Self-described Southern progressives met last month in Chapel Hill, N.C., to inspire what they hope will be new generations of liberal-leaning leaders working to improve life in the South through public policy.
Andy Brack, a former aide to now-retired U.S. Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, D-S.C., wants progressives to define issues in ways that will help the region curb its tendency toward cultural and political conservatism. “It’s time to stop waving the white flag,” he said, urging against surrender to conservatives in political battles.
The gathering, called “New Strategies for Southern Progress,” was co-sponsored by the Center for American Progress, a liberal Washington think tank founded by John Podesta, a White House chief of staff under President Clinton. Two Chapel Hill-based research organizations also sponsored the event: the University of North Carolina’s Program on Southern Politics, Media, and Public Life and the Center for a Better South, a new think tank co-founded by Mr. Brack.
Much of the Feb. 24-25 conference, which was held on the UNC campus, focused on education and race relations. Roughly 200 elected officials, business leaders, and policymakers attended the event. The Center for a Better South held its official launch at the conference.
Former Mississippi Gov. William F. Winter, a Democrat who pushed for one of the South’s first major education overhauls in the 1980s, said education remains the region’s most important need. “We can only achieve [progress] if our public leaders see to it that we invest more of our resources in our schools,” he said.
“We continue to undervalue and underinvest in education,” added Jim Clinton, the executive director of the Southern Growth Policies Board, based in the Raleigh-Durham area. He said the region has fallen into a “cultural weariness” in dealing with race relations that hurts economic development and “prevents us from becoming what we could become.”
Leslie Burl McLemore, the chairman of the Jackson, Miss., City Council, said the South must move past its tradition of schools largely segregated by race—an issue that still affects many areas. “Until we can deal with these separate school systems in the American South, we’re going to have these problems linger on and on,” he said.
Hodding Carter III, the president of the Miami-based John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, said he wants to see a progressive wave in the South similar to the 1960s civil rights movement. “It’s up to you to turn the world back upside-down again,” he told attendees.
A version of this article appeared in the March 09, 2005 edition of Education Week