It’s 1935 and class war is brewing in Arkansas. Standing before 1,500 black and white sharecroppers, the radical Methodist minister Ward Rodgers thunders, “I can lead a mob to lynch any planter in Poinsett County.” The crowd erupts with applause. These white and black sharecroppers who worked, lived, and died amid the vestiges of the Southern plantation system were no strangers to terror. The night before, a group of planters and deputy sheriffs had attacked an adult education class taught by Rodgers. The landowner class, the banks, the police, and an offshoot of the Ku Klux Klan called the Nightriders had been engaged in a brutal crackdown on the workers of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union.
Laney Graduate School students have voted to unionize after years of advocacy, making Emory University the first private university to have a graduate-worker union in Georgia and the second in the South. EmoryUnite! is now officially recognized as a union under the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), meaning Emory administration is required to enter negotiations with graduate students. EmoryUnite! announced the results in a Nov. 28 Instagram post. In total, 909 students (92.6%) voted in favor of unionization while 73 students (7.4%) voted against unionization during the election on Oct. 17 and 18, according to the post. Of the approximately 1,700 Laney Ph.D. students eligible to vote in the election, 982 (57.8%) participated.
Alongside some of this moment’s biggest grassroots struggles — mass movements to transform American policing, labor, health care and voting rights — the fight against ableism has been a constant undercurrent. During the late 20th century, the disability rights movement emerged in tandem with the long civil rights movement, leading to major reforms at the federal level. In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, formally banned discrimination against disabled people in employment, public services and commerce — a watershed moment for anti-ableism work.
Many states across the Southern United States employ an economic model that prioritizes business interests and the wealthy over ordinary citizens. This model—which we refer to in this report as the “Southern economic development model”—is characterized by low wages, low taxes, few regulations on businesses, few labor protections, a weak safety net, and vicious opposition to unions. The model is marketed as the way to attract businesses into Southern states, with the implicit promise that this will lead to an abundance of jobs and shared economic prosperity for all Southerners. The reality is this economic development model is fundamentally flawed as a strategy for improving living conditions for most Southerners.
There’s no shortage of dangerous narratives about the South: that people vote for their own oppressors, that the South is decades behind, that it can’t be saved. Perhaps on the last note there’s a kernel of truth: the South doesn’t need saving. If you read Scalawag magazine, you know that Southerners are saving themselves. Since 2015, Scalawag has produced essential coverage of Southern organizing for collective liberation. From investigative deep dives on Alabama prison facilities to expansive meditations on Black women’s grief, Scalawag grapples fearlessly with the crises of police violence, mass incarceration and capitalism, and spotlights organizers and movements that are fighting towards the world we so desperately need.
Even though strikes are illegal for public sector workers in North Carolina, the difficult and sometimes dangerous work — coupled with low wages and the rising cost of living — led Perry and his co-workers to refuse to get in their trucks to pick up trash on September 6. The action reflects growing labor agitation in the South — a region where union organizing and striking are exceptionally challenging, but workers are nevertheless coming together to improve their working conditions. The day before the action, on the evening of September 5, sanitation and other city workers packed the Durham City Council meeting to present a petition demanding an immediate $5,000 bonus, payment for all work done outside job titles, and hiring all temporary workers as permanent.
“We heard from the rail workers. We heard from the truckers. We’ve got the longshoremen in the house, too,” said Leonard Riley, a longshore worker with the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) Local 1422 and member of the SWA Coordinating Committee, addressing a packed house at the Teamsters Local 71 union hall during the opening program of the 2023 Southern Worker School. “The reason I bring that up is because of the power that’s in this room. We’ve got bus drivers over there, teachers over here. There’s power in this room. It’s going to take strategy, planning, coming together, and finding out where the power connectors are to mobilize and exercise it.”
The Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative (SRBWI) in partnership with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance Community Broadband Networks initiative present Increased Wellness and Economic Return of Universal Broadband Infrastructure: A Telehealth Case Study of Ten Southern Rural Counties. As the title suggests, the report has particular relevance for Black women living in rural broadband deserts, detailing how universal, affordable, broadband infrastructure would return $43 million per year using telehealth across 10 counties in the Black Belt of Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi. In addition to demonstrating how robust broadband infrastructure could pay for itself in short order, the report highlights how investments in broadband would open up untold access to healthcare, educational opportunities, economic development, community engagement, and other benefits along the way.
Columbia, South Carolina - Hundreds of service workers from across the South gathered in Columbia, South Carolina, November 17-19 to launch the Union of Southern Service Workers (USSW), taking their fight to a new level. The new organization grows out of the Raise Up, the Southern branch of the Fight for $15 and a Union, a movement backed by Service Employees International Union (SEIU). In addition to fast food, members work in hotels, gas stations, retail, home care, sit-down restaurants, and more. Some of these workers have been organizing their industries for a decade with Raise Up—fighting for higher wages and better working conditions. Others have only recently joined the effort—including many who felt that the pandemic exposed how essential their work was, and how little corporations and politicians valued them.
Our dear brother, leader, confidant, mentor and model servant of our people, Saladin Muhammad, joined our revolutionary ancestors on September 19, 2022 in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Saladin was 76 and had been battling illness for a while. When our revolutionary elders leave this material world, we often say another giant has fallen as a testament to their contribution and the love that we have for them. But sometimes, that characterization is just not enough. This is one of those times. Brother Saladin occupied a category that only a few have occupied. As one of only a handful of strategic thinkers and organizers of our movement that had not retired (how does a member of an oppressed nation and class retire from revolution?) Saladin continued to provide the leadership that he had given for well over five decades.
This summer I went on strike at Dollar General in Holly Hill, South Carolina. My coworkers and I were standing up for our rights and fighting back against a company that put our safety at risk, stole our wages, and made it impossible for us to take care of our families. Our organizing started when my coworker Tara Thompson called us to a meeting at her house. I said, "I don't feel safe at work," and everyone nodded. The store had been robbed three times since I've been here. One day a customer came into the store with a gun, having some mental health problems and talking about how he can't trust anyone. I called the police for help, but they never came. And my Dollar General manager reprimanded me for calling them. My coworker was robbed at gunpoint, and just 10 minutes later management was pushing her to reopen the store.
The maternal mortality rate in the United States is 23.8 deaths per 100,000 births — the highest of any developed country. The U.S. is also the only developed country where maternal mortality rates are rising. The crisis is especially dire in the South. As of 2018, Louisiana had the highest maternal mortality rate of any state with 58.1 deaths per 100,000 births — over three times the national rate. It was followed by Georgia with 48.4 maternal deaths per 100,000 births. Of the 10 states with the highest maternal mortality rates, six were in the South. Besides Louisiana and Georgia, they are Arkansas (37.5), Alabama (36.4), Texas (34.5), and South Carolina (27.9). The rates are even higher for Black and indigenous women.
To get to the big ballpark in Brookwood, Alabama, you drive down the Miners Memorial Parkway. The road goes by the local headquarters of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), and close to the Miners Memorial monument, which remembers 13 miners killed in a 2001 explosion. A lot of coal miners work in Brookwood, and a lot have died here. Right now, more than a thousand are on strike there, at the Warrior Met Coal. It sits just off the same road. On Wednesday morning, a line of buses lumbered down the winding road through the woods, and a line of pickup trucks piled up behind them. All passed the “We Are One” UMWA signs lining the road for miles before turning into the ballpark, where the sprawling open grass was dotted with tents and a stage.
Almost a year ago, the roaring chants echoed in the streets: Defund the police! Abolish the police! The tide of public opinion spurred some of the nation’s more liberal cities into action. Los Angeles cut $150 million from its police department budget, New York City pledged to shift $1 billion from its police department to social services, and the Minneapolis City Council removed the requirement for a police department from its city charter. But in Southern states—home to the nation’s largest Black population—the pattern has been one of strengthening police departments in rural communities. This has been true even in towns led by liberal Black city officials, bringing into sharp relief the urgent need to protect some of the nation’s most vulnerable citizens—Black rural Southern folks.
Oxford, MI - The woman’s face still haunts me. Lined from many years of work on the farm and then in the cotton mills, she is nameless in my memory, just another “linthead” in the eyes of the mill owners, “white trash” others might say, someone off the cow patch and now in a factory in some Southern backwater working 12-hour days. In her eyes, however, was a spark of something, a flicker of hope, and it came from the union she and countless other cotton mill workers were desperate to join back in the 1930s. “We began to feel we could be a part of a great movement,” she said in filmmakers George Stoney, Judith Helfland, and Susanne Rostock’s landmark 1995 documentary The Uprising of ’34.