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Appleborne Discusses South's Political Clout

By Amber L. Ramage

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.

"I think that being hopeful about the future is a real sign of the South," said Caperton, citing the solidarity and camaraderie displayed after the Olympic bombing in Atlanta this summer.

"I think that we'll continue to wrestle with the things that are bad about our history, but we'll learn [not to repeat them]," said Hayes.

Wilke, however, disagreed with some of the other panelists about the degree of change that has occurred in the South in recent years.

"I think basically we're still very much the Old South and we're still very resistant to change," said Wilke. "Basically, we haven't changed, the country's changed."

Wilke observed that the South has traditionally been unified by shared accents and religion. He added, "In the Midwest, you've got wonderful people there, but you don't really have any character."

Many college students from the South who attended the forum were animated in their responses to the subject of the South's rise, especially considering its history of racial divisions.

"I don't know that the South has a better handle on race relations. [But] Blacks and whites in the South have had to confront each other more," said Edward T. "Ned" Freeman '00, who has lived in North Carolina, Alabama and most recently Louisiana.

Jeffrey P. Yarbro '99, an IOP staffer from Tennessee, said that from his experience, the North is more segregated than the South.

"In the North, there's a polite segregation, whereas in the South you really have to deal with racism," Yarbro said.

"At Harvard, you never hear a racial epithet, but then again, you never see blacks and whites together like you do in the South," he added.

Some undergraduate attendees from the North said they found the forum enlightening.

"You completely forget that there's a world out there that's dominating politics," said Rucker A. Alex '99, an IOP member from the Boston area. "This should have been a mandatory forum for all Cambridge students.

"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.

"I think that being hopeful about the future is a real sign of the South," said Caperton, citing the solidarity and camaraderie displayed after the Olympic bombing in Atlanta this summer.

"I think that we'll continue to wrestle with the things that are bad about our history, but we'll learn [not to repeat them]," said Hayes.

Wilke, however, disagreed with some of the other panelists about the degree of change that has occurred in the South in recent years.

"I think basically we're still very much the Old South and we're still very resistant to change," said Wilke. "Basically, we haven't changed, the country's changed."

Wilke observed that the South has traditionally been unified by shared accents and religion. He added, "In the Midwest, you've got wonderful people there, but you don't really have any character."

Many college students from the South who attended the forum were animated in their responses to the subject of the South's rise, especially considering its history of racial divisions.

"I don't know that the South has a better handle on race relations. [But] Blacks and whites in the South have had to confront each other more," said Edward T. "Ned" Freeman '00, who has lived in North Carolina, Alabama and most recently Louisiana.

Jeffrey P. Yarbro '99, an IOP staffer from Tennessee, said that from his experience, the North is more segregated than the South.

"In the North, there's a polite segregation, whereas in the South you really have to deal with racism," Yarbro said.

"At Harvard, you never hear a racial epithet, but then again, you never see blacks and whites together like you do in the South," he added.

Some undergraduate attendees from the North said they found the forum enlightening.

"You completely forget that there's a world out there that's dominating politics," said Rucker A. Alex '99, an IOP member from the Boston area. "This should have been a mandatory forum for all Cambridge students.

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