Racism and Hate in the American South by Sherrie D. Larch

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Has the American Southeast changed from its intolerant and unjust past? Is racism, ethnic and religious intolerance still factors in how justice is laid out and how people are treated by their neighbors in the southern states, also called the Bible belt? Many would say, yes, it has changed do to great men and women like Martin Luther King JR, who fought peacefully to gain rights for all to live in justice instead of injustice. The Bible belt has become more diverse over the years, because of climate, cheaper real estate and jobs, which bring people in from New England, western states, (like California), and from other countries. This means that the once very homogeneous white Protestant Confederate South of the past has a mix of different cultures, ethnicities, races and religions. Many cities like Atlanta, Georgia have a cosmopolitan atmosphere, with many different communities interacting together, not at all like the stereotypical old South.

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It is hard to imagine that not so long ago, race and ethnic differences were a major factor in everyday life in the Southeastern states (and the rest of the country in different degrees), from the time of slavery to modern times. African-Americans were thought of as sub-humans, enslaved, mistreated and oppressed. In the mid 1900’s even after being freed from slavery for almost a century in Southern states, they had to fight to vote, couldn’t use the same public areas as Caucasians, or hold certain jobs (hard labor and domestic jobs were deemed theirs) and they were constantly being showed through unjust laws, their place compared to their white neighbors. The history of the Confederate South owning slaves made it easy for whites to feel superior to their black neighbors, a lot of them had ancestors who owned slaves, and viewed it as a biblical right. Other minorities were seen also as outsiders, trying to corrupt their old ways. Jews from the North and South, who fought right alongside Martin Luther King JR. for the rights of African-Americans to have all the rights of their Caucasian neighbors, were viewed with old biblical anti-Semitic hate. They were told to stay out of what was the Southern Protestant way of life that Christians were the true Southerners and the ones who made the laws. Catholic Southerners were viewed also as a threat to the Protestant Southerner’s viewpoint; Catholics followed a pope, which was a foreigner. Foreigners were dangerous to the old ways, bringing in different viewpoints on political, religious, cultural and racial issues. That the Old South did not want to face, because it might cause dangerous change, where white Protestants might have to interact with “the others”, and give them the same rights as they had in all parts of daily life. Progressive Southern Protestants who fought for the rights of African-Americans were also viewed as being un-Southern and un-Christian, traitors to racial purity and the Southern lifestyle.

Today the Bible belt is more progressive, thanks to new comers coming in and more liberal Southerners speaking out. But the old Confederate South still is alive and well in the rural areas, (especially), and in the government and the legal systems in many states and their counties. The Confederate flag still is considered a symbol of Southern pride against what is perceived as a protest against Northern aggression and a mythical Jewish controlled government that has pressured them to change. Many still talk of the old ways, not liking the change that is slowly happening. Some Southerners still would live in the times of slavery or Jim Crowe if they had their wishes; others do not like that black children can interact with white children in their schools, some high schools even have racially segregated proms, so parents are more at ease. Just a few years ago, one Southern university made it permissible, finally, for interracial couples to finally be able to date on their campus, without getting expelled. Hate groups still have a strong role in many ways. The Ku Klux Klan (KKK), founded after the American Civil War in Georgia to try to regain white supremacy through intimidation, terrorism and murder, still exist today. Other hate groups like American Front, National Association for the Advancement of White People (NAAWP), The Nationalist Movement, Stormfront, and a variety of skinhead groups and other hate groups, all can be found in various Southern states (and non-Southern states also), hiding under the First Amendment and Second Amendment, of free speech, free assembly and the right to bear arms. All of these groups are home grown terrorists, but the legal system usually ignores them as just good old boys until someone is murdered. They are a normal part of some areas of the South, with little or no protest, having community activities, even parades down Main Street.

Other parts of the United States have issues on race, ethnicity and religion which can get heated and dangerous. There is racism, antisemitism and religious intolerance everywhere in the country, but the Southeast seems to take more of a pride in thinking in the old ways and celebrating them, and remaining more racially and ethnically separated. The governor of Virginia Bob McDonnell in 2010 declared the month of April as “Confederate History Month” (and so has others), honoring for the most part the historical crime of slavery and the inhumanity of racism and hate. Other Southern States would also like to honor Confederate history on their books. Should slavery ever be celebrated? It is these factors and mindset that still causes injustice in many ways, causing poverty, unfairness in the legal system, and at times still hate crimes (not just in the American South, because these cultural ideas are spread throughout the country). I for one will not be celebrating “Confederate History Month”, my ancestors fought against slavery in the South, people like them should be honored not slave owners and those that fought to keep slavery.

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