Glen Browder thinks our civil rights history is missing something. According to the former Alabama congressman, assigning all credit for progress on racial issue to the movement of the 1950s and 60’s and subsequent organized human rights activities is to engage in gross oversimplification of deeply complicated matters. Now Professor Emeritus of American Democracy at Jacksonville State University, Browder points to what he terms “stealth reconstruction” as a prime factor in the South’s movement toward a new political order that has materialized, gradually and sometimes painfully, over the past four decades. That progress, he argues, has come about in part as a result of biracial accommodation and compromise—much of it outside the public eye—that followed the protests, boycotts, and marches.

“The change we see in the South today was not produced by the Civil Rights Movement alone,” says Browder. “Throughout the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s there were conscious efforts by white and black politicians and activists to work together to change the Southern political system. To a significant extent, this was done by stealth, through quiet, practical biracial politics that achieved relatively progressive ends. As a result, blacks and whites in the South now engage politically in a way that is qualitatively different than in the past. The race game is still played, but the terms have changed, and mostly for the better.”

Browder’s provocative ideas about “race-gaming” in Alabama and Southern politics were shaped by his own experience—first as a college professor with a scholarly interest in the electoral process, then as a pollster and political consultant, and finally by his 16-year career as a Democratic candidate and office- holder. His observations about the past and present dynamics of racial politics in the South—and their possible future in the Obama Era—are detailed in three books to be released consecutively in coming months by Montgomery-based publisher NewSouth Books.

Individually and collectively, the books document the cautious alliances that developed between white politicians and black leaders and activists beginning in the 1970s. At that time, to be seen openly courting black votes was problematic for white office seekers in the South; the “stealth” approach provided white politicians an arms-length means of ensuring African- American voter turn-out in key elections, while also advancing black political interests and expanding the power of African-American political organizations.

Beyond those readers who may accuse him of simply indulging in another rehash of a painful period in Southern history, Browder fully expects objections to his account from white and black politicos who, even at this late date, are wary of having past or present alliances seen in this new light. With its frank discussion of backroom deals and bare-knuckled political tactics deployed in pursuit of positive social ends, Browder’s work also challenges certain aspects of the accepted public narrative of Civil Rights and racial progress—a challenge that likely will be taken up by scholars, journalists, and progressive activists who are invested professionally in that narrative.

“This is a controversial thesis,” he acknowledges. “It does not fit the heroic drama of Civil Rights history. It is politically incorrect, because it credits white Southern politicians with positive contributions to civil rights and could be misconstrued to imply that black activists compromised the Movement for crass political objectives. Consequently, there are a lot of people who are not interested in hearing it.”

“I am not trying to challenge the heroic drama itself,” Browder adds. “I am writing about the centrality of race to my own career and those of other reform-oriented politicians. You had to calculate race into the formula of any issue on which you wanted to make progress—not just because you needed votes, but if you actually wanted to get anything done once you’d won your election. Nobody has written about that, about the real nuts-and-bolts politics of that era and the people who just went at these very difficult social issues and tried to make them work politically, without a lot of fanfare.”

Prior to representing Alabama’s Third Congressional District from 1989-96, Browder served one term in the Alabama House of Representatives and was Alabama’s Secretary of State from 1986 until he went to Washington after winning a special election to replace longtime Republican Congressman Bill Nichols, who died in office. His career in elective office ended in 1996, after he lost a bid for the Democratic nomination to succeed the retiring U.S. Senator Howell Heflin.

Along with Heflin and other white politicians like Bill Baxley—who served as state Attorney General for two terms in the 1970s and was lieutenant governor from 1982-86—Browder was one of a new breed of white Southern politicians who emerged in the post-Civil Rights era, moderate-to-liberal in their views and possessed of a keen understanding of the practical side of winning elections. Meanwhile, even as the Movement splintered and waned after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., new black leadership emerged from the political realm, also ready to engage in stealth politics to achieve their goals; in Alabama, the most influential such leaders were Richard Arrington, who served as Birmingham’s first African-American mayor from 1979-99, and Joe Reed, who continues to chair the state’s predominant black political organization, the Alabama Democratic Conference.

“I find the characterization to be provocative, in- formative, and realistic,” Arrington says in Browder’s Stealth Reconstruction. “I believe that it would have been very difficult for the Civil Rights Movement to have been as effective without the black-white cooperation discussed in this thesis.”

“What we did supplemented the Movement in ways that marches and laws and troops could not have,” Browder agrees. “It was somewhat secretive, sometimes uncomfortable, often less than noble. But it helped push our society forward at a time when the Movement was becoming less effective.”

As for the present and future, Browder writes that the South has reached a “halfway house of racial politics,” in which constitutional white supremacy and statutory segregation have yielded to a more complete version of democracy, albeit one in which matters of race have been “institutionalized in race-sensitive, almost dualistic public policies and alternative approaches and programs for whites and blacks.” Even so, he thinks the most important conclusion to be drawn from his interpretive analysis is that today’s Southern political system is more positive and functional than ever before in terms of style, substance, strategy, operations, and outcomes.

“A new kind of politics has taken hold,” Browder says. “The South has come to terms with the idea that race and racism are unavoidable legacies in the public arena, and that moderated race-gaming is an appropriate way to do political business in a contemporary democracy. The critical lesson, I think, is that biracial accommodation is the means by which black and white Southerners perhaps can move forward in dealing with the legacy of our hard history.”

During 2009, Montgomery’s Newsouth Books will publish three titles by former Alabama Congressman Glen Browder:

The South’s New Racial Politics: Inside the Race Game of Southern Political History will be published in April. The book examines the ways in which blacks and whites in today’s south engage in politics that are more open and sophisticated, and yet still harbor the cynicism and mistrust that are legacies of the old racist system.

Stealth Reconstruction:  The Untold Story of Southern Politics and History will be released this summer.  Co-authored by Browder and Artemesia Stanberry, an assistant professor at North Carolina Central University, the book presents groundbreaking, controversial ideas about the powerful role of race in southern political history.

Professor-Politician, a biography/memoir on which Browder cooperated with Anniston-based journalist Geni Certain, is scheduled for a fall release.