To Frank “Butch” Ellis, the racist culture that defined Alabama 50 years ago is gone. Integrated neighborhoods are common, and blacks are winning local elections with white support, he says.
“It’s not an issue anymore with us here,” the white lawyer said from his office across the street from the Shelby County courthouse in Columbiana.
To Harry Jones, a black minister, the racism has just moved underground. “Shelby County has modernized the ‘good ole boy’ syndrome,” he said at his church in Calera, 10 miles away.
Those divergent views of Alabama and the American South are at the core of a U.S. Supreme Court fight over the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the landmark law that did more than any civil rights-era measure to empower blacks at the ballot box. Which perspective the court adopts will determine the fate of a central prong of the law being challenged by Shelby County. The court hears arguments Feb. 27 and will probably rule by late June.