If this sounds like a Pollyannish depiction of Old Dixie, let it be known that there remain sizeable blocs of Southern blacks who are poverty-stricken and seemingly unable to escape a destructive cycle of teenage pregnancy, ill education and poor health. Things are far from perfect. But as we've noted here before, the South is the home to the fastest-growing segment of successful, affluent African Americans in the nation. Mayors, business leaders, entertainers and a legion of managerial and professional level blacks can be found in every major metropolitan city in the South -- places where most Southerners of all races now live, either downtown or in the suburbs.
As the Democratic presidential contest soon comes to states like South Carolina, Tennessee and Florida, the candidates will find themselves unable to ignore race as they could in states like Iowa and New Hampshire, which racially are mostly homogeneous. Suddenly, they will focus on the time-honored tradition of racial politics, and the unique history and culture that spawned it. They will walk a tightrope, trying to balance appeals to "the black community" without offending "crackers and rednecks."
So here's a caution to those presidential aspirants: Just as the president's visit to MLK's tomb wasn't what it seemed, neither will the traditional, trite characterizations of Southern voters soon to come. As civil rights activists are quick to note, "We have a long way to go." But were he alive today, I doubt Dr. King would deny that the South is a different world from the days of his activism.