- The Washington Times - Friday, November 25, 2005

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Blacks have a complicated love affair with the South. Their ancestors were enslaved in the region for generations, then Jim Crow laws pushed them to the back of the bus.

Yet surveys show blacks who live in the South are more likely than any other racial or ethnic group — even whites — to identify themselves as Southerners. It’s a label millions claim with pride and affection, yet uneasiness.

“As an African-American Southerner, I enjoy our culture that includes our famous Southern charm and hospitality,” said Stephen Wicks of Savannah, Ga., co-owner of BlackBusinessList.com, a Web-based company that links to minority businesses.

“On the other hand, it’s very hard to walk the streets and see constant reminders of slavery and white supremacy,” he said. “That Confederate statue may simply be a piece of history to my white brother or sister, but to me, it represents a very dark period in American history.”

Bryan Stevenson says he has similar mixed feelings. A Delaware native educated at Harvard University, Mr. Stevenson has lived in Alabama since 1989.

“I have a lot of happy and pleasant thoughts about living in the South,” said Mr. Stevenson, a Montgomery lawyer. “However, I do think that being black means you feel at risk. You frequently feel subordinate because of a lack of power.”

Yet a University of North Carolina analysis of polls from 1991 through 2001 found that 78 percent of blacks in the region claimed the label “Southerner,” compared with 75 percent of whites. The results punched a hole in the long-held assumption that only whites are proud to be from the South.

“Generally speaking, blacks are about as positive about the South as white folks,” said Larry J. Griffin, who teaches sociology and history at the university.

The Rev. Joseph Lowery, who along with Martin Luther King founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, doesn’t see any irony.

“Blacks don’t have that sense of guilt,” he said. “I mean, we never perpetrated any evil acts against people on the basis of race. So I guess we just don’t have to carry that burden.”

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