Southern United States
The Southern United States—commonly referred to as the American South or simply the South—constitutes a large distinctive region in the southeastern and south-central United States. Because of the region's unique cultural and historic heritage, including early European colonial settlements, the doctrine of states' rights, the institution of slavery, and the legacy of the Confederacy during the American Civil War, the South has developed its own customs, literature, musical styles, and varied cuisines.
- 1 Geography
- 2 History
- 3 Economy
- 4 Culture
- 5 Politics
- 6 Race relations
- 7 Largest cities in the southern U.S.
- 8 Major metropolitan areas in the Southern U.S.
- 9 Notes
- 10 References
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
- 13 Credits
After the Civil War, the South was largely devastated in terms of its population, infrastructure, and economy. Not until modern times did the situation change. During World War II, new industries and military bases sprang up across the region, providing badly need capital and infrastructure. Farming shifted from cotton and tobacco to include soybeans, corn, and other foods. This growth accelerated in the 1980s and 1990s. Large urban areas rose in Texas, Georgia, and Florida. Rapid expansion in industries such as automobiles, telecommunications, textiles, technology, banking, and aviation gave some states an industrial strength that rivaled large states elsewhere. By the 2000 census, the South (along with the West) was leading the nation in population growth.
As defined by the U.S. Census Bureau, the southern region includes 16 states (with a total 2006 estimated population of 109,083,752) and is split into three smaller units:
- The South Atlantic States: Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware
- The East South Central States: Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee
- The West South Central States: Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas
The popular definition of the "South" is more informal and is generally associated with those states that seceded during the Civil War to form the Confederate States of America. Those states share commonalities of history and culture. The "border states" of the Civil War—specifically Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware—roughly form the northern boundary of the "South." These states have a history of straddling the North-South divide, which was made clear when they did not secede during the Civil War even though they allowed slavery. Depending on the context, these states may or may not be considered part of the South.
The South is a vast, diverse region, having numerous climatic zones, including temperate, sub-tropical, tropical, and arid. Many crops grow easily in its soils and can be grown without frost for at least six months of the year. Some parts of the South, particularly the Southeast, have landscapes characterized by the presence of live oaks, magnolia trees, yellow jessamine vines, and flowering dogwoods. Another common environment is the bayous and swampland of the Gulf Coast, especially in Louisiana. The South is a victim of kudzu, an invasive fast-growing vine that covers large amounts of land and kills indigenous plant life.
The predominant culture of the South has its origins with the settlement of the region by British colonists in the seventeenth century, mostly in coastal regions. In the eighteenth century, large groups of Scots and Ulster-Scots (later called the Scots-Irish) settled in Appalachia and the Piedmont. These people engaged in warfare, trade, and cultural exchanges with the Native Americans already in the region (such as the Creeks and Cherokees).
The Trail of Tears refers to the forced relocation in 1838, of the Cherokee tribe to Indian Territory (modern day Oklahoma), from what is now the state of Georgia. The forced march resulted in the deaths of an estimated 4,000 Cherokee. In the Cherokee language, the event is called Nunna daul Isunyi—“the Trail Where We Cried.” The phrase originated as a description of the forcible removal of the Choctaw nation in 1831.
After 1700, large groups of African slaves were brought in to work on the plantations that dominated export agriculture, growing tobacco, rice, and indigo. Cotton became dominant after 1800. The explosion of cotton cultivation made slavery an integral part of the South's early nineteenth century economy.
The oldest university in the South, the College of William and Mary, was founded in 1693 in Virginia; it pioneered in the teaching of political economy and educated future U.S. presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and John Tyler, all from Virginia. Indeed, the entire region dominated politics in that era: For example, four of the first five Presidents—George Washington, Jefferson, James Madison, and Monroe—were from Virginia.
Two major political issues that festered in the first half of the nineteenth century strengthened the identities of North and South as distinct regions with certain strongly opposed interests and fed the arguments over states' rights that culminated in secession and the American Civil War. One of these issues concerned the protective tariffs enacted to assist the growth of the manufacturing sector, located primarily in the North. In 1832, in resistance to federal legislation increasing tariffs, South Carolina passed an ordinance of nullification, a procedure by which a state would in effect repeal a federal law. A naval flotilla was sent to Charleston harbor, and the threat of landing ground troops was used to compel the collection of tariffs. A compromise was reached by which the tariffs would be gradually reduced, but the underlying argument over states' rights continued to escalate in the following decades.
The second issue concerned slavery, primarily the question of whether slavery would be permitted in newly admitted states. The issue was initially finessed by political compromises designed to balance the number of "free" and "slave" states. The issue resurfaced in more virulent form, however, around the time of the Mexican War, which raised the stakes by adding new territories primarily on the southern side of the imaginary geographic divide.
By 1855, the South was losing political power to the more populous North and was locked in a series of constitutional and political battles with the North regarding states' rights and the status of slavery in the territories. President James K. Polk imposed a low-tariff regime on the country, which angered Pennsylvania industrialists, and blocked proposed federal funding of national roads and port improvements. Seven states decided on secession after the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. They formed the Confederate States of America. In 1861, they were joined by four more states.
The United States government refused to recognize the seceding states as a new country and kept in operation its second to last fort in the South, which the Confederacy captured in April 1861, at the Battle of Fort Sumter, in the port of Charleston, triggering the Civil War. The Confederacy retained a low tariff regime for European imports but imposed a new tax on all imports from the North. A Union blockade stopped most commerce from entering the South, so the Confederate taxes hardly mattered. The southern transportation system depended primarily on river and coastal traffic by boat; both were shut down by the Union navy. The small railroad system virtually collapsed, so that by 1864, internal travel was so difficult that the Confederate economy was crippled.
The Union (so-called because they fought for the United States of America) eventually defeated the Confederate States of America. The South suffered much more than the North, primarily because the war was fought almost entirely in the South. Overall, the Confederacy suffered 95,000 killed in action and 165,000 who died of disease, for a total of 260,000, out of a total white southern population at the time of around 5.5 million. Based on 1860 census figures, 8 percent of all white males aged 13 to 43 died in the war, including 6 percent in the North and an extraordinary 18 percent in the South. Northern casualties exceeded Southern casualties.
After the Civil War, the South was largely devastated in terms of its population, infrastructure, and economy. The republic also found itself under Reconstruction, with military troops in direct political control of the South. White southerners who had actively supported the Confederacy lost many of the basic rights of citizenship (such as voting). With passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States (outlawing slavery), the Fourteenth Amendment (granting full U.S. citizenship to African-Americans), and the Fifteenth Amendment (extending the right to vote to African-American males), blacks began to enjoy more rights than they ever had in the South.
By the 1890s, though, a political backlash against these rights had developed in the South. Organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan—a clandestine organization sworn to perpetuate white supremacy—used lynchings and other forms of violence and intimidation to keep African Americans from exercising their political rights, while Jim Crow laws were created to legally do the same thing. It would not be until the late 1960s that these phenomena would be undermined by the American Civil Rights Movement.
Nearly all southerners, black and white, suffered as a result of the Civil War. With the region devastated by its loss and the destruction of its civil infrastructure, much of the South was generally unable to recover economically until after World War II. Locked into low productivity agriculture, the region's growth was slowed by limited industrial development, low levels of entrepreneurship, and the lack of capital investment.
The first major oil well in the South was drilled near Beaumont, Texas, on the morning of January 10, 1901. Other oil fields were later discovered nearby in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and under the Gulf of Mexico. The resulting boom permanently transformed the economy of the western South Central states and led to the first significant economic expansion since the Civil War.
The economy, which for the most part had still not recovered from the Civil War, was dealt a double blow by the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. After the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the economy suffered significant reversals and millions were left unemployed. From 1934 until 1939, an ecological disaster of severe wind and drought, known as the Dust Bowl, caused an exodus from Texas and Arkansas, the Oklahoma Panhandle region, and the surrounding plains, in which over 500,000 Americans were homeless, hungry, and jobless. Thousands left the region to seek economic opportunities on the West Coast.
World War II marked a time of change in the South, as new industries and military bases sprang up across many areas of the region, providing badly need capital and infrastructure. People from all parts of the United States came to the South for military training and to work. Farming shifted from cotton and tobacco to include soybeans, corn, and other foods. This growth increased in the 1960s, and greatly accelerated in the 1980s and 1990s. Large urban areas with over four million people rose in Texas, Georgia, and Florida. Rapid expansion in industries such as automobiles, telecommunications, textiles, technology, banking, and aviation gave some states in the South an industrial strength that rivaled large states elsewhere. By the 2000 census, the South (along with the West) was leading the nation in population growth. With this growth, however, came long commute times and serious air pollution problems in cities such as Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Miami, Austin, and Charlotte.
The South has historically been financially disadvantaged when compared to the United States as a whole. After the Civil War, nearly the entire economic infrastructure of the region was in ruins. Since there were few industrial businesses located in the South at the time, other possible sources of income were scarce. Most former slaves had no training or experience in anything besides agriculture.
After World War II, the development of the Interstate Highway System, household air conditioning and later, passage of federal civil rights bills, the South was successful at attracting industry and business from other parts of the country, particularly the Rust Belt region of the Northeast and the Great Lakes. Poverty rates and unemployment declined as a result. Federal programs such as the Appalachian Regional Commission also contributed to economic growth.
While much of the Southern United States has advanced considerably since World War II, poverty persists in some areas, like eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia. The Mexican border area in Texas takes the brunt of poverty in the South today.
Southern culture has been and remains generally more socially conservative than the rest of the country. Because of the central role of agriculture in the economy, society remained stratified according to land ownership. Rural communities often developed strong attachment to their churches as the primary community institution.
Southerners are often viewed as more relaxed and the southern lifestyle as slower paced. Southerners are also stereotyped as being resistant to change. They are also reputed to be polite and well-mannered, particularly in welcoming visitors; this characteristic has been labeled as "southern hospitality."
Until the mid nineteenth century, traditional Southerners were either Episcopalian or Presbyterian due to the South's close ancestral ties to England, Scotland, and the Irish province of Ulster. Around the beginning of the Civil War and thereafter, Baptist and Methodist churches became the most prevalent forms of Christianity in the region. Perhaps more than any other region of an industrialized nation, the South has a high concentration of Christian adherents, resulting in the reference to parts of the South as the "Bible Belt," from the presence of evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants, conservative Catholicism, as well as Pentacostalism and Charismatics.
There are significant Catholic populations in most cities in the South, such as Atlanta, Savannah, Mobile, New Orleans, Baltimore, and Louisville. Rural areas of the Gulf coast, particularly those populated by Cajuns and Creoles, are also heavily Catholic. In general, the inland regions of the South such as Arkansas, Tennessee, and Alabama have stronger concentrations of Baptists, Methodists, Church of Christ, and other Protestants. Eastern and northern Texas are also heavily Protestant, while the southern parts of the state have Mexican American Catholic majorities. The South Florida area is home to the country's second largest concentration of Jewish people. Cities such as Miami, Atlanta, Dallas, and Houston have significant Jewish and Muslim communities. Immigrants from Southeast Asia and South Asia have brought Buddhism and Hinduism to the region as well. Atlanta has one of the largest Kurd populations in the world outside the Middle East.
There is no single "southern accent." Rather, southern American English is a collection of dialects of the English language spoken throughout the South. Southern American English can be divided into different sub-dialects, with speech differing between, for example, the Appalachian region and the coastal "low country" around Charleston,South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia. Along this part of the southeastern coast, Gullah is still spoken by some African-Americans, particularly the older generation.
Folklorists in the 1920s and later argued that Appalachian language patterns more closely mirror Elizabethan English than other accents in the United States.
In addition to linguistics, the cuisine of the South is often described as one of its most distinctive traits. But just as history and culture vary across the broad region known as the South, the traditional cuisine varies as well. In modern times, there is little difference between the diet of typical Southerners and the diet in other regions of the U.S, but the South draws on multiple unique culinary influences to form its "traditional" foods. Southern cuisine also provides some of the best examples of distinctly American cuisine—that is, foods and styles that were born in the United States as opposed to adopted from elsewhere.
The food most commonly associated with the term "southern food" is often called "soul food" and is characterized by the heavy use of lards and fats. This style draws on the mix of African influences as well as Native American, Scots-Irish, and others. Southern fried chicken, black-eyed peas, cornbread, and biscuits are just a few examples of foods typically lumped into this category.
Barbecue is a food typically associated with the South, though it is also common throughout the Midwest. Consisting of meat that has been slow-cooked and heavily seasoned, it is characterized by sharp regional divides in style preferences. In Texas, it is often beef based, while in North Carolina it is typically pork based.
The unique history of Louisiana and the Mississippi Delta provides a unique culinary environment as well. Cajun and Creole evolved from the broad mix of cultural influences in this area—including Acadian, African, Caribbean, French, Native American, and Spanish.
Texas and its proximity and shared history with Mexico ultimately helped give rise to the modern Tex-Mex cuisine.
Perhaps the most famous southern writer is William Faulkner, who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1949. Faulkner brought new techniques, such as stream of consciousness and complex narrative, to American writing.
Other well-known Southern writers include Mark Twain (whose Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer are two of the most read books about the South), Zora Neale Hurston, Eudora Welty, Thomas Wolfe, William Styron, Flannery O'Connor, Carson McCullers, James Dickey, Willie Morris, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Walker Percy, Barry Hannah, Robert Penn Warren, Cormac McCarthy, James Agee, and Harry Crews.
Possibly the most famous southern novel of the twentieth century was Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, published in 1937. Another famous southern novel, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, won the Pulitzer Prize after it was published in 1960.
The South offers some of the richest music in the United States. The musical heritage of the South was developed by both whites and blacks, influencing each other directly and indirectly.
The South's musical history actually starts before the Civil War, with the songs of the African slaves and the traditional folk music brought from the British Isles. Blues was developed in the rural South by blacks at the beginning of the twentieth century. In addition, gospel music, spirituals, country music, rhythm and blues, soul music, funk, rock and roll, bluegrass, jazz (including ragtime, popularized by southerner Scott Joplin), and Appalachian folk music were either born in the South or developed in the region.
In general, country music is based on the folk music of white southerners, and blues and rhythm and blues are based on black southern forms. However, whites and blacks alike have contributed to each of these genres, and there is considerable overlap between the traditional music of blacks and whites in the South, particularly in gospel music forms. A stylish variant of country music (predominantly produced in Nashville) has been a consistent, widespread fixture of American pop since the 1950s, while insurgent forms (for example, bluegrass) have traditionally appealed to more discerning subcultural and rural audiences. Blues dominated the black music charts from the advent of modern recording until the mid-1950s, when it was supplanted by the less guttural and forlorn sounds of rock and R&B.
Zydeco, Cajun, and swamp pop, despite having never enjoyed greater regional or mainstream popularity, still thrive throughout French Louisiana and its peripheries, such as southeastern Texas.
Rock n' roll largely began in the South in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Early rock n' roll musicians from the South include Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Bo Diddley, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, James Brown, Otis Redding, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis, among many others. Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, while generally regarded as "country" singers, also had a significant role in the development of rock music.
In the century after Reconstruction, the white South strongly identified with the Democratic Party. This lock on power was so strong the region was called the Solid South. Republicans controlled parts of the Appalachian Mountains and competed for power in the border states, but otherwise it was rare for a southern politician to be a Republican before the 1960s.
Increasing support for civil rights legislation by the Democratic Party at the national level during the 1940s caused a split between conservative southern Democrats and other Democrats in the country. Until the passage of the civil rights laws of the 1960s, conservative southern Democrats ("Dixiecrats") argued that only they could defend the region from the onslaught of northern liberals and the civil rights movement. In response to the Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954, 101 southern congressmen denounced the Supreme Court decision as a "clear abuse of judicial power." The manifesto was signed by all southern senators except Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson and Tennessee senators Albert Gore, Sr. and Estes Kefauver. Virginia closed some schools rather than integrate, but no other state followed suit. An element resisted integration, led by Democratic governors Orval Faubus of Arkansas, Ross Barnett of Mississippi, Lester Maddox of Georgia, and George Wallace of Alabama.
The Democratic Party's dramatic reversal on civil rights issues culminated when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Meanwhile, the Republicans were beginning their southern strategy, which aimed to solidify the party's electoral hold over conservative white southerners. Southern Democrats took notice that 1964 Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater had voted against the Civil Rights Act, and in the presidential election of 1964, Goldwater's only electoral victories outside his home state of Arizona were in the states of the Deep South.
The transition to a Republican stronghold took decades. First, the states started voting Republican in presidential elections—the Democrats countered by nominating such southerners as Jimmy Carter in 1976 and 1980, Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996, and Al Gore in 2000. Then the states began electing Republican senators and finally governors. In addition to the middle class and business base, Republicans attracted strong majorities from the evangelical Christian vote, which had not been a distinct political demographic prior to 1980.
There was major resistance to desegregation in the mid 1960s to early 1970s. Those issues faded away, replaced by culture wars between the conservatives and liberals over issues such as abortion and gay marriage.
The South produced most of the U.S. presidents prior to the Civil War. After that, memories of the war made it impossible for a southerner to become president unless he either moved north (like Woodrow Wilson) or was a vice president who moved up (like Harry Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson). In 1976, Jimmy Carter became the first southerner to break the pattern since Zachary Taylor in 1848. The last three presidents, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, have all been from the South: George H.W. Bush was a congressman from Texas, Clinton was governor of Arkansas, and George W. Bush was governor of Texas.
Other politicians and political movements
The South has produced numerous other well-known politicians and political movements.
In 1948, a group of Democratic congressmen, led by Governor Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, split from the Democrats in reaction to an anti-segregation speech given by Senator Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, founding the States Rights Democratic or Dixiecrat Party. During that year's presidential election, the party unsuccessfully ran Thurmond as its candidate.
In the 1968 presidential election, Alabama Governor George C. Wallace ran for president on the American Independent Party ticket. Wallace ran a "law and order" campaign similar to that of Republican candidate Richard Nixon. Nixon's Southern Strategy downplayed race issues and focused on culturally conservative values, such as family issues, patriotism, and cultural issues.
In 1994, another Southern politician, Newt Gingrich, ushered in 12 years of GOP control of the House. Gingrich became Speaker of the House of Representatives in 1995, but was forced to resign after mishandling the impeachment of southerner Bill Clinton in 1998. Tom DeLay was the most powerful Republican leader in Congress until his abrupt criminal indictment in 2005. Recent Republican Senate leaders from the South included Howard Baker of Tennessee, Trent Lott of Mississippi, Bill Frist of Tennessee, and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
African-Americans have a long history in the South, stretching back to the early settlements in the region. Beginning in the early seventeenth century, black slaves were purchased from slave traders who brought them from Africa (or, less often, from the Caribbean) to work on plantations. Most slaves arrived in the period 1700-1750.
Slavery ended with the South's defeat in the Civil War. During the Reconstruction period that followed, African Americans saw advancements in civil rights and political power in the South. As Reconstruction ended, however, southern whites took steps to prevent black people from holding power. After 1890, the Deep South disfranchised many African Americans.
With no voting rights and no voice in government, blacks were subjected to what were known as Jim Crow laws, a system of racial segregation and discrimination in all public facilities. Blacks were given separate schools (in which all students, teachers, and administrators were black). Most hotels and restaurants served only whites. Movie theaters had separate seating areas; railroads had separate cars; buses were divided forward and rear. Neighborhoods were segregated as well, though blacks and whites did shop in the same stores. Blacks were not called to serve on juries, and they were not allowed to vote in the primary elections (which usually decided the election outcome).
In response to this treatment, the South witnessed two major events in the lives of twentieth century African Americans: The Great Migration and the Civil Rights Movement.
The Great Migration began during World War I and hit its high point during World War II. Black people left the racism and lack of opportunities in the South and settled in northern cities such as Chicago, where they found work in factories and other sectors of the economy. This migration produced a new sense of independence in the black community and contributed to the vibrant black urban culture seen during the Harlem Renaissance.
The migration also empowered the growing Civil Rights Movement. While the movement existed in all parts of the United States, its focus was against the Jim Crow laws in the South. Most of the major events in the movement occurred in the South, including the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Mississippi Freedom Summer, the March on Selma, Alabama, and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. As a result of the Civil Rights Movement, Jim Crow laws across the South were dropped. Today, while many people believe race relations in the South to still be a contested issue, many others believe the region leads the country in working to end racial strife. A second migration appears to be underway, with African Americans from the North moving to the South in record numbers.
Largest cities in the southern U.S.
|Rank||City||State(s) and/or Territory||July 1, 2006|
Major metropolitan areas in the Southern U.S.
|Rank||Metropolitan Area||State(s) and/or Territory||July 1, 2006|
|4||Miami–Fort Lauderdale–Pompano Beach||FL||5,463,857|
|11||Virginia Beach–Norfolk–Newport News||VA–NC||1,649,457|
- Williamson, David. June 2, 1999. UNC-CH surveys reveal where the ‘real’ South lies Carolina News Services. Retrieved December 17, 2007.
- Matthew White, Nineteenth Century Death Tolls: American Civil War, Statistics of Wars, Oppressions and Atrocities of the Nineteenth Century. Retrieved December 17, 2007.
- Craig Lambert, The Deadliest War, Harvard Magazine. Retrieved December 17, 2007.
- PBS.org, First Measured Century: Interview with James Gregory. Retrieved December 17, 2007.
- Charles Morrow Wilson, “Elizabethan America,” Atlantic Monthly, August 1929: 238—44.
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
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- McWhiney, Grady. In Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways in the Old South. 1988.
- Odem, Mary. "Global Lives, Local Struggles: Latin American Immigrants in Atlanta." Southern Spaces 2006
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- Winders, Jamie. "Latino Migration and Nashville, Tennessee," Southern Spaces 2004.
- US Census Bureau region map. Retrieved April 9, 2006.
- US Census Bureau metropolitan area statistics, table 3a. Retrieved April 9, 2006.
- Edward L. Ayers (1993). The Promise of the New South: Life after Reconstruction. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-508548-5.
- Monroe Lee Billington (1975). The Political South in the 20th Century. Scribner. ISBN 0-684-13983-9.
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All links retrieved November 17, 2019.
- DocSouth: Documenting the American South - numerous online text, image, and audio collections
- Southern Arts Federation
- Southern Spaces—an open-access peer-reviewed scholarly journal examining the spaces and places of the American South.
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