This last July we were driving through South Carolina. We had stopped to get some gas. I was waiting in the car with the boys and Jana had run inside to buy a drink.
When Jana emerged from the convenience store she looked shaken.
"You okay?" I asked.
She said, "Can't believe what I just heard in the store."
She was standing in line waiting to pay. A man in front of her was buying a newspaper. He had thrown the paper on the counter and was reaching for some money.
You'll recall that in July of 2011 President Obama and the House of Representatives were fighting with each other over the debt ceiling. The standoff had finally ended and the newspaper headline was declaring the deal, with a picture of Obama above the fold.
"Right there, that's an example of nigger thinking," said the man tapping his finger on Obama's picture.
The cashier, taking the man's money, nodded in agreement. "That's right." he said.
I raise the question for a couple of reasons. First, as a college professor in West Texas I've found my students to be clueless about the relevant history. As far as they know the South has always voted for Republicans. No so. Take, as one example, the voting history of Mississippi. Since the Civil War Mississippi has voted for a Democrat in the Presidential elections 21 times. That is almost double the number of times the state has voted for a Republican (11 times). Needless to say, President Obama has almost no chance in Mississippi in 2012.
So what happened? When did this strongly Democrat state, along with the other southern states, turn from Blue to Red?
The other reason I raise the question has to do with Christianity in the American South, particularly evangelical Christianity. As noted in his recent book (which I reviewed in the post Are Christians Hate-Filled Hypocrites?), sociologist Bradley Wright cites statistics that show evangelical Christians to be one of the most racist groups in America. To be sure, only a minority of evangelicals fall into this category, but relative to other Christian groups as well as to non-Christians evangelical Christians are the most likely to hold a candidate's race against them in a political election. And as most people know, evangelicals tend to vote Republican and are plentiful across the American South. This racist strain in southern Christianity greatly disturbs me as I encounter it frequently where I live.
So what changed in the South? When did the South go from being strongly Democratic to being strongly Republican? The story can be summed up by looking at two electoral maps separated by a mere eight years:
So what caused the US political map to flip-flop in a mere eight years? What happened to cause the Southern states, proudly Blue and Democrat since the Civil War, to flip to Republican Red?
Why are the Red States Red?
What happened between 1956 and 1964?
Answer: The American Civil Rights Movement.