Southern Party Seeks Secession
ALLEN G. BREED
Jun. 19, 1999
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) _ Six score and 18 years ago, their forefathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in secession and dedicated to the proposition that states are sovereign and not beholden to a central government.
Now, the philosophical heirs to the Confederate States of America are making another go at it.
Organizers of the Southern Party have registered with the Federal Election Commission and with the secretaries of state in Florida, Georgia, Texas and Virginia. By August, the party hopes to be established in all 11 states of the old Confederacy and Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Oklahoma and West Virginia.
The short-term goal is to get candidates elected to state and local offices. The long-term objective, which troubles independent political observers even though they doubt it will ever happen: Send enough party members to Congress to push for a separate Southern nation.
Wasn't that settled in the Civil War? Not in the view of the Southern Party.
``The shotgun wedding forced upon the South at Appomattox has reached a dead end, and it is time to initiate a political divorce for the good of all parties concerned,'' declares the group's Web site.
Those who believe that such talk is the very heart of sedition are the victims of 130 years of Yankee propaganda _ and of a poor understanding of the U.S. Constitution, says national committee chairman George Kalas.
``Lincoln once said that a house divided would not stand,'' Kalas says. ``Lincoln was wrong. A house divided will stand. It's called a duplex.''
Kalas, a Houstonian who filed the party's Texas papers in March, says there's popular support for the idea of a new Confederacy. But is he just whistling ``Dixie''?
Since 1992, the Southern Focus Polls from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have asked whether the South would be better off as a separate nation, if that could be achieved without bloodshed. Between 8 percent and 16 percent of Southerners have agreed at any given time, and up to 9 percent of non-Southerners have accepted the premise.
Twenty years ago, John Shelton Reed, the author, historian and sociologist whose department oversees the polling, predicted the time was coming when Southerners would again seek autonomy. His reasoning: Those who actually fought the Civil War were all dead; America's role in the world was becoming less clear following Vietnam, and the South was ``finally ridding itself of the incubus of white supremacy.''
``Although I'm pleased to have my prophecy validated, I'm personally ambivalent about this development,'' Reed says.
Even so, he adds, ``I certainly believe that any group that's telling the 'federales' to mind their constitutional business is doing a good thing.''
Separatist movements are nothing new. Groups of native Hawaiians have been pushing for a return to sovereignty in recent years, and the Alaskan Independence Party, founded on a platform of secession from the lower 48, helped elect a governor in 1990.
But a Southern nation?
Yes, says the Southern Party, rejecting Lincoln's ``flawed notion'' that the United States is bound together only by ``some abstract notion of liberty and equality.'' The group's Web site goes on:
``Rather, we believe the United States in general and the South in particular are defined by their historically European and Christian ethnic, linguistic and cultural core. ... This cultural majority represents the true fusion of blood and soil that defines what the Southern nation is. ...
``(W)e intend to promote policies that will ensure that Dixie remains a predominantly, but certainly not exclusively, Anglo-Celtic nation.''
Historian Steven Lawson says minorities should feel ``very uneasy'' about this. ``They're defining this culture of the South in very limited ways _ in a monolithic way of whiteness,'' says Lawson, a professor at Rutgers University and author of books on black political history. ``They are equating whiteness with Southern culture, and that's just a distortion of Southern history.''
Kalas says that's not the point at all.
Party supporters envision a country with a weak, decentralized government, like Switzerland; where schools and courts would proudly display the Ten Commandments; where most citizens would be required to serve in the military but would only wage defensive wars against foreign nations; and where immigration would be vigilantly controlled.
Party supporter Mike Crane of Hollywood, Fla., sees secession as the only escape from a political system that is irretrievably broken and thoroughly corrupt.
``I'm tired of working for these Republicrats and Demagods that represent things I do not believe in,'' says Crane, a software designer who has gotten in trouble for displaying a set of miniature Confederate flags in his office.
``I'm tired of a government where those of no faith have more rights than those of faith. I'm tried of a government that's obsessed with race and focused on special privileges _ affirmative action, in other words.''
But party organizers insist their aims are not white supremacist.
``Sir, the blacks have been an integral part of the Southern heritage for years,'' says Jerry Baxley, an auctioneer and gun dealer from Richmond, Va. ``We're not anything but Southerners, and that's how we view our people.''
Kalas says that when he talks of Anglo culture, he's thinking more about language, literature and legal traditions than about race.
``The culture that we have today has benefitted everybody, regardless of their racial background,'' says Kalas, a former CIA investigator whose father is a Greek immigrant and whose mother is of Cajun and American Indian descent.
When asked if he could foresee minorities playing a role in the party, Kalas immediately named one _ columnist Walter Williams, an economics professor at George Mason University and author of the book ``More Liberty Means Less Government.''
Williams, who is black, doesn't see himself joining the party. But it's not because of the rhetoric.
``It doesn't make any difference whether they're inclusive or not, at least to me. That's one of the issues of liberty,'' says Williams, who believes in the right of secession. ``You have to be a brave person to take liberty.''
The party is a project of the League of the South, a 12,000-member Southern heritage organization. Kalas is the league's ``Rebmaster.''
Party members say the Southern independence movement is part of an international trend toward smaller, more homogenous states. They cite recent moves toward self-determination in Scotland and Wales.
Thomas Naylor, professor emeritus of economics at Duke University in Durham, thinks the Southern Party is right on. In fact, he thinks his adopted state of Vermont should band with New Hampshire and Maine and join Canada's Maritime provinces, which he believes have more in common with each other than with, say, California or Texas.
``The government is too big because the whole damn country is too big,'' says Naylor, co-author of the 1997 book ``Downsizing the U.S.A.''
Kalas says the party will not likely field its first candidates until after the 2000 elections. And he predicts it will succeed where other third parties have failed because its key plank, secession, is something the two major parties won't be able to co-opt.
Unfortunately for the party, the region is a politically tough row to hoe.
``The South is easily the worst place in the country for ballot access for minor parties,'' says Richard Winger of San Francisco, publisher of the newsletter ``Ballot Access News.''
Alabama, for instance, in 1995 tripled the number of signatures needed to get a party on the ballot to 3 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. To stay on the ballot, a party would have to get 20 percent of the vote, Winger says.
That the movement even exists is disheartening to some.
As a history professor, John Hope Franklin believes that peaceful secession is a closed issue. But as a black man who daily experiences ``disdain of me and lack of interest in my well-being,'' he is worried.
Franklin, a professor emeritus at Duke, says the Southern Party leaders are articulate, and they express views that many Americans share while at the same time ``they are against much of what this country stands for _ tolerance and diversity and, we believe, equality.''
He adds: ``They're a bunch of nuts, but they're to be taken seriously.''
EDITORS NOTE _ The Southern Party Web site is www.southernparty.org. Allen G. Breed is the AP's Southeast regional writer, based in Raleigh.