Three trailblazers for education reform in the Sunbelt South.
In southern politics, 1970 marked a watershed. A group of southern governors entered office that year and changed both the way the nation looked at the South and the way the constituents of those states viewed themselves. Reubin Askew in Florida, John West in South Carolina, Jimmy Carter in Georgia, and Albert Brewer in Alabama all represented a new breed of progressive moderate politician that helped demolish Jim Crow segregation and the dual economies, societies, and educational systems notorious to the Sunbelt South. Historian Gordon Harvey explores the political lives and legacies of three of these governors, examining the conditions that led to such a radical change in political leadership, the effects their legislative agendas had on the identity of their states, and the aftermath of their terms in elected office.
A common thread in each governor's agenda was educational reform. Albert Brewer's short term as Alabama governor resulted in a sweeping education package that still stands as the most progressive the state has seen. Reubin Askew, far more outspoken than Brewer, won the Florida gubernatorial election through a campaign that openly promoted desegregation, busing, and tax reform as a means of equal school funding. John West's commitment to a policy of inclusion helped allay fears of both black and white parents and made South Carolina's one of the smoothest transitions to integrated schools.
As members of the first generation of New South governors, Brewer, Askew, and West played the role of trailblazers. Their successful assaults on economic and racial injustice in their states were certainly aided by such landmark events as Brown v. Board of Education, the civil rights movement, and the expansion of voting rights-all of which sounded the death knell for the traditional one-party segregated South. But in this critical detailing of their work for justice, we learn how these reform-minded men made education central to their gubernatorial terms and, in doing so, helped redefine the very character of the place they called home.