The recent shootings in Charleston South Carolina, and the subsequent removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds of the South Carolina state capitol, have led Southerners to re-examine their positions on both symbolic and substantive matters relating to race. As a life-long resident of Georgia, I hope that all of us who live in the South, whether born here or moved here, white, black, Hispanic, rich, poor, middle class, Republican, Democrat, or Independent, will use this opportunity to show the country and the world a truly New South by adopting the Southern Manifesto of 2016.
I intentionally chose this term to signify how much the South has changed since the original Southern Manifesto of 1956, a document signed by 19 Southern Senators and 82 Representatives, all Democrats, to show their opposition to the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Bd. of Education. The signers, all white males, represented nine of the eleven states which formed the Confederacy. These men were very clear in their choice of words, arguing that the Brown decision represented the triumph of naked power over established law, claiming that:
This unwarranted exercise of power by the Court, contrary to the Constitution, is creating chaos and confusion in the States principally affected. It is destroying the amicable relations between the white and Negro races that have been created through 90 years of patient effort by good people of both races. It has planted hatred and suspicion where there has been heretofore friendship and understanding.
Hindsight gives us the clarity to see just how out of touch with reality these 101 men were, and why they fought so hard against the implementation of Brown. Clearly, they recognized that the concept of equal educational opportunities for all children, if implemented, would greatly disrupt the lives of white Southerners. Thus, Southern political leaders, all of whom were Democrats, engaged in stalling tactics designed to make the subsequent decision of the Court that the remedy be implemented “with all deliberate speed” more important than the original decision.
Fast forward to now, the summer of 2015, when I would argue the providing of equal educational opportunities to all children is still proceeding with all deliberate speed. Despite huge improvement in race relations on a whole host of issues, someone would be hard-pressed to prove that America is providing equal educational opportunities to all children. Wealth and income have replaced race as the barrier to quality educational opportunities for minority students. The undeniable fact is that families with the financial means to do so, whether white, black, or Hispanic, have purchased better educational options for their kids through private school tuition or the purchase of a house in the right zip code.
I believe it’s time for those of us who love the South to adopt a new manifesto, one that demands that our political leaders, during the 2016 sessions of the various state legislatures, lead the country in making the promise of Brown v. Bd of Education a reality. How? Every state whose elected officials signed the 1956 document should pass legislation giving all parents equal educational opportunities through education savings accounts, just as Nevada did recently. The action should occur as soon as possible, as we’re 50 years into “with all deliberate speed.” Gov. Nicki Haley and the South Carolina legislature showed how quickly dramatic change can occur when, in less than three weeks after the tragedy in Charleston, they voted to remove the symbolism of the Confederate flag.
The relatives of the victims of the Charleston shooting, all of whom were black, publicly forgave the white man alleged to have committed the crime. In so doing, these individuals showed that love, not hate, is the way forward for all of us, especially in the South. It’s time for the rest of us to acknowledge our moral and constitutional obligation to give all students an equal financial opportunity to pursue their dream through education. The words written by the Supreme Court 50 years ago that provoked the 1956 Manifesto should lead us to adopt the New South’s 2016 Manifesto, because these words are just as true today as 50 years ago:
Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today, it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available on equal terms.
Assigning kids to public schools based on zip codes is effectively no different than assigning kids to schools on the basis of race. Neither method makes quality education available on equal terms to all kids, nor do they satisfy the clear mandate of the Supreme Court from 50 years ago. If the governors and legislatures in the nine Southern states which issued the 1956 Manifesto passed universal education savings accounts in 2016, they would be making @$100 billion available to @ 10 million students, including roughly 5 million low income black and Hispanic students. By doing so, these Southern states would become the first states in the entire country to make available to all students, regardless of race or income, the opportunity of an education on equal terms, thus finally satisfying the mandate of Brown v. Bd. of Education “with all deliberate speed.”