Institute for Southern Studies

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Institute for Southern Studies
Motto A New Vision for a Changing South
Formation 1970
Type Non-profit research, education and media center
Headquarters Durham, North Carolina, USA
Official language
Executive Director
Chris Kromm
Key people
Eric Bates, Julian Bond, Michael De Los Santos, Ajamu Dillahunt, Bob Hall, Fiona Morgan, on Nixon, Howard Romaine, Pam Spaulding, Sue Sturgis, Kerry Taylor, Sue Thrasher, Timothy Tyson

The Institute for Southern Studies is a non-profit media and research center based in Durham, North Carolina that advocates for progressive political and social causes in the Southern United States. The Institute also publishes the award-winning journal, Southern Exposure, and noted blog and magazine, Facing South.

History and background[edit]

The Institute was founded in 1970 by veterans of the Civil Rights Movement, including Julian Bond, a leader in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and Howard Romaine and Sue Thrasher, veterans of the Southern Student Organizing Committee. The founders believed a research and education institute was needed to help continue the momentum of 1960s movements for equality and justice, while moving into new areas such as labor rights, environmental protection and democratic reform.

In 1973, the Institute began publishing Southern Exposure, a journal that became known for its investigative reporting into Southern power-brokers and its oral histories of Southerners involved in social change movements.

In 2000, the Institute began publishing an email newsletter named Facing South. The newsletter highlights important news stories in the South and typically also includes a piece of progressive political analysis, as well as "The Institute Index," statistics on a particular issue or theme.

In 2005, the Institute launched an online blog, also called Facing South, which now averages more than 50,000 visitors a month.

Since 2000, the Institute's executive director has been Chris Kromm, who has worked in the South as a journalist and public interest advocate since 1992. Current staff also include Sue Sturgis, Editorial Director; and Jerimee Richir, New Media Organizer.

Research and education programs[edit]

The Institute's research and outreach programs have focused on a broad range of issues, including economic justice, civil rights, environmental protection and democratic reform. Recent Institute initiatives have included

  • Gulf Coast Reconstruction Watch, a project tracking the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina;
  • the Peace and Security Program, which has examined the South's disproportionate ties to the military and the Iraq War; and,
  • the Environment and Energy Reporting Project, launched in 2008, which examines the political and economic influence of the energy industry in the South.

Between 2000 and 2011, the Institute has also focused on the subject of voting rights in the South, especially the political participation of African-Americans and other historically disenfranchised groups. The Institute's Voting Rights Watch project has publicized such issues as the cost of voter ID laws,[1] barriers to student voting and voter registration "purges" that have prevented citizens from voting.

The Institute has published a series of influential reports on Hurricane Katrina, especially its social, political and environmental aftermath, and the state of the post-storm recovery. Key reports include:

  • The Mardi Gras Index (February/March 2006), a widely used set of statistics on the state of Katrina recovery;
  • One Year after Katrina (August/September 2006), a book-length report examining the status of housing, jobs, health care, education and other key issues;
  • A New Agenda for the Gulf Coast (February/March 2007), a set of policy proposals for a just and speedy recovery;
  • Blueprint for Gulf Renewal (August/September 2007), featuring interviews with 20 grassroots organizations in the Gulf Coast and their prescriptions for policy change;
  • Hurricane Katrina and the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (January 2008), a report produced in conjunction with the Brookings Institution, highlighting the need to bring U.S. disaster policy in line with international human rights law.
  • "Faith in the Gulf: Lessons from the Religious Response to Katrina" (August/September 2008), which highlighted the catalytic role faith organizations have played in assisting affected Gulf Coast communities and inspiring advocacy for needed policy changes.

Current research and education programs include the 2010 Census and Redistricting Project, the Energy and Environment Reporting Project, and the Freedom Journalism School, a new program to train Southern bloggers and new media journalists in how to conduct investigative reporting and public interest journalism.

Southern Exposure[edit]

In 1973, the Institute began publishing Southern Exposure, a journal covering a broad range of political and cultural issues, with a special emphasis on investigative journalism and oral history.

Southern Exposure has been recognized with numerous major journalism awards, including two George Polk Awards (Magazine Reporting and Regional Reporting), a National Magazine Award (Public Interest Reporting), the John Hancock Award for Excellence in Business and Financial Journalism, and awards from Investigative Reporters and Editors, the National Press Club, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the White House Correspondents' Association.

Notable authors who have contributed to Southern Exposure include Julian Bond, Anne Braden, Denise Giardina, Jim Hightower, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Stetson Kennedy, Mab Segrest, Lee Smith, Studs Terkel and Alice Walker. Southern Exposure published quarterly from 1973–2000 and 2002–2005. As the Institute has expanded its online media, it now publishes print issues of Southern Exposure twice a year.

In 2003/2004, Southern Exposure published "Banking on Misery," an award-winning investigative series that was one of the first in-depth reports on the growing predatory lending crisis, especially the leading role of Citigroup in predatory banking practices. The Columbia Journalism Review later credited Southern Exposure with breaking the story about Citigroup's dependence on subprime lending (three out of four loans originating from Citigroup in 2000 were from its subprime unit, Southern Exposure reported) and foreshadowing the 2007/2008 home credit crisis.[2]

After a two-year hiatus, Southern Exposure resumed publication in 2011 with an issue about the health crisis facing Gulf Coast communities in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Facing South newsletter and 'blog/online magazine[edit]

Since 2000, the Institute has published a regular email newsletter, Facing South. In 2005, the Institute began a daily 'blog (Web log) and online magazine, also called Facing South,[3] which covers a wide range of political and social issues.[4][5] Regular contributors are Chris Kromm, executive director of the Institute; Sue Sturgis, a former reporter for The News & Observer (Raleigh) and The Independent Weekly; and Desiree Evans, a former policy analyst for TransAfrica Forum.

In April/May 2008, Facing South drew widespread attention for breaking the story about illegal and allegedly deceptive election practices by Women's Voices Women Vote, a non-profit group in Washington, D.C. with close ties to Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton. Media coverage resulting from Facing South's investigative report appeared on ABC News, The Charlotte Observer, CNN, The Economist, Harper's Magazine, Politico, Salon, TPM Muckraker, The Washington Post, Wired, and dozens of other major outlets. Women's Voices Women Vote settled with the state of North Carolina in October 2008 and agreed to pay a $100,000 fine for not complying with state law.[6][7]

Facing South now averages a readership of over 40,000 visitors a month.

External links[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Dean Starkman, "Tale of Two Citis," Columbia Journalism Review, October 3, 2007
  3. ^
  4. ^ Dan Mitchell, "Going South," The New York Times, June 18, 2005
  5. ^ Katrina vanden Heuvel, "Facing South," The Nation, February 23, 2005
  6. ^ Sarah Lai Stirland, "Women’s Group Pays $100,000 Fine For N.C. Robocalls," Wired, October 21, 2008
  7. ^