Change comes slowly to Southside, the rural swatch of Virginia south of Richmond that is the spiritual home of Virginia conservatism. But it does come.

Few know that better than the three blacks sitting on the tree-shaded courthouse lawn not far from the Statue to Confederate Dead, "Amelia's loving tribute to her heroes of 1861 to 1865."

There has been a "dramatic change" in Southside in her lifetime, said Mabel Harris. "Some good, some bad," offered her sister-in-law, Nettie Jones.

"A lot of whites still have hatred for the black man," said Harris' husband, Everett, 59, who works on a nearby farm. "But they can't do like they used to," he added, noting that being able to talk openly about race itself represents a change.

All three said they will vote Nov. 5 for the three Democrats seeking state office. Nettie Jones said it is "important" that a black is on the ticket and good, too, that a woman is running.

The support of rural blacks is crucial to the state's Democratic ticket, but James E. Ghee, a Farmville lawyer who is president of the Virginia state NAACP, said he is "not sure how strong" the party's gubernatorial candidate, Gerald L. Baliles, will run here against Republican Wyatt B. Durrette. Southsiders, Ghee said, have "shown a strong preference for Republican candidates statewide in recent years."

State Del. Mary Sue Terry, the Democratic nominee for attorney general, will run well, if only because she is from Patrick County and is considered a Southsider, Ghee said.

State Sen. L. Douglas Wilder of Richmond, the black nominee for lieutenant governor, "is the wild card," Ghee said. "He will get some white support from moderates, and because he is a Democrat," in his race against Republican State Sen. John H. Chichester of Stafford County.

Southside, a region of small pork farms and pine forests, is bordered on the north by the James River, on the east by Suffolk, on the south by North Carolina and on the west by the Appalachian foothills. Because many politicians in the organization of the late senator Harry F. Byrd Sr., which used to control the state, have their political roots here, it remains almost mythically what many say is the true Virginia.

Southside is, as W. Bidgood Wall, editor of The Farmville Herald, puts it, "much more than a geographic description. It definitely is a state of mind.

"Our pace is rural, more trees than houses. We probably all think alike." Southsiders, Wall said, seek "moderation in our leaders, just as in the pace of our daily life. We don't tend to have radicals around here."

Random interviews with residents of the region and a recent Washington Post survey support his conclusion. Southside's voters tend to be poorer, less educated, slightly more Democratic, but more stable and less likely to be liberal than voters elsewhere in the state, according to the survey.

Glenn Driver and Michael Wood have a lot in common: Both are in their twenties; fathers of young sons; buy their groceries at the Winn-Dixie store in Emporia, and are employed at the Southampton Youthful Offenders Center, a state prison. They said that the candidates' views on prisons are what will win their votes. But their similarity ends there: Driver is going to vote for Durrette and Wood for Baliles.

Driver, 29, said he is going to vote "straight Republican" because he believes the GOP is "both tougher on crimes and more concerned about corrections officers."

Wood, 20, is a Democrat who thinks his party will do more about high unemployment in the Emporia area and the Republicans "have been putting us corrections officers down, making wisecracks about us."

Kathy Harris, 28, who works in a fast-food restaurant in Emporia ("home of the Virginia pork festival"), is one of the many would-be voters still trying to figure out who the candidates are.

She said she favors candidates who will "help us lower taxes and get better jobs." She's going to vote for Chichester pronounced CHIH-chester -- though, like many, she mispronounces his name -- because she likes "the way he talks." Her confusion surfaces in her prediction that "Baliles will beat Wilder."

While many people say that Wilder will draw a large turnout of black voters, registrars in several counties with significant black populations said they did not note a sharp upturn in registration this fall.

At St. Paul's College in Lawrenceville, a small, predominantly black private liberal arts school off Rte.I-85, the excitement this week was generated by the annual homecoming festivities -- not politics.

"We haven't heard much about the election," said Angie Moss, a junior from Norfolk, who is registered but has made no plans to vote. Neither had Maria Braxton, who is registered in Prince George County, near Richmond. Neither of them, nor their friend, Joyce Evans of Philadelphia, knew that a black was seeking statewide office.

"Maybe I ought to try to go home and vote," Moss said when told of Wilder's candidacy.

Three unemployed men standing on the corner of Third and Bank streets in Petersburg hoping to pick up work for a day or two from people who pull up in pickups, said they were more concerned about what a new state administration would do about jobs and transportation, than the color of any candidate.

John Bryant, 54, who has followed that job-seeking routine for nearly a year since he lost his construction job, said better public transportation is something that might win his vote.

Morris Baker, 59, agreed. He said he got a number of job leads from the state's employment office, but "I don't have any way of getting to them."

Willie Taylor, 44, who was laid off from a laborer's job three months ago, would like to see "a bus running to Colonial Heights or Hopewell, where the jobs are."

James McClellan, the Republican running for the House of Delegates against Watkins M. Abbitt Jr., the son of the 12-term former member of Congress from the region, contended that "there has been a steady movement into the GOP because the inherent conservatism of the area is increasingly at odds with the liberal drift of the Democratic Party in Virginia."

Three women lunching in Studebaker's Restaurant in Farmville are proof of the transition and the racial attitudes that still remain an important element of Southside politics. The women said they are Democrats, but are voting Republican because, one of them said, "the Republicans come nearest to standing for what I stand for," citing her opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment and her support of the death penalty.

"They have more finesse, more dignity," said another, who said she has lived in Farmville all her 66 years.

"They support private schools, as well as public schools," said the third, whose two children attended the all-white Prince Edward Academy, which earlier this year had its tax-exempt status restored after telling the Internal Revenue Service it has adopted a policy of nondiscrimination.

"We believe in public schools," the first woman said, "after all, we are taxpayers."

Her friend interrupted: "Big taxpayers. But we believe in choice. We've opened up the academy, but no colored have applied."

"People don't understand," said one of them. "Some of my best friends are colored."

The women were asked for their names. "Read back to us what you wrote," one said. After hearing their remarks repeated, one of them said: "I don't think so." Another said: "Just call us three old ladies from Farmville."