Willacoochee, Georgia, population 2,000, is the kind of small American town you hear about every now and then, but don't visit very often. It's located in Atkinson County, which is about 45 miles north of Georgia's border with Florida.
Willacoochee and the county it resides in may be small, but think of them as sort of test kitchen for race relations for the future. Back in the 1960s, when the U.S. population was closer to 200 million, 30 percent of Atkinson County's population was black and the rest was white. There were almost no Hispanics.
Now, as we approach 300 million people in the United States, Atkinson County is still mostly white, though by a smaller percentage, and the minority population has shifted greatly. The county is now 19 percent black and 21 percent Hispanic, due to a steady stream of immigrants settling in the area.
Here's the issue: Racial tension between what locals call the "blacks" and the "browns" is booming. Blacks say Latinos are taking their jobs, buying up their land, and moving in on their public assistance. Latinos say blacks don't want to work very hard and are turning down jobs. The mayor of the town, who is white, says, "We don't have any problems." But racial tensions between blacks and Latinos do appear to have increased.
To get a better handle on these dynamics, I visited with two local pastors, Harvey Williams and Atanacio Gaona. Williams is black. Gaona is Hispanic. They are good friends and say that everyone stares at them in town when they go out to eat or do anything in public. They're trying to unite the community. Pastor Gaona won't tolerate jokes about blacks, and Pastor Williams waves to unfriendly Hispanic drivers even when they don't wave back. They say they may even bring their congregations together for a service one day.
This is where the rest of the country is headed, isn't it? As more immigrants start to call the United States home, the nature of relations between different racial groups is changing, and not always for the better.