Center for American Progress
June 16, 2014 | View Online
  True South: Unleashing Democracy in the Black Belt 50 Years After Freedom Summer  
Event video: True South: Advancing Democracy in the Black Belt 50 Years After Freedom Summer
By Ben Jealous

The 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer was a pivotal moment for democracy in America. Yet 50 years later, despite many gains at the local level, the dream of Freedom Summer remains largely unrealized in the stretch of heavily black southern states known as the Black Belt. There are a number of significant and troubling signs:
  • Large numbers of black voters and voters of color remain unregistered.
  • New waves of voter suppression laws are being passed, and they have taken a form not seen since the rise of Jim Crow laws.
  • The general wisdom in many Black Belt states remains that when it comes to winning statewide office, candidates who support the views and concerns of people of color simply do not have a chance.
Nevertheless, the Black Belt region is in a state of change. Waves of black remigration and Latino and Asian immigration are infusing Black Belt states with a more diverse, more tolerant, and more progressive population. At the same time, extreme right-wing attacks on women’s rights, as well as a rising generation of increasingly tolerant young white voters, have begun to increase the possibilities for successful multiracial voter coalitions and candidates of color at the statewide level.

This report examines the conditions in the Black Belt today and identifies lessons from Freedom Summer that can help today’s political organizers build a more inclusive Black Belt.

Here are three lessons that can provide framework for advancing inclusion and unleashing democracy in the Black Belt.

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