"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.