This year’s Independence Day weekend was prefaced by the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, one of the seminal enactments of freedom for disenfranchised people of color in America. But while certain victories, such as the re-election of US Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi, evidence flashes of agency for African-American voters, much of the South has colossally undermined the civil liberties granted to its under-caste half a century ago. The Reverend Jesse Jackson traced the consequences of the federal government’s shutdown in the fall of 2013 back to the early nineteenth century, stating, “This shutdown is also a showdown. Its roots run deep—all the way back to John Calhoun, to the Confederacy, to nullification.” While the state’s rights doctrine of nullification began with Southern states protesting federal tariffs in 1828, Calhoun and nullifiers connected the advancement of state’s rights with attempts to defend pro-slavery ideologies and preserve the disenfranchisement of African-Americans.
In an article for the Chicago Sun-Times, Jackson describes State Senator John C. Calhoun’s nullification movement as “one of the last-ditch philosophical stands of the slaveholders, the historically disreputable—and thoroughly discredited—concept that a state could “nullify” a federal law by declaring it null and void.” Jackson’s parallel between the Nullification Crisis and the federal government shutdown unifies a dark American history that has allowed states to largely undermine laws that protected citizens to access to fair housing, prevented discrimination to the disabled and protected citizens’ right to vote. In response to state’s delays on Obamacare, Jackson remarks, “We’re not talking about a Boston Tea Party; this is a Fort Sumter Tea Party,” asserting that the GOP has undermined poor and working Americans’ access to healthcare for the past five years. “It’s a states’ rights Tea Party.”
In his work as a civil rights strategist and organizer, Reverend Jackson has addressed many of these disenfranchisements, and did so during his presidential campaigns in both 1984 and 1988 by focusing his platforms on applying stricter enforcement of the Voting Rights Act of 1964, advocating ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, establishing universal healthcare and calling for us to find “common ground” so America could move to an economic “higher ground” for all. That was thirty years ago. As of this past May, there are twenty states refusing to participate in the Medicaid expansion, twelve of which are below the Mason-Dixon line. In states like North Carolina, voting restrictions have disenfranchised large voting-eligible populations of people of color and youth by limiting early voting periods and requiring government photo identification.
Jackson spoke with The Nation to discuss his notion of an “Old Confederacy” sinking its way back down South, and his plans for a counter-agenda.
You’ve been quoted on social media platforms and in interviews saying that our nation is currently experiencing “the resurrection of the old Confederacy.” This is your working argument that articulates what you see taking place politically, economically, and socially in the new “New South.” Could you elaborate on this further and give some examples of how you’ve seen this manifesting itself over the past few years and today?
Up until 1964, fifty years ago, people of color could not use public facilities—hotels, motels, parks, libraries. When Dr. King gave his 1963 speech on the Mall in Washington, from Texas to Florida to Maryland, we couldn’t use a single public toilet. Our money was kind of defeated—we could not spend it to buy ice cream at Howard Johnson’s, rent a room in the Holiday Inn.