Dixie Ain’t Just in the South

A few thoughts on America’s original sin

Marlon Weems
Published in
7 min readJun 12
Top: White counter-protesters along the route of a Chicago Freedom Movement march, circa 1966. | Photo credit: Chicago Tribune. Bottom: White supremacists march through the city of Boston in 2022. Photo: Stuart Cahill/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images.

Because of the South’s history of enslavement and Jim Crow segregation, there is a general perception that the country’s racial problems only exist in the land of Dixie. But as Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. learned during the Civil Rights Movement, reality tells a different story.

Not long ago, I watched King in the Wilderness, an Emmy Award-winning 2018 HBO documentary chronicling the last eighteen months leading up to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Through a series of interviews with civil rights icons, including the late Representative John Lewis, the late Harry Belafonte, Andrew Young, the late C.T. Vivian, Diane Nash, and Cleveland Sellers (the father of political commentator Bakari Sellers), the film tells the story of King’s struggles and triumphs in his final days.

The film focuses on the Chicago Freedom Movement. King’s most ambitious campaign in the North, this phase of the broader Civil Rights Movement, is generally considered the inspiration for the 1968 Fair Housing Act. Belafonte and Sellers describe King’s surprise at the level of racist hatred he encountered in the Second City, especially considering its location in the northernmost United States:

Harry Belafonte: Chicago was a huge awakening for him. He saw that the movement now as reflecting more of the truth of what America was about than just what we had experienced in the South.

Clarence Sellers: Martin [Luther King] said to me, “Clarence, I’ve seen some hate-filled eyes and mobs in Mississippi and Alabama,” he said, but the hate I saw in Illinois was equal in greatness to hate I see in Mississippi. He was really shaken when we left Chicago, I remember.

Drawn in 1767 by English surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, the Mason and Dixon line was crafted initially to settle a border dispute between the colonies of Pennsylvania and Maryland. It later became considered the separation point between the northern free states and the slave states to the south. While