The election of the Party Chair in the South Carolina Democratic Party has turned into a clash of civilizations between the Old South and the New South. Far more than just another contest between two party warhorses who represent opposing factions of the urban-rural divide, the race between Phil Noble and Dick Harpootlian pits politics-as-usual against a surging pro-democracy reform movement.
Phil Noble is the President of the South Carolina New Democrats, but he is much more than a noble reformer. Noble is the son of a civil rights saint, J. Phillips Noble, a Presbyterian minister who was deeply involved in the movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. While George Wallace was the arch-segregationist governor of Alabama, J. Phillips Noble led the civil rights movement in Anniston, one of Alabama's hottest spots during the freedom rides.
On Mother's Day 1961, Anniston was literally the center of a firestorm that pitted racism against reform and left a searing impression on the mind of seven-year-old Phil Noble. An integrated busload of Freedom Riders were on their way to protest the Jim Crow laws, but they were intercepted by an angry and belligerent mob consisting of some of the most brutal members of the Alabama KKK who firebombed their bus on the outskirts of Anniston. While the bus was burning, the racist mob held the doors shut in a savage and cowardly attempt to incinerate the entire busload of Freedom Riders. When the Freedom Riders attempted to escape from the blazing bus, they were viciously beaten with baseball bats, axe handles, cudgels and truncheons. Then, the KKK seized the brutalized Freedom Riders and were just beginning to lynch all of the survivors of the burning bus, when the Highway Patrol arrived on the scene in the nick of time and fired warning shots to dispel the racist mobsters.
In the aftermath, J. Phillips Noble led the local biracial crusade to integrate the public library and prevent the KKK mobsters from dominating the city. Perturbed by Noble's campaign for racial justice, the KKK now turned to terrorizing the black community with vicious beatings of black ministers and bombings of the black churches. In a powerful gesture of federal support, JFK telephoned J. Phillips Noble to announce that he had ordered federal troops to occupy Fort McClellan situated on the edge of Anniston. On the September 16, only two months before JFK's tragic assassination, J. Phillips Noble led a delegation of black ministers into the Anniston library. There would be more racial violence in Anniston that led to the first conviction of a member of the KKK by an all white jury for the murder of a black foundry worker, Willie Brewster. These searing events shaped the mind of young Phil Noble.
Transformed by the violent racial clashes of his childhood in Alabama, Phil Noble emerged from the crucible of the civil rights movement to become one of the most dedicated reformers in Democratic politics. Forging a career as a political consultant backing reform and reformers, Phil Noble worked against the arch-segregationist, Jesse Helms, in North Carolina, and he traveled to 40 foreign nations to consult with reform candidates in dozens of major elections.
In 1995, Noble founded PoliticsOnline in Charleston, and he has been hailed as an internet political guru. An advisor to Barack Obama during his presidential campaign, Noble is now backing long overdue reform for the South Carolina Democratic Party.
In recent years, the South Carolina Democratic Party has dissolved into a quagmire funneling into a vortex of politics-as-usual characterized by the you-scratch-my-back-and-I'll-scratch-your's school of thought. But, it gets worse. The traditional Southern style of political bossism is still dominated by pay-to-play politicians wandering around Columbia with fat wads of cash and checks handing out bribes disguised as campaign contributions to members of both parties at the same time. Frequently, bribes went to African-Americans in a cynical and essentially segregationist form of political corruption. White politicians paid for the black vote, but not too much, only enough to, "rent it for one day."
Scarred by the culture of slavery that was predicated on racism, segregation, misogyny and the clandestine miscegenation of the Strom Thurmonds, the South is a political cauldron that has putrefied into a cesspit populated by cancerous crocodiles who champion radical Republican and reactionary Tea Party policies to punish the minorities, the poor, the downtrodden, the women, the gays, the mentally challenged and the disabled.
While the rich and well-connected dominate the political culture with their backroom deals in smoke-filled rooms, the internet has led to a new dawning of a genuine pro-democracy political movement and the rise of the grassroots who yearn for the end of elite domination and a new era of social, political and economic justice.
The race between Phil Noble and Dick Harpootlian should not even be close. South Carolina's reputation is on the line. The election takes place in Columbia on Saturday. While Phil Noble's reform movement surges, all South Carolinians can breathe in hope.