Reasons to celebrate 2018

We won’t sugarcoat it: 2018 was a tough year. The words of abolitionist Frederick Douglass frequently came to mind: “This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Thankfully, the South is replete with justice-minded people, networks and organizations demanding those concessions to shape a more equitable future for our beautiful region. Those activists and advocates give us – and each other – strength to continue the struggle. As we embark on another year, we want to take a moment to reflect on some of our partners’ achievements from 2018. 


Henderson Becnel
Norris Henderson (VOTE) and Anza Becnel (Power Coalition)

As of January 1, 2019, Louisiana no longer allows split juries to convict defendants, thanks in large part to the organizing efforts of Voice of the Experienced (VOTE). In November, voters approved a constitutional amendment to end non-unanimous jury verdicts — a Jim Crow-era practice that contributed to the disproportionate incarceration of black Louisianans. "We have shown the nation that the people they are used to seeing fight against each other will come together for the common cause of freedom, that we will fight side by side for the liberty of our neighbors," VOTE Executive Director Norris Henderson told U.S. News and World Report. Henderson was wrongly convicted of murder by a split jury and spent 27 years in Angola Prison. In 2018, VOTE also helped persuade lawmakers to allow former inmates to register to vote when they’ve been out of prison five years. 


VOTE’s participation in the Power Coalition, Louisiana’s civic engagement network, proved mutually beneficial last year. Power was able to reach nearly 100,000 new voters by phone banking and canvassing on behalf of the Unanimous Jury Coalition, led by Henderson. The resulting increase in voter turnout in Alexandria, Shreveport, Baton Rouge and New Orleans helped communities amplify their issues, and Alexandria elected its first black mayor. 


For the first time, Georgia’s 2019 budget fully funds the state’s public schools, eliminating longstanding austerity cuts, thanks in large part to the research, communications and outreach efforts of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. GBPI expects to see class sizes shrink, art and music reinstated, more teachers in classrooms and new school buses. The state also is expected to establish its first need-based college financial aid program, thanks to GBPI’s work with allies, including the chamber of commerce, students and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. 

Project South
Azadeh Shahshahani (Project South), Adelina Nicholls (GLAHR) and Glory Kilanko (Women Watch Afrika) at the Georgia capitol

In March, Project SouthAsian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta (AAAJA), Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR) and Women Watch Afrika were among the organizations that helped defeat Georgia Senate Bill 452, which would have required prosecutors to notify federal immigration authorities if defendants lack proper documentation – at least for now. “It was a foregone conclusion for some that it was going to pass, but we didn't give up,” Project South Legal and Advocacy Director Azadeh Shahshahani told Facing South. “We organized a couple of grassroots lobby days that enabled folks to come to the capital and receive lobby training and directly talk to their representatives. We produced materials for folks to be equipped with knowledge of what the bill does and helped lead this campaign to ensure that it got defeated.” Lawmakers say a new version of the bill could surface this year.

Those partners helped defeat anti-immigrant measures at the local level, too. Atlanta’s mayor announced in September the city would stop accepting immigration detainees at the city jail and ended the jail’s contract with ICE. 


In Decatur, our partners helped convince leaders to limit cooperation with federal immigration officials. “If we need to march, sign a public petition, have a press conference, then let’s do it. Get out of your comfort zone,” urged Adelina Nicholls, Director of GLAHR. Similarly, our partners helped convince Cobb County police to opt out of 287(g), an aggressive enforcement program that requires officers to detain immigrants and notify ICE of their status.


GLAHR, in partnership with AAAJA, prevented the deportation of four of its members, one of whom had been detained at the Atlanta jail for a year. She was reunited her with her three children and her DACA status was restored. 


In response to a spate of policies targeting immigrant families, North Carolina Asian Americans Together (NCAAT) worked with Latinx partners to organize the Families Belong Together rally and march in Raleigh last June. Planners expected a few hundred marchers, but thousands showed up to hear the voices of people directly affected by harmful policies. NCAAT registered more than a hundred voters and collected more than a hundred signatures for a postcard campaign to elected officials in support of immigrant communities. “We want our elected officials and the administration to hear this message,” NCAAT Executive Director Chavi Koneru told WUNC. “We want immigrant communities to know that we are fighting for them and that we stand together. Different immigrant communities are standing together on these issues.”


The North Carolina Congress of Latino Organizations (NCCLO) held a candidate forum in Durham to present community concerns to the people running for sheriff and school board. The school board candidates all agreed to the community’s agenda, and the sheriff candidate who pledged not to cooperate with ICE won the election the following week. NCCLO also arranged for 25 DACA participants to meet with the state attorney general, helping convince him to join the legal action against the administration. Also last year, NCCLO worked closely with the Babcock Foundation to produce a video highlighting its organizing strategy.


Durham Light Rail
Durham light rail (artist rendering)

Development around a light rail stop in downtown Durham will include affordable housing for hundreds of families. In November, commissioners unanimously approved a plan promoted by Durham Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods (CAN) to use the land for affordable housing. The county owns two large pieces of property on the 300 and 500 blocks of East Main Street near the planned Dillard Street light rail stop. The plan to develop those lots will include 437 apartments, 277 of which will be designated affordable for those making 80 percent of less of the area’s median income, about $38,000 per person or $53,900 for a family of four. Residents will live within walking distance of Durham’s government buildings, downtown churches, shops and restaurants, and proximity to the light rail stop will give them easy access to NC Central University, Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill. Before the vote, CAN member and local pastor Psiyina Davis told commissioners, “You have the opportunity to make sure people of color believe they belong a little bit more downtown,” according to the Herald-Sun. Construction on the development is expected to begin in late 2020. 


As much of Central Appalachia struggles with undrinkable water, the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center (ACLC) compelled Kentucky leaders to hold six public hearings on the crisis in Martin County, where water comes out of the tap brown or blue and smelling foul. To make repairs, the privately-owned water district requested a 50 percent permanent rate increase in a county with a 32 percent poverty rate. ACLC also pressured the state attorney general to open an investigation into the county’s water. "This isn't just confined to Martin County. This isn't just confined to Appalachia. We have dilapidated infrastructure all over this country," ACLC lawyer Mary Cromer told NPR. "If you're going to have rural areas that are going to survive, much less thrive, you've got to pay attention to these critical infrastructure needs."


A multi-year effort by the West Virginia Community Development Hub to increase tax credits to redevelop historic properties bore fruit last year. In 2016, the Hub’s Abandoned Properties Coalition began to foster a grassroots community improvement movement. It met with lawmakers and held public forums across the state to garner the support of 38 cities, counties and organizations – and pick up 34 legislative sponsors. The law took effect January 1, 2018, raising West Virginia’s historic rehabilitation tax credit from 10 percent to 25 percent. Since then, the new credit has spurred economic development projects in communities across the state, including Wheeling, Charleston and Huntington.


Whitesville, WV
Whitesville, WV (WV Community Development Hub)

A more local effort paid off handsomely in September, when the town of Whitesville won a $2.25 million federal abandoned mine land grant to realize a vision by the Hub’s Turn This Town Around team. The plan is to convert 15.2 miles of abandoned railroad into a multi-use trail through the scenic Clear Fork Valley, attracting visitors and businesses, and establishing the town of 500 as a recreational destination. The federal funding clears the way for the first eight miles of the Clear Fork Rail Trail. “The story is a significant example of how wins work with the Hub; they often take many years of investment, coaching and support to get to the real ‘public win,’” wrote the Hub. “But for us, the big win is the leadership that has been developed in the community that has the capacity to secure this level of resources to make their dreams a reality.”


Last year was one of big legislative victories for the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition, which advocates for policies that benefit farmers, local food businesses and low-wealth families. One new bill affords agritourism businesses the kind of limited liability that has allowed the whitewater and ski industries to thrive. Another expands the cottage food law to allow home-based processing of certain preserves and streamlines the farmers market permitting process. A third bill allows small farms to grow and process up to 20,000 rabbits and sell them directly to restaurants. 


Battle of Blair Mountain
Battle of Blair Mountain, 1921

Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC) was part of a coalition of groups that got Blair Mountain placed back on the National Registry of Historic Places, thereby protecting it from mountaintop removal mining. The West Virginia mountain is the site of the largest labor uprising in American history: in 1921, union miners fought coal company guards, lawmen and militia. “Blair Mountain represents so much, including the breaking of racial and social barriers to come together for labor justice, to the modern threat of environmental injustice,” wrote OVEC Project Coordinator Dustin White, whose great-grandfather fought in the historic battle. “If I had one wish in this victory, it would be that Blair Mountain could be a beacon for labor, and social, racial, and environmental justice.” 


The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund saved an affordable housing subdivision in Alabama from foreclosure. The loss of the Panola Land Buyers' Association, a longtime federation member, would have cost 40 low-wealth families their homes and drastically reduced enrollment at the nearby school. The federation worked out an arrangement with the city council to buy the subdivision, whose residents are learning to cooperatively govern it.


The federation also established a memorial fund to honor longtime executive director Ralph Paige, who died in June at age 74. Funds go to developing cooperatives in working-class communities of color. The New York Times ran an obituary that read in part:

Ralph Paige, 1943-2018

“During Mr. Paige’s 46 years with the federation…he helped organize dozens of cooperatives and 18 community development credit unions across the Southeast. The federation now represents about 75 cooperatives, made up of some 20,000 families. He also helped educate farmers on how to retain their land through legal means, like drafting wills — measures he considered critical to defending rural black communities. ‘This isn’t just another black farmer going out of business,’ he was quoted as saying in the New York Timesin 1992, referring to the disappearance of black farms. ‘It is our community losing a piece of the country.’”

The Times detailed Paige’s lifelong activism on behalf of black farmers, including the landmark Pigford v. Glickman ruling that led to a government payout in excess of $2 billion to more than 15,000 farmers. 


The Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative (MLICCI) helped defeat a new state policy requiring parents seeking child care assistance to produce a state-issued photo identification and two additional pieces of documentation, all three of which had to have the same address. MLICCI argued the policy was unnecessary, imposed an undue burden on families and would serve only to keep eligible parents from accessing assistance. The organization prepared a legal challenge, held a series of town halls around the state and published its findings about the burden placed on families. As a result of growing opposition, the state reversed its policy, keeping child care within reach for thousands of parents. MLICCI also celebrated 20 years of advocacy last year.


In December, two of our partners – South Carolina Community Loan Fund and Coalfield Development Corporation – won million-dollar grants through the Communities Thrive Challenge. Our partners were among just ten selected from more than 1,800 applicants for funding to expand community-led solutions to systemic economic challenges. Communities Thrive is a partnership of the Rockefeller Foundation and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.


For Mother’s Day, Southerners on New Ground chapters and partner organizations raised $92,000 to bail out more than 30 black mothers and caregivers in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia and Louisiana. “We chose to honor and free black mothers as they choose us, hold us and care for us every day,” SONG wrote. “The system of money bail preys on us and causes financial strife, sorrow, and displacement in our families and communities. Black Mama’s Bail Out Action just touches the surface in the fight to end money bail.” SONG also celebrated its 25thanniversary last year.


We’d like to toast all our partners whose creativity, collaboration, passion and drive are moving the South forward every day in ways large and small. If you have a success story you’d like to share, please send it to us.

Southerners on New Ground
Southerners on New Ground




Add new comment