Southern Cultures 11.3 (2005) 88-100
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Reimagining the South
William F. Winter
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| Figure 1 |
When former North Carolina Governor Terry Sanford spoke to a meeting of the L. Q. C. Lamar Society in Atlanta in 1971, the South was just coming out from under the shadow of the long night of racial segregation that had consumed so much of its energy. Terry Sanford (second from right) and governors Dan K. Moore (left), Robert W. Scott (second from left), and Luther Hodges (right). Photograph by Ida K. Jordan, courtesy of the North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
In February 2005 former Mississippi Governor William F. Winter gave this opening-night keynote address at the "New Strategies in Southern Progress" conference, co-sponsored by the Program on Southern Politics, Media, and Public Life, part of UNC's Center for the Study of the American South.
It was just over thirty years ago in the spring of 1971 that former North Carolina Governor Terry Sanford, then the president of Duke University, spoke to a meeting of the L. Q. C. Lamar Society in Atlanta. The South was just coming out from under the shadow of the long night of racial segregation that had consumed so much of its energy, stifled its idealism, and held it back on every front. The Lamar Society was composed of a group of mostly young southerners who amid the turmoil of the 1960s had organized to provide a more reasonable and responsible voice than that coming from most of the region's politicians.
The year before, in 1970, a remarkable group of so-called "New South" governors had been elected across the South. Running on platforms promoting racial equity, educational quality, and economic development, they brought a new tone to the political arena which had been dominated for so long by the one issue of race. Their names would soon be known across the nation—names like Jimmy Carter of Georgia, Reubin Askew of Florida, Dale Bumpers of Arkansas, John West of South Carolina, and Linwood Holton of Virginia.
It was into this atmosphere that Governor Sanford brought his message. There was a heady, up-beat feeling across the region that the South was about to come into its own. Indeed, the decade of the seventies was to bring to the fore the concept of the South as the "Sunbelt," where the rest of America would finally discover its cultural richness and where unparalleled opportunity awaited those who invested their talent and their money in this long neglected part of the country.
Sanford referred to all of the reasons why the South was on its way to unprecedented growth and progress—untapped natural and human resources, a benign climate, an exemplary work ethic, a developing infrastructure of modern transportation and communication facilities, unlimited sources of energy, and, what was so vital, a people not preoccupied with maintaining the old southern status quo based on race and class.
Perhaps the most prescient of his comments, though, was his sobering admonition that the South in its pursuit of economic development not forfeit its birthright—not sacrifice the qualities that made the region so distinctive and so attractive as a place to live. Sanford pointed to other regions of the country—New England and the Middle Atlantic Seaboard, the industrial Midwest, the teeming cities of Southern California—as places where unplanned growth had diminished the quality of life for the people who lived there.
He foresaw that the same unhappy result would be the fate of many areas of the South, particularly its burgeoning cities, if strong and effective policies were [End Page 89] not put into effect to mitigate that process. "The major challenge we are faced with," he told his Atlanta audience, "is to avoid making northern mistakes in a southern setting."
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| Figure 2 |
In 1970 a group of so-called "New South" governors had been elected, and their names would soon be known across the nation: Jimmy Carter (here) of Georgia, Reubin Askew of Florida, Dale...