I'll be on several radio stations talking about what this election means for the changing South, including WBAI/New York at 8:30 EST am and WRAL/San Francisco at 2:15 EST pm. Here are some of my first thoughts and impressions.

Yesterday was a big day for the South. In the coming days we'll be looking at it what it meant, looking at different places and races in the region -- following are some starting points.

Let's start with the most obvious: The fact that two Southern states for sure -- and likely a third -- helped elect not just a Democrat to the presidency, but the first African-American to go to the White House in history.

Those who don't believe the South is important to national politics will dismiss the results, echoing outgoing Sen. John Warner's (R-VA) claim in a recent interview that Florida, North Carolina and Virginia are "different" from the rest of the South.

On the contrary, these states are symbols of the direction much of the South is headed, as the Institute has argued for a long time: not just a region with more "outsiders" (read: Carpetbaggers?), but a younger, more urban and more diverse South in general.

In a region where race has been decisive in all aspects of politics, the shift is doubly historic. Millions of white Southerners -- 39% in Virginia, 35% in North Carolina -- embraced the leadership of an African-American man in the highest office in the land. And for millions of African-Americans -- over half of which live in the South -- there was a sense that their 400-year presence in America finally was allowed a voice in our democracy.

Change won't come easy: In North Carolina, one exit poll showed that "race was a factor" in the decision of 24% of whites. Given the deep history of racism and disenfranchisement in the South and our country, that means something much different than the 90%+ African-Americans who say race was a factor in their choice for Obama.

This is just a start: this election brought forward many other critical issues for the South that will ripple throughout the region's political fabric will beyond November 4. For example, the grassroots form of political organizing that Obama revived in the South, casting aside old party bosses and building a mass of passionate volunteers from the ground up, so reminiscent of the era of the black freedom movement era.

The Institute for Southern Studies was founded in 1970 by veterans of that movement, black and white civil rights activists including Julian Bond, Sue Thrasher, Howard Romaine and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA). Over years of struggle, they -- and we -- held hope that the stanglehold of racial injustice could one day be overcome. Yesterday was one piece of realizing that dream.

As Rep. Lewis told MSNBC last night, after watching poll results from Ebeneezer Baptist Church, spiritual base of Martin Luther King, Jr. and echoing a theme King often made in his speeches:
"I never imagined, I never even had any idea I would live to see an African-American president of the United States. We have witnessed tonight in America a revolution of values, a revolution of ideals. There's been a transformation of America, and it will have unbelievable influence on the world."
As a region, the South has taken many steps forward -- and many steps back -- in the last 38 years since the Institute was born. But it's clear today that something has changed, and is changing in the South.

How, why and to what extent the South is changing -- those are the questions we'll be grappling with in the days, months and years to come.