Some moons ago, my first official "date" was with a black boy. (I am white, by the way.) Technically he was half-black, but in the remote Maine community where I grew up, it didn't make much difference either way. There was one black family in town; they had only one child around my age, so he was the only black kid in my school. We didn't think of him as "black" or "half-black" or "mulatto," though. We thought of him as Jeff. That experience has largely defined race relations for me.

Not so, of course, for much of our nation's history and many of our nation's people.

But interesting new trends are emerging from the 2010 U.S. Census, particularly in race dynamics. One finding is that a more general population shift to the southern states now includes an increased number of African Americans who, for the past century, have lived in higher concentrations in the Northeast. Perhaps related to this trend are reports that in the Deep South, inter-racial marriages are gaining wider acceptance.

The New York Times recently reported based on Census data that of all the states, Mississippi saw the greatest increase in mixed-race marriages. The couples profiled in the story, despite minor tensions over their inter-racial status, report smooth sailing in a state once home to some of the country's most volatile racial conflicts.

We've come a long way, and that's good news.

Liberty University, where I teach, is located in Lynchburg, Virginia, not far from the former Confederate capital, and the school offers a good snapshot of that progress. Its founder, the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, at the same time he was growing a church and becoming a national conservative leader in the 1960s, was also gaining notoriety as a sort of accidental segregationist. ...

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