Citizenship Pays Dividends

Chapel Hill, NC--

Think voting doesn't make a difference?

Well, think again. Economic and social equity improves when a larger share of adults vote, says a new report from Democracy South, an offshoot of the Institute for Southern Studies, publisher of Southern Exposure .

The states with the best 20-year record of voter turnout generally have fuller employment, a less regressive tax system, and a smaller income gap between their richest and poorest families. They also have less crime, a lower high-school dropout rate, and a higher potential for residents to reach old age.

These high-turnout states are not richer than those with the lowest voting rates -- but they enjoy the smallest gaps in the nation between "haves" and "have-nots." Ten of the top 12 states for turnout also rank among the top 12 states on a set of equity indicators compiled for the Democracy Index; 11 of the worst 14 for turnout are at the bottom on the equity scale.

The 14 worst turnout states (see map) include eight from the Old Confederacy and five others with large non-white populations -- all states with histories of disfranchising people of color and often low-income whites. Even today, only one of these states allows voter registration within 29 days of election day.

By contrast, the high-turnout states have long traditions of making voting easy. When more people feel included and motivated to shape their government, the benefits of jobs and public policy get spread around more evenly. As Oliver Woshinsky, a political scientist at the University of Southern Maine, recently told the Associated Press, "If everybody is voting, politicians cannot pursue elitist policy goals, or they'll get punished."

For a free copy of the Democracy Index, contact Democracy South, 604 Hatch Road, Chapel Hill, NC 27516; phone (919) 967-9942.

-- Bob Hall

Beautiful Doll


Using four small plastic dolls from a local toy store, two black and two white, a 15-year-old high school student recreated a historic study on black children's self-esteem. For five months, Frankye Riley spent school holidays and after-school hours interviewing three-to-seven year-olds at local elementary schools and day care centers to find out how they viewed the black and white dolls.

Riley chose the topic for a science fair after hearing about a historic research project conducted in the 1930s and '40s. "During middle school we watched the video, Separate but Equal, and they talked about the study," she says. "I wanted to see if African-American children have better self-esteem today than in the 1950s and since desegregation of the schools."

In social psychologist Kenneth B. Clark's study, black children were asked a series of questions about four doll s, two black and two white. Each child was asked to identify the doll's color and say which was nice, bad, fun to play with, etc. Clark found that many of the black children found the white doll more attractive and picked it as the one that looked like themselves. The study seemed to indicate that black children developed a negative self-concept based on race very early in life. Kenneth Clark's study was later cited in the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court case as evidence that racial discrimination and segregation have negative effects on the development of black children's self-esteem. "I decided to recreate it to see if the responses had changed," says Riley.

Following Clark's study as nearly as possible, Riley interviewed 177 black children, asking the same questions about their preferences for black or white dolls. She found that the percentages had improved, but not as much as she hoped with only about a 10 percent or less change on most answers. Half of the children found the percentages had improved, but not as much as she hoped with only about a 10 percent or less change on most answers. Half of the children found the black doll to be nice and fun to play with, and a little more than half (56 percent) said it was a nice color. But after 50 years, 44 percent of the black children still said the white doll was the nicer color and 49 per cent said the black doll "looks bad."

"I thought there would be a great change, but really there wasn't much at all," says Riley. "I was disappointed at what I found. The way African-American children perceive themselves in society is basically the same."

There have been other replications of Clark's study between the time of the original experiment and Frankye Riley's present day re-creation. For example, a study by Powell-Hopson and Hopson in 1988 initially suggested that black children had a preference for white dolls but after a half hour of positive stories about black dolls, two-thirds of black and white pre-schoolers preferred the black dolls. This study questioned whether the preferences reflect individual choices or societal influences.

Riley acknowledges that there are many factors which influence the development of a child's self-esteem. "Environment, school, parents, media, friends, and teachers that influence development," says Riley. "These factors as well as desegregation contributed to the positive improvement in the self-esteem of the African-American children."

Her initiative in undertaking the study has put Riley on the path to a promising research career. During the spring of 1996 she won first place in the North Carolina Student Academy of Science statewide competition and took first place in the Navy-Marine Corps Distinguished Achievement Award competition, placing her in the running for a $16,000 college scholarship. A University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill professor who is doing similar research has already invited the high school sophomore to work with him during her college years.

"I have an interest in this topic, and I'm sure I'll explore it in the future," she says, "but I have plenty of time to decide."
-- Ann Duffy & Mary Lee Kerr


AUSTIN, Texas--

Though the nation's most notorious atheist and members of her family disappeared more than a year ago under mysterious circumstances, no one seems to be looking very hard for them. American Atheists, Inc., founder Madalyn Murray O'Hair, her granddaughter Robin Murray-O'Hair, and her son Jon Garth Murray have been missing since September 28, 1995, when they were scheduled to protest the Pope's visit to New York. The trio left unused plane tickets, and Robin Murray-O'Hair's abandoned car turned up this October at the Austin airport.

There is no scarcity of explanations for their disappearance. Media have speculated that the atheist leaders have been murdered or abducted by religious fanatics, that they fled from the IRS (though a $1.5 million bill for back taxes had been reduced to $37,000), and that the three made off to remote locales with company funds.

In September 1996, a year after the disappearance, O'Hair's estranged son, William Murray, head of an organization called Citizens to Restore Voluntary School Prayer, filed a missing person's report, and the Austin police department began investigating. It was on behalf of Murray that his mother had filed a civil suit challenging prayer in the schools in 1963. The result was a historic Supreme Court decision abolishing school-sponsored prayer from American public schools. Murray later rejected his mother's cause and joined the opposition. His daughter Robin, who worked with American Atheists, Inc., was estranged from him and is one of the missing trio.

Austin police department spokesman Mike Burgess said that his department hadn't looked into the disappearances earlier because no missing person's report had been filed previous to William Murray's. The Austin police department is handling the O'Hair case unassisted by federal or state agencies.

Orin "Spike" Tyson, acting director of American Atheists, Inc., said that he had not filed a report because Austin police told him that without evidence of a crime, only a family member could submit a missing person's report. And he said that the report filed by William Murray was not a missing person's report but a "report to find," which would entail only "a cursory examination of evidence."

The police department's Burgess told a different story. He said that anyone could file a missing person's report. He also said, "There is no such thing as a report to find." The department is treating the Murray-O'Hair disappearances as a missing person's investigation. Burgess said so far in the investigation, "there is no evidence to suggest foul play."

A search of the abandoned car turned up no evidence of a crime. To keep in check the prevalent belief that a crime is behind the Murray-O'Hair disappearances, Burgess said, "It is not against the law for an adult to be missing." He maintained that the investigation into the disappearance of the famed atheist, her son, and granddaughter, is impartial. "This case is being handled like any other missing person's case," he said.

American Atheists head Tyson disagreed. "If a local preacher came up missing, there would have been police on it right away," he charged.
-- Eric Goldman

Subscription/Membership Information Return to Southern Exposure Home Page