Pubdate: Sun, 27 Jul 2003
Source: State, The (SC)
Copyright: 2003 The State
Author: Jesse Jackson


There is a new South in America. It is the South of CNN, of the Atlanta 
Olympics, of German car makers in South Carolina. It is the South of Jimmy 
Carter and Bill Clinton, neither of whom would have been president if not 
for the end of segregation.

But across the South, much of its potential is locked up -- literally.

Consider Alabama. Montgomery was the scene one of the first stirring 
struggles of the civil rights movement, triggered when Rosa Parks refused 
to go to the back of that bus. Now, almost 50 years later, the promise of 
Alabama needs to be unlocked.

In the past 30 years, Alabama's population has increased 30 percent, while 
its prison population has increased 600 percent. Alabama incarcerates 
people at five times the national average. There are more than 27,000 
prisoners in Alabama today, with a prison budget totaling more than $200 
million a year.

Over two-thirds of those prisoners are blacks. Four out of five prisoners 
(84 percent) committed nonviolent offenses. This jail-care policy has 
stripped 240,000 Alabama residents of the right to vote. Fourteen percent 
of the voting-age population of blacks is disenfranchised. Lock them up to 
lock them out. The drug war has replaced the poll tax as the way to keep 
blacks from voting.

Incarcerating people for nonviolent offenses, particularly drug crimes, 
increases the discretion exercised by police, prosecutors and judges. They 
can decide who gets arrested and who gets a warning; who gets charged with 
a felony and who gets a deal; who goes to jail and who walks.

In this system, none of Alabama's appellate judges are black. Only 16 of 
220 judges in Alabama are black. None of the district attorneys are black, 
and only eight of 67 sheriffs. The back of the cell has replaced the back 
of the bus.

Alabama's prison habit is expensive. The prison budget is higher than the 
state education budget. In 2000, tuition at the University of Alabama was 
$3,300 a year. It costs almost three times that -- $9,000 -- to incarcerate 
an inmate for a year. But the number of black prisoners in Alabama exceeds 
the number of black college students.

Priorities have consequences. In the modern economy, what you learn has a 
huge effect on what you earn. Spending more on prisons than on schools is a 
recipe for poverty, and Alabama is poor. One out of every four children 
lives in poverty. One-third of the people live in poverty -- and 44 percent 
of blacks. These are not lazy people, since one-third of the jobs in 
Alabama are at the poverty level or below. You can work full-time in 
Alabama and stay poor.

When the Montgomery bus boycott took place, the cynics said nothing would 
or could change in the South. The segregationists controlled the scene -- 
the statehouse, the legislature, the local officials. But Martin Luther 
King showed that a people who would rather walk in pride than ride in shame 
could change the world.

It is time to go back to the South. It is time to enlist the New South 
against the remnants of the old. Pitch the South of opportunity and 
diversity against the South of reaction; champion books over bars and 
schools over prisons. It is time to register people to vote and to 
challenge the laws that would strip citizens of the right to vote for 
committing crimes even after they have repaid their debt to society.

That mean-spiritedness offends the spirit of this country, founded by 
people rounded up from debtors' prisons. It also offends in the midst of 
the Bible Belt the central teaching of the Bible -- the forgiveness of sins 
and the possibility of resurrection.

At the national level, pundits tend to write off the South as a Republican 
bastion. They say national elections will be decided in the contested 
industrial states of the Midwest and the go-go states of the Southwest. 
Bush spends his time traveling to Pennsylvania and Ohio, not to Alabama and 

Indeed, when Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act in 1965, he 
predicted that Democrats would lose the South for a generation. And 
starting with Nixon, Republicans practiced a race-bait politics that made 
their party the party of white sanctuary in the South.

Now, however, a generation has passed. A New South is growing. Immigrants 
have brought a new diversity, beyond the black-white tensions. Workers -- 
including white workers -- realize that the region's poverty drags down 

You can't lock up hope forever. It is time for a new citizens' movement to 
register people to vote, build alliances across lines of race, and finish 
the liberation of the South. It is time to go back to the South.

Write to Rev. Jackson via e-mail at  ---
MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens