The 'New Republican' South
''Save your Confederate dollars, boys; the South's gonna rise again.''
Those of us reared in the deep South remember that refrain from the crib. We didn't know exactly what it meant. We felt it, and we knew it promised vindication, justification, the righting of the old humiliation of ''The War'' and Reconstruction.
Well, boys, the South is rising again. And no one can hope to understand what is happening to the two-party system without taking into account the historic racism and sense of injustice simmering beneath the prosperous surface of a ''New'' South well on its way to becoming ''New'' Repub-lican.
In part, the South owes its new, pivotal position to economic prosperity. All you have to do is fly from Dayton to Houston to see that the recession devastating the Middle West and Northeast goes almost unnoticed in the Sunbelt and much of the Old Confederacy.
But the new Southern force is not just economic. It is ideological as well. By now the effect that Southern racial and social conservatism is having on national politics should be clear - with new Southern Republicans like Jeremiah Denton of Alabama and Jesse Helms and John East from North Carolina leading the opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment, the extension of the Voting Rights Act , and liberal abortion laws.
If you add the new and disproportionate influence of the new Southern wing inside the Reagan Republican Party to the historic coalition between Old South Democrats and traditionally conservative Republicans, you begin to get some idea of the rising South's new political power.
The shape of things to come is surfacing in Alabama and Mississippi, the two states most committed to a heritage of racial separatism.
George Wallace is running for governor of Alabama, this time with black support and a strong Republican opponent. The Reagan-identified mayor of the capital city, Emory Folmar, poses the first threat to a solidly Democratic governorship since Reconstruction in a state that recently elected its first GOP senator in over 100 years.
Alabama journalist Claude Duncan explains: ''The 'hard up' are George Wallace's natural constituency - whether black or white.'' Wallace, always the consummate politician, is not talking about race at all these days. He calls himself ''the candidate of all the people.''
''Now,'' he says, ''the real problems are economic. Reagan's way is not my way. I was always for the 'little people' who provide the stability and order in this country. President Reagan helps rich folks who don't need it.''
Black spokesmen like Mayor Johnny Ford of Tuskegee sound a similar note. Ford says: ''This is not the time to rehash the civil rights movement. The enemy now lies in new efforts to make the Republican Party the party of the white elite.''
For most white Southerners, the reforms of the 1960s and '70s went down hard. When Ronald Reagan campaigned in Alabama promising to ''get big government off your backs,'' they thought they knew what he meant - that he was going to halt ''integration'' forced on them by five administrations. Many in the South were elated by the 1980 Republican victory: here they were being welcomed home by the new party of power - racism and all.
Blacks, who account for 20-40 percent of the vote in many parts of the South, now fear the sophisticated new racism and economic elitism of the resurgent Republican Party more than the familiar populist racism of men like George Wallace.
Emory Folmar openly labels the Democratic Party the party of black radicals. With a pistol strapped to his belt to symbolize his commitment to law and order, he defends ''honest, hard-working white men'' against ''welfare blacks.'' ''Affirmative action,'' he concludes, ''is un-American.''
The new strength of the Republican Party is causing equally idiosyncratic developments in the segregationist state of Mississippi. Despite almost 20 years under the Voting Rights Act, Mississippi is still accused of gerrymandering congressional districts to prevent black representation. The state has not sent a black representative to Congress since 1884.
White Democrats now have another ''reason'' for keeping blacks in districts where they remain a minority. On the other hand, as more white voters defect to the Republicans, Democrats need black cooperation as never before.
Black Mississippians also face a new set of choices - and compromises. They realize that by insisting on redistricting, they indirectly aid the Republicans. But the alternative is to collaborate with white Democrats still determined to dilute black political strength.
Ideologically, the white South already belongs to the Republicans. Unless black and white Southerners can come together for common goals - suggested perhaps in George Wallace's ''constituency of the hard up'' - the prosperous, conservative, white South will become a powerful new bulwark of Republicanism. Minus the solid South, the floundering Democratic Party has little to call its own.
The South is rising again politically and economically. Without a creative coalition of blacks and whites, it is almost sure to rise as New Republican and racially divided in a way that bodes ill for the Democratic Party, the two-party system, and the country.