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The Devil You Know: A Black Power Manifesto

John Peeler: His thesis is that, in spite of the past and present program of Southern Whites to keep as many Blacks from voting as possible, Blacks have the potential, through migration, to reach majority status in several Deep South states
Devil You Know

Charles Blow, whose columns are well known to readers of The New York Times, has moved back to his native South. This short book makes the case for a massive, purposeful reversal of the Great Migration, the early-twentieth century exodus of Blacks from the Jim Crow South to such cities as Chicago, Cleveland and New York.

He is brutally direct in reminding us of the violent past of White Supremacy in the South, but he also spares us not at all in riveting our gaze on police brutality in the North, on top of the myriad more subtle ways northern Whites have kept the Blacks down. The North is no Promised Land; the South — well, we know the South.

His thesis is that, in spite of the past and present program of Southern Whites to keep as many Blacks from voting as possible, Blacks have the potential, through migration, to reach majority status in several Deep South states.

His thesis is that, in spite of the past and present program of Southern Whites to keep as many Blacks from voting as possible, Blacks have the potential, through migration, to reach majority status in several Deep South states such as Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina. They are already thirty percent or more of the population in each of these states. Before the Great Migration, Blacks actually had the majority Mississippi and South Carolina, and close to it in Georgia and Alabama.

His vision is that Blacks could actually control one or more of these states, not in coalition with others (liberal Whites, Latinos), but on their own. They could then set priorities reflecting the real needs of African Americans.

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The recent, close electoral victories in Georgia certainly give us a sense of the potential of mobilized Blacks to determine election outcomes. But these were coalition wins: Black voters were the largest bloc, but could not have won without the liberal and moderate Whites, and the growing Hispanic bloc. Blow envisions a time when Blacks alone will win statewide elections.

Oddly, for a Black man who grew up in rural Louisiana, Blow underrates the difficulty of what he proposes. Even if his proposed massive reverse migration brings Blacks to a popular majority, surely he does not imagine that present-day Southern political elites, grandchildren of the Dixiecrats, great-grandchildren of the architects of Jim Crow, surely he cannot imagine that they would yield control without a fight.

Today’s Republican South is more subtle than the old Jim Crow regime of the Southern Democrats. Instead of lynchings, they rely on police brutality. Instead of grandfather clauses and literacy tests, they rely on manipulating the voting rules in ways that disproportionately affect minorities. And they do accept substantial numbers of Black voters and officeholders.

In this sense, the “place” of Blacks has changed for the better, economically as well as politically. But the Whites will still demand that the Blacks know their place, and keep to it.

impeachment unavoidable

The struggle to gain control of one or more Deep South states will thus require much more than a demographic shift. By fraud and by force, Southern Whites will fight if their control is threatened. Blow owes it to his readers to acknowledge that.

John Peeler