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Imagining a Progressive South


Imagining a Progressive South

Chisolm Allenlundy

“The South is not, today, one whole.”

Those words, uttered by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. in a March 30, 1963 essay for The Nation, are as true today as they were then. In that statement, Dr. King invoked the dedicated minority of progressive Southerners who were determined to bring racial justice to the region, while simultaneously putting pressure on the equally-dedicated majority hell-bent on maintaining the status quo.


Great article. I was impressed to read in your byline that you are still in school. Coming from the South myself, and from that particular state that many authors and even posters to this forum tend to treat as a two-syllable set-up AND punchline - “Tex - as” - and as a stand-in for whatever backwards projections they may assume upon a place and a people… I do relate. Every locale or region has its problems AND solutions. The Southern progressive or justice-minded person may understand this intuitively and therefore be a little better at relating to others because we lack the regionalist pretensions of the coastal liberal/progressive type.


Atlanta is a blue island in a sea of red states. It is a standout among the rural backwoods that make up most of the south. I rode past a large yard sign today that said something like “stop the liberals from destroying America.” These people are at war with progressives. I thought, what if someone put a leaflet on the doorstep, saying “If liberals are so bad, wouldn’t they be vandalizing your sign or asking you to take it down?” Many people in the rural south are fighting progress. They want to maintain the status quo of racism, gender inequality, xenophobia and their Old South ways (and flag, too), and they will put it in your face when doing so. Until I see people from opposing viewpoints actually getting in the faces of those people, I am not going to have so much hope that the rest of the rural south is going to catch up with Atlanta. (This is what they probably mean by spineless liberals.) Certainly there must be a few other progressives in the Podunk town I live in - they just know better than to stick their necks out too much. “Tarred, feathered, and run out of town on a rail” is a colloquial phrase that comes to mind.


SaturnIX, if you are waiting for the “rural backwoods” to “catch up” with a cosmopolitan major city like Atlanta, well that just ain’t gon’ happen. But I would suggest you evaluate your metrics, and make room in your narrative for the undercurrents, the furtive conversations, the privately-held, perhaps still inchoate feelings that many a southern-born at this moment most definitely hold that things are not as they should be in the world. And that the world that matters is indeed bigger that the county, state, or even Mason-Dixon line can contain. I’m currently in Austin, which is much like Atlanta. But I have roots in those backwoods you disparage. So do many of my friends. Some came here attracted by the city lights, others were running away… There is a tendency to enclave in our highly mobile modern society. But we would write off the sticks, the podunks, the COUNTRY, at our own peril.

I often choose to play devil’s advocate on these threads against common assumptions about unpolished places and spaces. Assumptions that write people and places off have suffused with the affirmation-algorhythms of Facebook, search engines and what I call “click-bait activism” to lead many to view vast swaths of the US as unredeemable wastes. Get out of your comfort zone and just go talk to people. Don’t preach or persuade. Just shoot the shit and go from there.


Who knows, when all those Yankees have infiltrated The South and a whole lot of southern white preachers finally see the light, and a few more women are voted in as governors of southern states, then maybe Reality and Reason will rise in The South. R & R has got to find somewhere to settle; it has utterly left Washington DC.