WMU News

Another example of the 'New South'

Feb. 3, 2001

KALAMAZOO -- For some a symbol of Southern pride and heritage, the Confederate battle flag became a political symbol against the civil rights movement in the 1950s and '60s. That political image is no longer in step with a rapidly changing South and explains why Georgia lawmakers voted Tuesday to sharply reduce its presence on the state flag and South Carolina legislators removed it last year from the capitol dome, says Dr. John Clark, a WMU associate professor of political science and an expert on Southern politics.

"There have been dramatic changes in the South in a whole number of areas," Clark says. "The flag is in some ways a symbol of that because it's a symbol that was put into place to try and fight against some of those changes and now it's being changed because it's a symbol that represents what's really the past for the South.

"It doesn't really represent the 'New South,' which seems to me is a much more progressive, much more forward moving region and that's the kind of image that state legislators in South Carolina last year and Georgia this year want to convey to the rest of the country."

Though rapid change in the South over the past three decades is unmistakable, not everyone is happy about it, Clark adds.

"The South is changing and change comes in a lot of ways," Clark says. "It includes things like economic development and in-migration. We've seen the population in Southern states increase again very dramatically in the most recent Census, which gives them more political influence relative to the rest of the country.

"At the same time, having people move there from other parts of the country and other parts of the world changes the closed nature of that society and that system in a way that some people aren't very comfortable with. Change tends to frighten people, especially if they don't know directly how it's going to affect them and especially if they see themselves and people like them as somehow being displaced in society."

Clark says economic boycotts or the threat of them, as well as lobbying by the business community and the possible loss of high-profile sporting events influenced decisions on the Confederate battle flag in both states.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 616 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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