*You ought to read “A Progressive Deep South, Part One” first.
By most accounts, the people that suffer most from poverty, backwardness, and inadequate quality of life live in the Deep South, most notably in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina. Parts of Georgia and Tennessee certainly have these same problems, but as states their overall rankings are often lifted the affluence in metro Atlanta and Nashville respectively. According to 2009 census data, Mississippi suffers the highest poverty rate in the country; as another example, in the midst of the nation’s currently high unemployment numbers, parts of Alabama’s Black Belt have the nation’s highest unemployment rates, some hovering around 25%. Similarly, recent reports that African Americans are suffering disproportionately from the current economic problems fail to highlight the fact that most African Americans live in the South.
However, without waiting for corporations to come to town, and without waiting on government programs to save the day, some progressive ideals can save the day— and in many cases, already do. While many urban yuppies think they invented the notion that fresh produce is good eating, rural Southerners who live in “poverty” often sustain themselves on garden plots; one of the major complaints of Southern sharecroppers was that landlords made them plant cotton all the way up to the house, leaving no room for a vegetable garden. Organizing is what led to the demise of sharecropping and what led the Civil Rights movement to victory. The power of a free press to disseminate information with a righteous indignation is what led to the end of the convict-lease system and the end of Jim Crow.
The conservatives are not going to save Southerners from the plethora of social and political problems that have plagued the region for centuries. Liberal or progressive ideals are going to move us beyond the mire of difficulties that we face . . . always have and always will.