Southern Continuity Essay, Research Paper
Southern Continuity Just the words Southern way of life’ conjures up a timeless image of gentlemen planters and Southern belles. A time of aristocratic rule that centers itself on plantations and the institution of slavery. The antebellum era echos themes of white supremacy, democracy, unity, tradition, nobility, and honor. While some of these themes seem to be immortalized by such classic works as Gone with the Wind and Roots they still seem to represent the Southern way of life. Although slavery as long since ended and their economy is no longer based up cotton plantations to provide their cash crop, the Southern attitude and distinctiveness still exists. The people who live there define and identify themselves with the region. They are Southerners. Over many years the South has faced many challenges and trials which have jeopardized their identity time and time again. These challenges simply helped them modify their and perfect their distinctiveness while maintaining their certain way of life. Hence, the basic theme that is seen throughout Southern history is that of continuity. The South remaining Southern. W.J. Cash said it best by stating that “The South, one might say, is a tree with many age rings, with its limbs and trunk bent and twisted by all the winds of the years, but with the tap root in the Old South.” The antebellum South was a time of southern sectionalism. The South was centered around the institution of slavery. The planters made up the aristocracy which made up the Government, which in turn constantly stood for the protection of slavery. When the confederacy was formed, it was a nationalistic movement for their rights. A movement to protect their way of life, mainly to maintain the institution of slavery. They fought long and hard for what they felt to be the lifeline of their society. However, when their lifeline was taken away from them, they South maintained its distinctiveness. “In defeat, the South not only retained its sense of identity, but added to it the mythos of the Lost Cause, a sense of ancestral pieties and loyalties bequeathed through suffering, and a unity that comes through common depruation and shared hatred and adversity.” Defeat in the war strengthened Southern nationalism. They had paid a high price in order to try to save their way of life and were not going to give up simply with surrender. The defeat of the South in the Civil War only managed to keep them unified under reconfirmed feelings of secession and resistance. Along with defeat came the trials of a northern reconstruction. The South faced military occupation and life under new governments. The largest test to the South was Lincoln’s “Emancipation Proclamation.” The South had already been plunged into poverty by consequences of the war and the loss of their labor sent them further into economic distress. The antebellum economy had been based on plantations, cotton, and slaves. “With emancipation, the land was now greatly reduced in value, since there were no slaves to work it or cash to pay freedmen, while the demand for several Southern cash crops also receded considerably without any effective southern agriculture opposition.” This meant the landowners had to consider new measures to take with agriculture in order to maintain their property. Many landowners became landlords to former slaves in a sharecropping system of farming. Under this method the black work force could still be controlled and maintained through laws such as Lien Laws. Landowners also got their land farmed for them while keeping most of the profits and supervising the work. While the agriculture was very distressed for a long period after the war not much had changed in the way that they were running it. Wealthy white landowners still had vast control of their land and the black workers that farmed on it. Reconstruction and emancipation also boasted many political challenges for the South. Military occupancy and northern pressures to agree to a new political system made it difficult for southerners to keep up their democratic identity. The South also had to deal with the new consequence of the black vote, a vote that wealthy southern aristocracy would not ever receive if elections were run fairly. However, due to a non cooperative planter class and a little patience the reconstruction movement began to fail. Appropriately called, the Redeemers began to win back political power and control of their states. They sought to protect landowners and proposed new taxes hoping to aid in rebuilding the South. White supremacy was very evident within the new governments as well. Gerrymandering was done by officials in order to limit the strength of the black vote. Along with gerrymandering poll taxes and literacy tests were created to help in the white cause. By the end of reconstruction in about 1877 all of the states had been redeemed back into their democratic ways. They had maintained their identity. The main continuing trait of politics being that the white Southern Democrats had regained and were holding political power while keeping all of the blacks and poor whites out. Politics remained to be an ever-changing issue in the South. By the 1880s the South had regained complete home rule and preserved white supremacy. However, the 1890s brought an end to the one-party South by introducing a third party into the political arena. This was a radical group that became known as the Populist party. “The Populist crusade generated an awareness of state-government responsibility and offered a host of demands that would bring government both state and federal into a more responsible relation to human needs.” Farmers and black republicans incorporated themselves with this populist movement which actively sought economic reforms. They had many agrarian causes on their agenda and fought against railroads, merchants, trusts, and tried to establish cooperatives. The Populist movement tested southern loyalty to the democratic party, but they managed to stay united. The radical peaked and then failed during 1894. The movement failed due to many threatening interest groups and the inability to over come the barrier within race relations. During the 1890s race was a major source of problems both politically and socially. The period starting from the 1890s and continuing up until 1915 marked the lowest period of racism since the time of slavery. Blacks needed to realize their place in society and abide by their role and expected etiquette. “Black southerners lived in a world of uncertainty, bound to careful behavior that still did not guarantee safety, Planters seldom hesitated to strike black workers long after the end of slavery, and blacks had little recourse, resistance was suicidal.” Violence was at its peak against blacks. They experienced elaborate segregation and acts of lynching were very common. Groups such as the Ku Klux Klan were developed to help keep the black’s freedom at a minimum. Extreme measures were taken in order to keep blacks out of politics. Laws, voting fraud, and social intimidation were used in order to keep blacks away from the polls. It was even made legal in 1898 with the court case Williams vs. Mississippi stating that it was legal to subject voters to poll taxes and literacy tests. By 1910, there was a full disenfranchisement of black political power. There remained only a rare few holding office and very little were voting. This solidified the south once again by maintaining an upper white class domination and returning back to the one-party south. The 1890s also brought problems with agriculture and the economy. With falling cotton prices and the Panic of 1893 the South slid further into economic failure. Their economy troubled the entire nation and the South was looked down upon as the “nation’s economic stepchild, a colonial tributary to the northeast.” There were farmer revolts and rebellions against trusts, merchants, city folk, government, manufacturers, and railroads in attempts to increase their business. Alliances were even formed at this time in order to aid out lying farmers with social and self help. Farming soon began to decrease along with the more active introduction of modernization and industrialization. As the South begins to modernize, it is taking steps toward Americanization, but still manages to focus on the welfare of the south as a section region. The turn of the century brought the South back to its roots politically. There once again was a solid south with only one political party with any political power the democratic party. The main election was the white primary which did not include any backs or republicans. There was a definite pattern of elite rule within the solid south. The solid south had relied on putting race before class and centered its power at the county seat. This further promoted segregation. Voting was also limited to a very small electorate. The solid south government looked away and accepted fraud. There was often stealing of elections that took place along with malapportionment of representations. Due to the vast amount of migration and urbanization the cities were not receiving the proper amount of representation and the rural areas had more. One of the main reasons of the success of the solid south was its emphasis on their past and the continuation of traditional government and upholding that legacy.
More modernization continued through the turn of the century. There began to be good population booms in the urban areas. There was also a rapid expansion with industry. Cities were beginning to center themselves the new mills, railroads, and trading ports. Cotton mills spread across the South and grew into large operations with more efficient machinery. New advancements in agriculture allowed for it to become less labor intensive. Therefore, lessening the need for many hired hands. Those workers went to the new urban factories for jobs, many were women and there were few blacks. This quick urbanization of the South did not alter their way of life as much as one would have expected. “Southern towns and cities, no matter how hast they grew, still remained a rustic and rural character. The rural condition, whatever it was- poverty, filth, disease, individualism, fatalism- became the urban condition,’ historian David Goldfield has observed.” As the population began to grow and migrate out of the rural areas the Southerners’ simply carried their identity with them. Although their way of life had changed drastically from being mainly agrarian to industry, they kept up the same work ethic and class divides within the new economic structure. In the early 1900s and with the event of World War I, the South was not faced with normal conditions on which to build and grow from. Economically the South experienced a slight industrial boom with the beginning of the war. Nationally, the South had to join together with the South as one country and the did so very successfully. They also experience a period of intense racism again with the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan. There was much night riding and violence that took place at this time against all blacks. The main outcome of World War I was negative. The farmers had experienced a slight sensation of boom and then rapidly busted. An overproduction of cotton and foreign competition manufacturing synthetic fibers forced the economy into depression. They were also troubled by bouts of bad luck ecologically, the flood of 1927 and droughts through out the 1930s. By 1929, they was a complete collapse of Southern agriculture. “Farmers watched their fortunes decline in the 1920s, ans as depression struck, many more went broke and became sharecroppers or left the land to huddle in small towns or cities or fled north or west in search of opportunity. Factories closed, unemployed workers with no government program to help, roamed the land looking for work.” The depression effected everyone in the South. There was no money, no work, and little help. Rural areas and cities alike began to fall apart as citizens needed to migrate in search for work. It was not until Roosevelt’s New Deal that some progress was beginning to get made. The New Deal brought new legislation to help farmers such as the Agriculture Adjustment Act and the Relief Act. There was also a National Industrial Recovery Act which controlled wages. Roosevelt’s legislation was targeted to rebuild the land through mechanization and expansion. It promoted change in the South, union growth, liberal ideals, and the emergence of the Southern proletariat. While many in the South seemed to be against unions they allowed for fair labor laws which bettered working conditions and helped industry. Economically, the New Deal aided the South in regaining its pride and helped to reestablish the Southern way of life. Politically, the New Deal shifted white democratic power in the South. Black voters began to join along with the democratic party due to the favoritism of Roosevelt. This created a power shift that left the white Southern democrats as the minority in the democratic party. Democratic dominance did remain for the country. New Deal politics introduced social security, pro-union acts, and fair labor standards. For there the South began to make a great recovery. Yet another war emerged to challenge the South. This was the onset of World War II following the New Deal. However, this war provided a much better ending for the South. In the 1940s there was a take off phase for industrialization. World War II brought and increase in defense spending. “The advent of World War II brought great prosperity, for defense industries mushroomed, and military and naval installations were set up throughout the region to take advantage of the milder climates to train millions of fighting men outdoors. Towns became cities almost overnight, the former Confederate States of America experienced a boom time as never before.” Changes were also taking place in agriculture. As the cities began to prosper and the South began mechanization “the marginal subsistence farm was phased out, rural electrification brought lighting for homes and voltage power foe equipment to the remotest countryside, sharecropping and farm tenantry virtually disappeared, and the surplus labor force went to the expanding southern cities and to the industrial metropolises of the north and West to find jobs.” At the end of World War II, there surprisingly was no recession or economic hardship. The South continued to grow. Slowly the South began to stand on its own again and was no longer the economic problem of the nation and could once again feel independent and stable. “The war left the South more prosperous then ever, but it also stirred up issues that had lain dormant for years. Some Southerners, upset at urbanization and at challenges to the color line, looked to the past for tradition. Others, realizing that a return to labor-intensive agriculture and a continuation of segregation and disenfranchisement was futile, dreamed of a future that would move the South closer to the nation at large.” This brought on one of the largest challenges that the South would ever endure, the Civil Right’s Movement. It first began gradually in the 30s and 40s, but came in full swing during the 1950s. This was a transformation of the South. Blacks began to move with mass action and mainly non violent. Leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. were able to help their community by standing up and speaking for their rights. After Plessey vs Ferguson was over turned by Brown vs the Board of Education in 1954, segregation was no longer legal and their cause gained momentum. Despite mass resistance by many whites in the South, the rest of the nation began to come to a consensus that racial discrimination was wrong and should be ended. Blacks began to make their power known. They displayed it through voting tactics and boycotts and sit-ins such a the Montgomery bus boycott that ran the bus line out of commission. Racism began to be attacked internationally and President Truman responded by creating more legislation to help the Civil Right’s Movement. Anti-lynching and anti-poll tax laws were created along with the desegregation of the armed forces. The N.A.A.C.P. which was formed in 1909/1910 began to fight harder for their rights as well. “Resistance to all this by whites was at first massive and determined, occasionally even violent, but there was also a strong element in white sentiment that favored compliance with the law and an end to racial injustice. In a surprisingly brief time the law do the land prevailed.” Desegregation of schools and public facilities continued with swift movement. Soon the South would be fully integrated socially. “Economic discrimination is by no means ended, and racial inequalities aplenty remain, but the onetime Confederacy now constitutes the most thoroughly integrated section of the nation.” Some people even felt that integration was for the best. After all this change and turmoil the question of is the South still Southern? exists. And the answer is yes. Today people of the South still identify with the region, they are a part of a distinctive and separate part of the United States. From their accents to the wonderful Southern hospitality and values the South still remains distinct. It looks back and prides itself on tradition, culture, and the past. “To be a southerner today is still to be heir to a complex set of attitudes and affinities, assumption and instincts, that are the product of history acting upon geography.” When it comes down to the question of continuity and the lasting legend of the South, they have already faced many triumphs, progressions, and tragedies over the years that have only modified their ways. The fact of living from the past and tradition is a part of their culture and will probably continue to be. “This is to say that, even allowing for the utmost diversity and extremes of individual experience, and encompassing attributes both good and bad, worthy and unworthy, there is a shared identity involved, and whatever the complexity of the ingredients that go to make it up, it works in direct and palable ways to cause its members to identify their concerns with those of a particular social and cultural allegiance.” This just signifies the fact that no matter what the South faces they are still able to maintain and even intensify their individuality while always looking back to the tradition of the Old South.