Politics of the New South

In “Politics of the New South,” Maria Hinojosa revisits Clarkston, Georgia, featured in a previous episode and notable for its immigrant population. It’s three days before an election in which three former refugees are running for city office for the very first time.
Grade Level

America by the Numbers with Maria Hinojosa—a PBS documentary series—tells the story of the changing demographics of the United States through character-driven portraits and in-depth conversations. Host Maria Hinojosa, an award-winning news anchor and reporter, visits communities from Clarkston, Georgia, to Long Beach, California, to examine the impact of demographic changes on local residents.

In “Politics of the New South,” Maria Hinojosa revisits Clarkston, Georgia, featured in a previous episode and notable for its immigrant population. It’s three days before an election in which three former refugees are running for city office for the very first time.

The episode’s “cast of characters” includes three mayoral candidates: the incumbent, who is black and a longtime resident of Clarkston; a former Somali refugee who’s been a Clarkston resident for more than 10 years; and a white candidate who has lived in Clarkston for two years. During the episode, students will use a chart to keep track of the interviewees’ attitudes toward immigration, both stated and implied.

Students will also investigate the story of the Lost Boys of Sudan as an example of conditions that force refugees to leave their home countries. They explore the response of government agencies and the average citizen as these new Americans adjust to life in the United States.


Enduring Understandings

  • The United States has long served as a refuge for immigrants fleeing hostile and intolerable conditions in other countries and, historically, these new residents have been unwelcome—both officially and in everyday life.
  • Incorporating refugees into a new location takes thoughtful planning and real work to overcome the fears and prejudices of the people who already live there.


Essential Questions

  • What are some reasons refugees come to the United States?
  • What are the challenges and opportunities concerning the integration of refugees into a community?



Students will be able to:

  • explore the reasons refugees come to the United States
  • recognize the challenges refugees face once they arrive
  • discuss fear and prejudice as responses to new immigrants
  • suggest actions that can be taken to ease tensions between immigrants and longtime residents within a community


Materials Needed



acclimateak luh mate ] (verb) to adapt, become accustomed to a new environment

displacement [ dis place muhnt ] (noun) the act of being put out of one’s usual or proper place

famine [ fam in ] (noun) extreme and general scarcity of food

genocidejen uh side ] (noun) the deliberate, systematic extermination of a national or racial group

immigrantim uh gruhnt ] (noun) person who migrates to a country for permanent residence

refugeeref yoo jee ] (noun) a person who is forced to migrate from their community to another region or country in order to escape war, persecution or a natural disaster



  1. Introduce the essential questions. Note that today, in order to investigate these issues, students will view a half-hour video describing recent changes in Clarkston, Georgia, where the arrival of a large number of immigrants has changed the face of local politics.
  2. Log on to the Clarkston city website: clarkstonga.gov. Ask students to note the following:
  • location
  • size
  • demographics


Video Viewing

Distribute the “Cast of Characters” handout, and explain its purpose. Say:

“In this video, we visit Clarkston, Georgia, three days before a city election. This is the first time former refugees have run for city office: one for mayor and two for City Council. We’ll hear from the candidates, community activists, and ordinary citizens, all of whom have a lot to say about immigration. Use the “Cast of Characters” handout to take notes on the thoughts that are expressed. Pay special attention to the fourth column—“What else is going on?”—where you can include any other impressions you have about the speakers’ ideas about immigration.”

Answer any questions students might have, then watch the video as a class.


Talk About What You've Seen

Have students compare their responses in pairs. Then share findings as a group, prompting students to answer the following questions:

  • How did the immigrants end up in Clarkston?
  • What pressures do new immigrants put on a community?
  • What do you notice about the views of each of the candidates for mayor?
  • What do people say about immigrants? What is unsaid?
  • What tasks lie ahead for the mayor and City Council in terms of supporting and accommodating immigrants in their town?


People Without a Country

1. Tell students that they’ll now have the opportunity to consider the issue of resettlement in a new country from a refugee’s point of view. Distribute the “Refugees” handout to provide background information about the plight of refugees around the world.

2. If time permits, have students watch a 13-minute clip from the 60 Minutes segment, “The Lost Boys, Part I,” for a greater understanding of the lived experience of refugees.

Alternatively, you may wish to share The Lost Boys of Sudan page of the International Rescue Committee’s website with your students.

3. Discuss:

  • What are some refugees’ needs when they arrive in a new country?
  • What are some fears that refugees and people already living in some places face?
  • What, if any, are our obligations to help people who are in trouble in other parts of the world?


You Are Here

1. Divide the class into six groups of three to four students. Distribute the “You Are Here” handout.

  • Assign one of the six roles in Part A to each group.
  • Choose an issue from Part B for the class to address.
  • Ask students to answer the questions in Part C from the point of view of the person their group has been assigned. Have students brainstorm answers in the group, then choose a spokesperson to present their opinions in a larger class discussion.
  • Repeat Parts A and C with additional issues from Part B as time permits.

2. Conclude the discussion by asking students to consider the complexity of living in a community as diverse as Clarkston. Use the following questions to guide your discussion:

  • What are some advantages of living in a multicultural community?
  • What are some challenges?
  • What can students do to support refugees in their own community?


Do Something

1. Have students review the “Do Something!” handout to identify ways to support refugees in their own community. (Note: If there are no refugees living nearby, you may wish to join a national or international effort, or you may wish to have your students identify other groups in need closer to home.)

2. As a class, develop an action plan to assist in one or more of the following ways:

Raise cash or donate:

  • Furniture
  • Washers and dryers
  • Kitchen items
  • Interview and work clothing
  • Diapers, car seats for newborns, clothing for kids


  • Partner with a family to provide long-term support
  • Help set up an apartment
  • Greet new refugees at the airport
  • Tutor (literacy or English as a Second Language)
  • Baby-sit
  • Provide transportation
  • Help in a community garden
  • Teach computer skills  


Related External Links:

Check out other America by the Numbers episodes and their accompanying lessons.