ATLANTA, Georgia — She has rigorously covered the racial politics of the South for the past three decades. Now, Cynthia Tucker, the Pulitzer Prize winning former editorial page
editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has penned a riveting and revealing new book that she co-authored with University of South Alabama colleague Frye Gaillard: “The Southernization of America: A Story of Democracy in the Balance.”
It is a revealing new book about the South’s political and racial influence that echoes journalist John Edgerton’s 1974 book that argues “the South and the nation were not exchanging strengths as exchanging sins.” This is Tucker’s first book.
“We aren’t doing so much a history here as we are doing our impressions of what has happened in the South, politically and culturally, over the last 50 years leading up to the election of Donald Trump and its aftermath,” says the former visiting professor of journalism and Charlayne Hunter- Gault Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the University of Georgia.
“We did not have to do a lot of research. Frye is also a Southern journalist. He’s covered the South for his career; I’ve covered the South for my career, so we were writing about our impressions of what we already knew.”
The story we are telling today, she says is in the subtitle of the book: “A Story of Democracy in the Balance.”
“My co-author and I firmly believe that the country is at the brink again as we were when the Civil War broke out,” Tucker opines. “The country is on the brink of deciding whether we are going to move forward as a pluralistic democracy where everybody has equal rights under the law or whether we are going to fall into autocracy and dictatorship where the rights of substantial numbers of Americans are suppressed.”
Nse Ufot, CEO of The New Georgia Project, a voter support and legal action nonprofit organization founded by Stacey Adams in 2013, harmonizes with that premise.
“There is a desire in many sectors of this country to not face the sins of our past; the sins of our forefathers,” Ufot argues. “That the politics of white supremacy only really exist in the South as if Black folks were not getting their getting their teeth kicked in in Chicago, and that the MOVE house was not bombed in Philadelphia. So, this country has had a long, and recent history of hostilities toward Black Americans. The difference in the South and in other parts of the country is that there is a ‘in your face-ness’ about it.”
She adds, “People still try to ‘other’ the South as if the sins of the South are not also the sins of America, and they most certainly are.”
Tucker and Gaillard’s book are recollections of current political events, penned in an essay format. “We ended with the voter suppression that Republican controlled legislatures were putting in place around the country after Joe Biden won Georgia, and Georgia elected two Democratic senators,” Tucker says. “One of our last essays was about January 6, 2021, so we brought it up to where we are today.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution sent Tucker to Washington, D.C., as its bureau chief in 2009 ,shortly after Obama was elected, to 2012 to cover not only Congress and his presidency, but the rise of the so-called Tea Party Movement, which was a fiscally conservative faction of the Republican Party.
“I could see the rise of this resurgent racism then,” recalls Tucker, now an adjunct English and political science professor at the University of South Alabama in Mobile.
“My lived experience and my experiences covering the South and Obama’s presidency told me that there was a huge white backlash or ‘White lash,’ as some of us have called it, coming. The Tea Party formed shortly after [President Obama’s] election, and that was just another name for what became the MAGAs and the Trump -ists.”
Ufot, a voting rights and political activist, says yes, the election of Obama was a defining moment in America. “But we have seen this nervousness and this anxiety from people who espouse the politics of white supremacy for quite some time,” she reckons. “It has only
grown and intensified since. Then, the disgraced former president, Donald Trump, fomented that politics and poured gasoline on it. I can think of a few moments, including the Obama election, which have made us realize ‘Oh these white folks are mad’.”
The strategist continues, “People believed in the lie. They believed if we went to college, and you got good jobs and you took care of your family that that was what racial progress meant. What happened in the ‘90’s is the recognition that Black capitalism is not going to save us; that there is still an ugliness and a white supremacy at the root of our public
policy making infrastructure. Just because a handful of you all got good government jobs did not mean racial progress.”
Some have argued the Black people went to sleep at the wheel. Rev Dr. Gerald Durley, a revered Atlanta preacher and climate change activist said, “we stopped working at civil rights; that Black people became too comfortable.”
Demographers tell us that by 2045 whites will no longer constitute a majority of the nation’s population. They will remain the single largest ethnic racial group, but they will not be a plurality. They will not be 50 percent plus.
“Demographers have been talking about this since the 1990’s,” Tucker says. “TIME magazine had a cover on it in the ‘90’s but I don’t think the average white voter paid it any attention until Obama got elected. Forty percent of whites voted for Obama both times, but Obama got elected because every ethnic and racial group of color voted for him. Asian
Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, and of course, Black folks voted for Obama. That is how he got elected.”
Tucker says her books thesis, and her co-author Gaillard who is a white liberal Southerner, agrees “That demographic change has made some whites crazy, and that led us to the election of President Trump in 2016 and everything that followed.”
The interview concluded with this observation by Tucker, “When they say ‘We’re going to make America great again’ what does that mean? When they say, “We have to take our country back,” what does that mean? Many pundits have said, ‘Make America Great Again’ really meant ‘Make America White Again’ So, our underlying thesis is, a lot of what you see
today is based on many whites fear of demographic change; the fact that they will no longer represent the majority and be in control.”