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Chapter 17 A New South: Economic Progress and Social Tradition 1877–1900
MAP 17–1 Railroads in the South, 1859 and 1899 A postwar railroad construction boom promoted commercial agriculture and industry in the South. Unlike the railroads of the prewar South, uniform gauges and connections to major trunk lines in the North linked southerners to the rest of the nation. Northern interests, however, owned the major southern railroads in 1899, and most of the products flowing northward were raw materials to be processed by northern industry or shipped elsewhere by northern merchants.
The economic advance of African Americans in the South during the decades after the Civil War against great odds provided one of the more inspiring success stories of the era. But it was precisely this success, as depicted here at Dr. McDougald’s Drug Store in Georgia, in 1900, that infuriated whites who believed that the African American’s place in the South resided in menial and subservient occupations.
Howard University Law School Class These men would form what black leader, W.E.B. Du Bois called “The Talented Tenth,” the new African-American leadership for the new twentieth century. Note the pride and determination of these men.
FIGURE 17–1 Per Capita Income in the South as a Percentage of the U.S. Average, 1860–1920 This graph illustrates the devastating effect of the Civil War on the southern economy. Southerners began a slow recovery during the 1880s that accelerated after 1900. But even as late as 1920, per capita income in the South was still lower relative to the country as a whole than it had been before the Civil War. Data Source: Richard A. Easterlin, “Regional Economic Trends, 1840–1950,” in American Economic History, ed. Seymour E. Harris (1961).
By the 1890s, textile mills were a common sight in towns throughout the South. The mills provided employment for impoverished rural families, especially women and children.
FIGURE 17–2 The Price of Cotton, 1869–1910 The steadily declining price of cotton after the Civil War, from 18 cents a pound to 5 cents a pound by the early 1890s, reflected extreme overproduction. Behind the numbers lay an impoverished rural South. Data Source: U.S. Department of Commerce, Historical Statistics of the United States: Colonial Times to 1957.
The faces of this white sharecropper family in North Carolina reflect the harshness of farm life in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century South, a period when thousands of southerners, white and black alike, slipped from land ownership to sharecropping.
Southern white women played a major role in memorializing the Civil War and Confederate veterans. Here, a float prepared for a Confederate Veterans parade includes the major symbols of the Lost Cause, including the prominent pictures of Robert E. Lee, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, and Jefferson Davis, as well as the Confederate Battle Flag. The sponsorship of a casket company affords some irony to the photograph.
Lynching became a public spectacle, a ritual designed to reinforce white supremacy. Note the matter-of-fact satisfaction of the spectators at this gruesome murder of a black man.
Ida B. Wells, an outspoken critic of lynching, fled to Chicago following the People’s Grocery lynchings in Memphis in 1892 and became a national civil-rights leader.
Segregation by law accelerated after the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision, but public conveyances often failed to abide by the “equal” portion of the separate-but-equal ruling. African Americans in the South fought racial separation and exclusion vigorously, as this excerpt from a black newspaper in Cleveland attests. July 14, 1900.
Racial stereotypes permeated American popular culture by the turn of the twentieth century. Images like this advertisement for Pullman railroad cars, which depicts a deferential black porter attending to white passengers, reinforced racist beliefs that black people belonged in servile roles. Immersed in such images, white people assumed they depicted the natural order of things. Collection of The New York Historical Society. Negative number 51391.
The offices of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, around 1900. Founded by John Merrick, C. C. Spaulding, and Dr. A. M. Moore (all of whom appear in the picture), this Durham-based insurance company became one of the most successful black enterprises in the country.
FIGURE 17–3 Disfranchisement and Educational Spending in the South, 1890–1910 By barring black people from the political process, franchise restrictions limited their access to government services. Educational expenditures, which increased for white people but decreased for black people following disfranchisement, provide one measure of the result. Data Source: Robert A. Margo, “Disfranchisement, School Finance, and the Economics of Segregated Schools in the United States South, 1890–1910,” Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1982.
Ku Klux Klan march, Houston, Texas—publicity during economic summit
A “Keep the Flag Change the Governor” political sign is shown in a yard in Louisville, Miss., Oct. 9, 2003. Two years after Mississippi voters decided to keep a Confederate battle emblem on their state banner, the flag has again become an issue in the governor’s race. in a television ad, Republican gubernatorial nominee Haley Barbour said Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove “attacked” the state flag when he insisted on giving voters a change to decide the banner’s design in 2001. Barbour’s campaign office in Yazoo City, Miss., was also distributing “Keep the Flag. Change the Governor” campaign materials.
NAACP members supporting the economic boycott of South Carolina over the continuing presence of the Confederate flag on Statehouse grounds in Columbia, demonstrate prior to a speech by Kweisi Mfume, the national president of the NAACP, Friday, April 19, 2003, at a state welcome station near Fort Mill, S.C.
Booker T. Washington (left) and W. E. B. Du Bois (right). The differences between these two prominent black leaders reflected in part the differences between the North and the South in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The northern-born Du Bois challenged segregation and pinned his hopes for improving the condition of African Americans on a talented elite. The southern-born Washington counseled acquiescence to segregation, maintaining that black people could ultimately gain the acceptance of white society through self-improvement and hard work.
Key Questions: • What characterized continuity and change between the Old South and the New South? • What were the origins and nature of southern populism? • What were women’s role in the South? • How and why did segregation and disfranchisement change race relations in the South?
The Newness of the New South • An industrial and urban South • The “newness” of the New South concerned the economy, especially the rise of industry and a corresponding urbanization. • Birmingham, Alabama epitomized the one aspect of the New South as iron and steel mills emerged in the city.The southern textile industry also grew, especially in the Piedmont. The tobacco and soft drink industries also became important economic aspects of the South. • Southern railroad construction boomed in the 1880s, tying the section together and stimulating the rise of interior cities. • Map: Railroads in the South, 1859, p. 486 • Map: Railroads in the South, 1899, p. 487.
The Newness of the New South, cont’d. • The limits of industrial and urban growth • Southern urban and industrial growth was rapid but barely kept pace with the northern boom. • A weak agricultural economy and high rural birthrate kept wages in the South low and undermined the southern economy. Consumer demand was low limiting the market for southern manufacturing goods. Low wages also had other negative effects, including keeping immigrants away. • The South remained a section apart. The Civil War had wiped out its capital resources, making it a colony of the North. Investment seemed riskier making the South dependent on numerous small investors.
The Newness of the New South, cont’d. • Farms to cities: impact on southern society • Industrialization had a huge impact on the South. • Failed farmers moved to textile villages but by 1900, almost one-third of the textile mill work force were children under fourteen and women. • Between 1880 and 1900, the gap between rural and urban areas widened. • The urban South attracted the region’s talented and ambitious young men.
The Southern Agrarian Revolt • Cotton and credit • The cash-poor economy meant credit dominated. Cotton was the only commodity easily converted into cash and so became the only one accepted for credit. • The web of credit extended from farmers to local merchants to city merchants.
The Southern Agrarian Revolt, cont’d. • Southern farmers organize, 1877–1892 • Declining conditions led farmers to fight for improvements. They supported lower interest rates, easier credit, regulation of railroad freight rates, and lower commodity prices. • By 1875, nearly 250,000 southern farmers had joined the Patrons of Husbandry, often called the Grange. The leaders were large farmers. • The most powerful farm reform organization was the Southern Farmers’ Alliance that originated in Texas. It became a surrogate government and church for many small farmers. It developed into the People’s Party.
The Southern Agrarian Revolt • Southern populists • Facing growing financial pressures in the 1880s and early 1890s combined with the failure of major political parties to address their concerns, northern and southern farmers joined the Alliance and supported the People’s Party. • The People’s Party supported the direct election of U. S. senators, an income tax, government ownership of railroads, woman suffrage, and other credit easing proposals. • Southern populists were ambivalent about African Americans but populists in Texas and Georgia openly appealed for black votes. • In the 1892 election, Populists made inroads in some southern state legislators.
Women in the New South • Church work and preserving memories • Church work provided an avenue for southern women to enter the public arena. They founded home missions to promote industrial education among the poor and help working-class women become self-sufficient. • Religion led southern white women to join the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. • The reform movement among middle-class southern white women was conservative in nature.
Women in the New South, cont’d. • Women’s clubs • A broader spectrum of southern middle-class women joined women’s clubs that were church-sponsored or memorial organizations. • Women’s clubs often federated into a larger organization and frequently discussed political issues. • The activities of black women’s clubs paralleled those of white women’s clubs. • Public white women’s clubs maintained white solidarity. • The plight of young white working-class and farm women was the primary interest of most southern white women’s clubs.
Settling the Race Issue • The fluidity of southern race relations, 1877–1890 • Race relations remained fluid between 1877 and the early 1890s. Many African American voted and held office. • Segregation was the rule in churches, schools, some organizations, and some public places, but whites and blacks conducted business with each other and otherwise maintained cordial relations. • During the 1880s, African Americans joined interracial unions and were active in the Republican Party.
Settling the Race Issue, cont’d. • The white backlash • As young African Americans demanded full participation in American society, white Southerners of the same generation resented the changed status of African Americans. • The South’s deteriorating rural economy and the volatile politics of the late 1880s and early 1890s heightened tensions between the races. Racial rhetoric and violence escalated. • Lynch law • White mobs lynched nearly 2,000 black Southerners between 1882 and 1903. • Memphis journalist Ida B. Wells launched an anti-lynching crusade.
Settling the Race Issue, cont’d. • Segregation by law • Southern white lawmakers tried to bolster white solidarity and guarantee African American subservience in the 1890s by legalized segregation and disfranchisement of black voters. • In the 1870s, racial segregation in public places was spreading in southern cities and ending in northern urban areas. • New segregation legislation focused on railroads and providing “separate but equal” facilities. • In 1896, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that separate but equal was constitutional in the Plessy v. Ferguson case. • Jim Crow laws extended racial segregation.
Settling the Race Issue, cont’d. • Disfranchisement • The movement to reduce or eliminate the black vote in the South began in the 1880s. • Disfranchisement included a variety of measures such as complicating the registration and voting process as well as instituting the secret ballot. • The poll tax and the grandfather clauses also helped eliminate black voters. • African Americans protested disfranchisement vigorously but to no avail.
Settling the Race Issue, cont’d. • A national consensus on race • In the 1890s, apparently a majority of Americans agreed that African Americans were inferior and should be treated as second-class citizens. • Popular culture stereotypes combined with intellectual and political opinions in the North supported southern policy.
Settling the Race Issue, cont’d. • Response of the black community • By the 1880s, a new, black middle class had emerged in the South. Centered in the city, business and professional African Americans served a primarily black clientele. • Black women played an increasingly active and prominent role in African American communities. Black women’s clubs developed to address the new era in race relations. • Booker T. Washington advocated learning industrial skills to help African Americans gain self-respect and economic independence. He supported the Atlanta Compromise. • W.E.B DuBois challenged Washington and supported self-help, education, and black pride, helping found the NAACP.
Conclusion • In 1900, the South was more like the rest of the nation than at any other time since 1800. • White Southerners promoted national reconciliation but maintained the peculiarities of the region. • The New South was both American and southern.