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|Founder||Howard W. Odum|
|Focus||Racial integration, Race relations, and Desegregation|
|Origins||Commission on Interracial Cooperation|
|Southern United States|
|Method||Philanthropy and Communications|
|Slogan||Igniting a Passion for Justice|
The Southern Regional Council (SRC) is a reform-oriented organization created to avoid racial violence and promote racial equality in the Southern United States. Voter registration and political-awareness campaigns are used toward this end. The SRC evolved from the Commission on Interracial Cooperation in 1944. It is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia.
The Commission on Interracial Cooperation (CIC) was formed in 1919. The CIC formed in response to the increased tensions between white Americans and black soldiers returning home from fighting in Europe after World War I. The unequal treatment, and an expectation that the black soldiers would return to their "proper place" as second class citizens, lead to violent race riots in several cities.
During World War II, members of the CIC realized that the same problem could recur. In 1943, a series of conferences were held in Durham, North Carolina; Richmond, Virginia, and Atlanta, Georgia by leaders from the CIC, including sociologist Howard W. Odum. As a result of these conferences, the Southern Regional Council was formed, with Odum as its leader. The CIC was disbanded, essentially being merged with the new SRC. The SRC was formed "to attain through research and action the ideals and practices of equal opportunity for all peoples of the region."
The SRC urged white people, particularly those with more liberal political leanings, to help black people obtain equal rights. Like the CIC before it, the SRC was a coalition of lawyers, ministers, and newspaper editors from thirteen southern states. Although the group included men, women, blacks, and whites, the majority of its members were white.
Initially, Odum sought to bring about racial equality in the Southern US by relieving the underlying economic, social, and political stresses. The SRC avoided taking a public stand against segregation, on the belief that it would hinder progress toward its economic-planning goals. Critics of this approach, such as activist author Lillian Smith, felt that the SRC should condemn segregation. The SRC adopted this approach in 1949, declaring in a resolution that segregation "in and of itself constitutes discrimination and inequality of treatment." As a result, many whites left the SRC, leading its membership to decline by almost half by 1954.
Often partners with other groups involved in the Civil Rights Movement, along with openly disapproving of segregated facilities, the SRC’s hallmark was its use of communications and analysis. It published literature related to racial justice, released studies on race relations, and acted as a think tank for issues concerning the movement.
Since 1944, the SRC has published some form of journal. The Council's first publication, Southern Frontier, was published for two years before being reformatted and renamed New South. In 1974, New South and a companion tabloid South Today were merged into a color glossy magazine, Southern Voices, which lasted ten months before ceasing publication due to financial issues.
The SRC journal Southern Changes was published between 1978 and 2003. Emory University, in partnership with the Library of Congress, has digitally preserved the journal, described as "an alternative and groundbreaking news outlet for stories on social justice in the South."
The Council publishes various issues briefs, position papers, and legislative reviews, including the annuals Southern States Legislative Review and State of the South Report.
The SRC served as a liaison between a number of southern organizations and northern foundations, providing resources and opportunities for mutual understanding. The organization created the Voter Education Project, building on an idea from U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy during the Kennedy administration; the project was run by the SRC from its inception on April 1, 1962 until it was made an independent organization on June 1, 1971. The Voter Education Project did not actually register voters; instead, it acted as a conduit between philanthropic grants and civil rights organizations conducting voter registration drives or voting-related research. For example, the Project funded voter-registration work by the National Urban League; in October 1962, the Jefferson County (Alabama) Voters Campaign received assistance with a registration effort from the League.
The Lillian Smith Book Award was established by the SRC in 1968, shortly after writer Lillian Smith died, to "recognize authors whose writing extends the legacy of this outspoken writer, educator and social critic who challenged her fellow Southerners and all Americans on issues of social and racial justice."