southerners are inextricably interwoven. Slave and master, cracker and freedman, suburban executive and street-wise ghetto hustler have all been disfigured by racism. The emerging South is now facing that ancient whirlwind in its schools.

The legal framework that propped up, then demolished dual schools is rote to Southerners: Plessy, Brown, Alexander, and last month’s busing decision Swann. Georgia was the first Southern state blanketed with a statewide court order to dismantle its separate school systems. Elaborate evasions were constructed at each step and today, though desegregated on paper, circumventions continue. Private academies were established by parents who could afford to buy segregation. Some public schools integrated their enrollments, but not their classrooms: a favorite dodge is segregation by sex, thus, an all-girl history class drones through the same material that an all-boy class covers in a room down the hall.

At Gainesville High School, a girls’ physical education class is predominantly black: the instructor explains that white girls are taking the required one year of physical education and no more. In the cafeteria, students save seats at their tables for friends; the blacks eat on one side, the whites on the other. A transfer of teachers to balance racially the faculties of the Atlanta public schools turned out defiant crowds of students and parents, and brought threats of mass teacher resignations. Black students were resentful when their schools were arbitrarily closed to keep the identity of white schools alive; they mounted protests in Athens and Atlanta. Black teachers found themselves downgraded, out of jobs, or bearing the brunt of white criticism over the quality of education.

Many school districts quietly followed HEW guidelines and court orders. At La-Grange, a textile town near the Alabama border, a white parent complains bitterly about the poor education her children are receiving. Then she adds: “I can’t afford the private academy, so all I can do is try to find some way to help upgrade the teachers.” A student at upper-class Northside High School in Atlanta describes a short-lived rebellion: “We threatened to walk out when the black kids started coming here, but our parents threatened to take our cars away from us if we did.” In small-town Woodbury, a black cook summed up: “If I had just had the opportunity my child is getting, I would think somebody had given me a pot of gold.”

The inequities of generations do not vanish overnight. The continuing complaints about the competence of black teachers constitute white Georgians’ first experience with the awful toll of separate and unequal. Says Dr. Benjamin Mays, retired president of Morehouse College and chairman of the Atlanta school board: “If a black teacher is not good enough to teach a white kid, then he shouldn’t be teaching black kids either. Black teachers were never said to be incompetent until they were sent to teach white children. We are in chaos and we are going to be in it for some time.” Despite the upheavals, integration still carries one great promise: young Georgians have come to know, as their parents never did, the athletes, youthful scholars and leaders of another race.

Both black and white share more than a common stake in their schools. Economic prosperity, though far behind the white level, has reached into the black community. Atlanta has had a large black middle class for several generations. Centered on the five colleges and theological institute of Atlanta University Center, these blacks have long controlled their own economic and political life. Shut off from white financial channels, they developed alternative economic institutions—banks, insurance companies, small businesses.

The civil rights movement of the ’60s drew many of its leaders from this black middle class, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Julian Bond. Theirs was a generation that profoundly changed the attitudes of the nation, and those who remain in the neighborhoods they left are enjoying the fruits of that change. New jobs opened up for educated blacks, and their affluence is reflected in spacious homes, manicured lawns, swimming pools and two-car garages. Often scorned by militant blacks, the affluent middle class walks a line between memory of the old and pride over its success with the new. Says Commerce Department Official Jake Henderson: “They may think we’re not in sympathy with the black revolution, but the black really never thinks in terms of middle class status. He thinks, ‘How can I improve myself and my family?’ and then he thinks, ‘How can I improve my race?'”

Perhaps the most dramatic example of the fusion of law, economics and the awakening political power of blacks currently shaping the South can be found in the renaissance of Hancock County. Five years after a voter-registration drive began reclaiming the blacks’ franchise, Hancock County’s courthouse is run by a predominantly black school board, county commission and judge of the ordinary. But holding political control over a dying, poverty-ridden county is an empty victory, so Hancock’s blacks are trying to create a new standard of living to make power worthwhile. In a tiny hamlet called Mayfield, the East Central Committee for Opportunity, a foundation-funded economic arm of Hancock’s blacks, is building one of the world’s largest and most scientific catfish farms. The $1,000,000 300-acre farm includes a hatchery and a flash-freeze processing plant. The farm is being built with concrete blocks from another E.C.C.O. plant by a contractor who agreed to the E.C.C.O. demand that unskilled black laborers be taught the operation of heavy construction equipment. Says Director John McCown: “We’re going to reverse the pattern of rural migration. We used to have kids leaving town in their tuxes on graduation night. Now we got them coming here from Viet Nam and staying. You’ve got to decide whether you want someone else telling you what to do, or whether you want to grab a corner of the land and make a piece of history for yourself.”

Blacks in Hancock and across the South are creating a place for themselves, one that has been historically denied them. Although deep-seated feelings change slowly, the region’s whites are learning at last to accept this new place for the blacks in their midst. It is not surprising that this process has taken so long, for though it lost the Civil War, the South succeeded at spiritual secession. In other words the South has been isolated from the national experience. Notes Historian C. Vann Woodward: “Success and victory are still national habits of mind.” Or as Arthur Schlesinger puts it: “American character is bottomed upon the profound conviction that nothing in the world is beyond its power to accomplish.” The Southern experience, on the other hand, is not with success, but with failure; its preoccupation is not with innocence, but with guilt. The Southern heritage is a very un-American one of poverty, frustration, humiliation and defeat. Because of this insecurity, the forgiveness, the innocence that is necessary for tolerance has eluded the Southern psychology. The meaning of Jimmy Carter, of the leaders like him and the people who elected them is that, at long last, all this is changing.

Making history—not living in its vainglories and myths—is the challenge and promise of the South today. The Southern frontier closed in that awful moment when the first man came to the South in bondage, locking the Southern experience into its tragic course. Three and one-half centuries later, the thrall can be broken, the frontier reopened. The South can grow rich while there is still time to safeguard the land from despoliation. It can acquire once more the political power of the sons who helped articulate the nation’s independence. Above all, it has a chance to shed its old hatreds and show the U.S. the way to a truly integrated society.

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