Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Democrats Win in North Carolina: What's the Deal?

In one of the biggest surprises of the 2008 election, Barack Obama carried North Carolina--the first time Democrats have won a presidential contest in the state since 1976. Democrats prevailed as well in North Carolina's senate race, with Kay Hagan unseating Republican Elizabeth Dole.

Is North Carolina now blue, or at least purple? If so, how do we explain the shift?

Devin Fergus's forthcoming LIBERALISM, BLACK POWER, AND THE MAKING OF AMERICAN POLITICS, 1965-1980 is a good place to start. Fergus uncovers an intriguing alliance between North Carolina's liberals and black nationalists during the post-civil rights era--one that was manifested in experiments like Malcolm X University and Soul City; in the coalition to defend Joan Little, a black prisoner who killed a guard she accused of raping her; and in the electoral success of the Winston-Salem Black Panthers, who over the past forty years have occupied some of the city's most prominent offices.

Fergus's book is about the degree to which radical black politics and "mainstream" liberalism have been intertwined in recent history. And it shows that this productive interaction has, to a surprising degree, emerged from cosmopolitan pockets of the American South like Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and the Research Triangle.