II. Historical background

The South has a special history that differentiates it from the rest of the U.S. Slavery was widespread and more deeply rooted, since the plantation economy was based on slave labor. It became part of a culture immortalized and romanticized in Hollywood films like "Gone with the Wind."

Slavery gave southern state institutions a more oppressive and brutal character. Local law enforcements first duty in this region was to capture runaway slaves. Even though slavery was abolished over 150 years ago, a system of laws known as "Jim Crow" perpetuated a relationship of colonizers and the colonized between ruling class Whites and Blacks until the civil rights struggle of the 1950s and 60s.

The South is also home to the nations first organized hate group, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). In some Southern states, for decades membership in the KKK was the key to a successful political career. Many elected officials and law enforcement personnel belonged to the group.

Public lynchings were another hallmark of Southern life. According to the World Council of Churches, between 1889 and 1940, 3,833 lynchings took place in the United States: 80 percent of the victims were African Americans. Historians estimate that between 85-90 percent of lynchings nationwide took place in the South, often with the complicity of local law enforcement.4

These factors have made racial hate and institutional discrimination more deep-rooted in southern culture.While laws and state structures changed dramatically following the civil rights struggle of the 1950s and 60s, culture dies hard. It was not until November 2000, that Alabamans finally voted in favor of repealing a constitutional ban on interracial marriage.5 In the year 2000, thousands of whites still marched in the streets of the South in defense of the Confederate flag, a symbol of oppression and slavery for African Americans. Racism is masked in the mantle of a historical "cultural heritage" movement.

The vestiges of brutality, white supremacy and impunity are still evident. Just 19 years ago, in March, 1981, two klansmen kidnapped and lynched a young African American in the streets of Mobile, Alabama. Nineteen-year-old Michael Donald was walking to the store to buy a pack of cigarettes when he was attacked, his throat slit and he was hung from a tree. The two klansmen were members of the United Klansmen of America -- a group that once had 41 chapters in 12 states. In this case, they were caught and convicted. Other prominent cases from the civil rights era remain unresolved.

3Scott, Jerome and Kaltz-Fishman, Walda, "The Southern Strategy: Then and Now Freedom is Through the South," Working Paper, Institute for the Elimination of Poverty & Genocide.

'According to EM Beck, co-author of Festival of Violence: An analysis of Southern Lynchings this figure is a "guesstimate" since lynchings were underreported nationally.

5And even then, nearly 41 percent still voted in favor of keeping the ban.