The Civil Rights Movement is the most well-known example of what energized Southerners can do to change a region, but it is not the only one. The 1934 textile strike and the CIO’s “Operation Dixie” of the late 1940s remind us that labor struggle is a mainstay of Southern history — and the recent Charleston longshoremen’s strike, not to mention Fight for 15, show that native Southerners have not thrown in the towel.
Often the fight for progressive politics has come at great personal sacrifice. As the 1979 deaths of five left-wing activists in Greensboro, North Carolina at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan illustrate, Southerners have paid a steep price for holding back not a metaphorical fascism, but the real, terrifying version that has been in America since the Reconstruction era.
Donald Trump’s victories in Southern primaries, the Charleston massacre perpetrated by white supremacist Dylann Roof, and the passage of anti-transgender laws under the guise of “religious freedom” might be seen as the latest examples of the region’s hopelessly reactionary hue.
But for every one of those moments, we can point to movements like North Carolina’s Moral Mondays, historical figures like Fannie Lou Hamer or Jim Hightower, and achievements like the creation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in 1964.
If the United States is to truly witness a political revolution, it cannot leave behind the South. Too much sweat, tears, and blood have been shed by courageous African Americans and defiant white Southerners to simply whistle past Dixie.
While a lot of the points Greene makes are overstated (southern support for the New Deal was always highly tenuous, which is why FDR tried to primary them, and Clintonism coming out of the South of the 1980s doesn’t have very much relevance for understanding politics today), the larger point may well be true. Which is why there will probably never be a leftist political revolution in the United States, however we define those terms. Doing so would have to overcome the racism that is not southern, but is more pronounced and in the open in the South. I’m skeptical that can ever be overcome.