Appleborne Discusses South's Political Clout

What do the current United States president, vice-president, speaker of the House, Senate majority leader and Elvis have in common?

While these influential leaders may not hold similar political ideologies, they share a common origin--the South.

The subject of the South's rising political power was the topic of a panel discussion at the ARCO Forum.

Sponsored by the W.E.B. DuBois Institute, the forum featured Peter Applebome, Atlanta bureau chief of the New York Times, whose recently published book, Dixie Rising: How the South is Shaping American Values, Politics, and Cultureoil has received much national attention.

"I think one of the really stunning things about American life today is how it's coming to resemble the South," said Applebome, explaining the thesis of his controversial book.


"We [the United States] have not elected a president without a southerner on the ticket since FDR," he added. "I think the country is increasingly dominated by the South."

Applebome said race is one of the major issues contributing to the rise of the South's power in national politics and culture.

Applebome was joined by Unita Blackwell, former mayor of Mayersville, Miss. and a former IOP fellow; Gaston Caperton, former governor of West Virginia; Robin Hayes, recent Republican candidate for governor of North Carolin and Curtis Wilke, southern correspondent for the Boston Globe.

Blackwell, who was the first black woman mayor to be elected in Mississippi, emphasized the importance of the black vote in propelling the South to national political heights.

"There are more black elected officials in the South than in any other part of the country...and a lot of people don't know that," Blackwell said.

Many of the speakers on the panel were quick to acknowledge the South's bitter racial history as well as recent attempts to repair the racial divide.

"We certainly have our problems with Bubbas and our problems with poverty, but we are a part of the country which has certainly had some great leadership," said Caperton.

Blackwell said the South has achieved more by not attempting to hide its racism, unlike such areas as the West, where racism, although unspoken, flared up in riots.

"I always knew where I stood with the whites in the South," Blackwell said. "I knew they would shoot you. I knew they would hang you, so you got to watch out for yourself."

"Right now," she added, "the South is bringing out more of the truth of who we are."

In fact, most panelists agreed that the South today is a place teeming with optimism.