To celebrate Black History Month, I dedicate a column this week to a brilliantly prescient account of the present and future political climate in the United States as proffered by African American journalist, Charles Blow in his new book, The Devil You Know – A Black Power Manifesto. Its central theme, already played out in the 2020 presidential election and again just last month in the heretofore red stronghold of Georgia, is a new “great migration”, this time in the opposite direction. Citing the Great Northward Migration or the Black Migration of the early to mid-twentieth century that saw six million African Americans leave the rural South to Northern urban centers, Blow posits that the shift Democrats were seeking after its subpar showing in the 2016 presidential elections in the Rust Belt to a new “southern strategy” might well tell the tale for coming generations.
“The proposition is simple,” writes Blow. “As many Black descendants of the Great Migration as possible should return to the South from which their ancestors fled, which are the true centers of power in this country, and as such control the lion’s share of the issues that bedevil Black lives: criminal justice, judicial processes, education, health care, economic opportunity and assistance.”
For Blow, this begins in the cities, the most economically thriving part of the new South, especially in its major metropolitan centers. In a 2018 Forbes report, the worst cities for Black Americans were found in the North from the Great Migration, whereas the majority of Black wealth was being realized in the South. More than one thousand of the nation’s twelve-hundred majority Black cities reside there, all of which are home to most of the nation’s Black-owned businesses and boast the most Blacks in local government.
This, of course, like all economic calling, including the first Great Migration, is where the direction of any racial, economic, or generational group will lead. It is the plotline of the American story.
Blow’s points, noteworthy in how the voting went in the past two election cycles but crucially in the most recent, is why The Devil You Know is perhaps the most important political theory book of the past two decades. It summarizes the foundation of the Black voter explosion that helped culminated in over eighty million votes for President Joe Biden, whose own flagging campaign was rescued by the Black vote in the Democratic Primary. Those numbers, already calculated among Democratic insiders, who tallied the most fervent support for the defeated Hillary Clinton four years earlier in the African American vote, measurably increased for Democrats in 2020, as it did also for Republicans. More young Blacks under the age of forty-four supported the losing party, thus allowing Republicans to outperform the top of the damaged ticket, leading many to surmise that the general numbers of a steady voting bloc were evident everywhere.
Seeing how only eight percent of the Black vote routinely supports Republican candidates, the party has some work to do, but according to Blow’s research and reasoning this is ever more evident in the South, where a traditionally White voting bloc had shifted from Democrat in the early part of the previous century to Republican during the Civil Rights movement, resulting in the blowback against the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act signed into law by a Democratic president, Lyndon B. Johnson in the early 1960s. LBJ’s predecessor, also a Democrat, John F. Kennedy and his Justice Department, run by the president’s brother Robert, became the first administration to openly challenge the region’s draconian and racist Jim Crow laws. This led, as we know, to Richard Nixon’s shamelessly racist “Southern Strategy”, which fanned the flames of fear amongst white voters, and some Blacks as well, to the changes implemented by overzealous federal government interference. Nixon would win overwhelming for a Republican for the first time there and change regional politics for nearly half a century.
Despite overwhelming numbers for the African American community, due to voter suppression, violence, and corrupt police activities, it became ever more difficult for politicians to secure or count on Black support throughout the South. The shift changed in the early 1990s, as Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton began to solidify the heretofore silent Black vote to his advantage, and although he failed to win a popular vote average nationally, consolidated this constituency to gain two consecutive terms as president. However, the Democratic Party did not spend enough time and effort working that segment of their voter base, which ended up costing Al Gore a razor-thin election in 2000 and later another tight loss by John Kerry in 2004.
It was, of course, the electing of Barack Obama, the first Black candidate president in 2008 in which the greatest number of African Americans flocked to the polls. Obama became the first Democrat to win the presidency by a considerable margin since LBJ in 1964, but his party could not maintain that level of support in his re-election bid of 2012, despite securing a second term. Many political scholars cite a lack of faith in a true Southern breakout of Black votes.
This changed dramatically in 2020.
The most prevalent formation of this change was enacted by one of the most effective and powerful political minds of the past decade, Stacey Abrams, who while losing her bid for governor of Georgia in 2018, found formally silent Black voting blocs amidst the urban centers of Atlanta and Columbus. A former state legislator, lawyer and author, Abrams canvased Georgian counties for two years, expanding the base and registering record numbers of new Black voters. These were lying in wait for the general election and to turn a reliable red state a deeper blue, a blue that became solidified with the election of two senators in a January run-off, one of them a Black candidate.
Similar numbers were revealed in Arizona, another state the Republicans lost in 2020, much as the Dems lost Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania four years earlier, Black destination cities of Phoenix, Tucson and Tempe have shifted the balance of political power in the state, leading to inter-party fisticuffs just weeks ago when Martha McSally broke ranks with Republican pushing to overturn the 2020 election results – causing a restructure of the political landscape back to the state’s more racially divided roots. Blow believes, although a heavier lift, the influx of African American entrepreneurs entering the largest growing cities in America – Houston and Dallas in Texas, and Charlotte and Raleigh in North Carolina – will cause a dramatic shift in not only the political power structure but also a need for the Republican Party to either court this vote or expunge the white supremist underbelly currently battling for a majority voice in The Grand Old Party to remain relevant.
Blow’s book, while certainly political – I concentrated on his theory of economic migration to urban centers acting as Democratic strongholds, such as Detroit and Philadelphia in states Biden won back this cycle – it is more a study of the racial power structure in the second decade of the twenty-first century. This goes beyond, of course, winning elections, it proves Hunter S. Thompson’s, another great son of the South, axiom; “Politics is the art of controlling your environment.”