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Dixie - After The War

Deep SouthWith the loss of the War, the South's economic underpinnings were badly damaged. Railroads were torn up and equipment confiscated, shipping terminals disrupted, and most of the scattered industrial base destroyed. Confederate currency and bonds were worthless. Cotton stocks awaiting postwar sale in warehouses and ports were confiscated by northern forces. Farms and fields were in disrepair, and implements and livestock were often stolen or lost. The slave labor supply was formally eliminated, and large landholdings broken up or heavily taxed.

The first half-century following the Civil War was a period of readjustment for the South. The white population proceeded through several alternative reactions to the emancipated status of the large black population before finally settling into institutionalized segregation. Blacks, for their part, experienced changes in opportunity that were largely out of their control until more than a half-century after the war. This was also a period during which southern attitudes and feelings of isolation from the remainder of the country became even more inflexible.

The disintegration of the antebellum economic organization led to difficult times for most of the South's population during the 12-year period of reconstruction (1865-1877) following the Civil War. Quite aside from the destruction of transportation and manufacturing capacity, the plantation economy had become refined to the point of rigidity and overdependence on slave labor. After the war, a continuation of intense exploitation was necessary to meet heavy taxation and other costs of rebuilding. The resource most available for exploitation continued to be the land; thus, cotton production remained dominant in the region's economy.

The other factors necessary for production, however, were much less readily available. Local capital was scarce, with much of it consumed by the war effort or drawn off after the war by the North through taxation. Interest rates increased sharply, and farmers found themselves continually in debt. This tended to perpetuate the southern dependence on agriculture.

With few jobs available in the small towns, most rural blacks were forced to make whatever arrangements they could with the remaining white landowners. Sharecropping - in which blacks were provided with credit for tools, seeds, living quarters, and food in return for a share of the crops raised on another's land - became the means of subsistence and the way of life, just as it was for many poor whites who had lost their land.

Once this pattern was established, it was enforced with "black codes" that restricted black movements outside the agricultural areas and with a continuation of low educational opportunities. Even when they owned their land, black farmers were hampered by poor access to credit, farm sizes too small to be highly productive, and the anti-black aspects of the regional culture.

About 1880, the environment for economic opportunities in the South entered a new phase. During this decade, manufacturing experienced rapid development led by the growth of the cotton textile industry. By 1929, 57 percent of the nation's cotton textile spindles were in the South, over two and a half times the share existing in 1890.

Natural fiber industries began to appear in the region to produce the raw material for cotton textile manufacturers, just as the textile industries provide the raw material for apparel manufacturing. Taking advantage of proximity, the growth in textile and apparel manufacturing across the Carolina Piedmont and in northern Georgia was followed by an increase in the number and output of fiber industries.

Cotton textile manufacturing was not the only new source of industrial opportunities. Reconstruction of the region's railroads and other public improvements stimulated the flow of money and the development of railroad towns. Cigarette manufacturing began to be focused in the tobacco regions of North Carolina and Virginia. With the establishment of a new federal land policy and a strengthened railroad network, the South's large timber resources began to be exploited. Much of the timber was taken out as a raw material, but furniture manufacturing in North Carolina and Virginia and (after 1936) pulp and paper manufacturing throughout the South also were an outgrowth of the exploitation. These industries continue to be important.

Also, during the last quarter of the 19th century, technological improvements in iron-making led to the rise of Chattanooga, Tennessee, as an important center of iron production. At the same time, a large deposit of high-quality coking coal was discovered near Birmingham, Alabama, and exploitation of the seam was begun before the end of the decade. Numerous iron-making companies and iron- and steel-using industries accumulated in and around Birmingham and Chattanooga. These two cities combined with the transport focus and subsidiary industries in Atlanta, Georgia, to form an important industrial triangle by the end of the century.

This development was significant in the economic geography of the South because of the way in which iron and steel production tended to draw other manufacturers dependent on steel - industries that were not as low-skill and low-wage as textile and tobacco product manufacturing. Also, this centrally located region of nonagricultural economic development could have been an industrial focus for the South as a whole, stimulating increases in labor skills, income levels, and general economic welfare through each city's connections with other major urban centers.

This did occur to some degree, but discriminatory shipping rates imposed on Birmingham manufactured products dampened the beneficial effects considerably. Even though this pricing practice was eventually ruled illegal and stopped, the policy severely restricted the competitive cost advantage of Alabama steel during the rapid economic expansion decades of the early 20th century and contributed to the slow growth of southern industry.

In the late 1880s and the 1890s, restrictive laws were passed in each southern state requiring racial separation in more and more aspects of southern life. Formal segregation had many geographic expressions. Two sets of schools were operated. Two sets of restaurants, recreation facilities, park benches, drinking fountains, restrooms, and other points of potential contact between blacks and whites had to be constructed and maintained. Housing was separated into white areas and black areas. Entry into certain occupations was restricted, and both overt and covert restrictions were placed on black efforts to vote.

For almost 50 years following the end of the Civil War, the slow trickle of black migrants who left the South increased very little. Thus, 91.5 percent of all U.S. blacks resided in the South in 1870 and 89 percent in 1910. During the next decade, however, the number of black emigrants increased sharply, "pushed" by restrictive laws, violence, and near-subsistence economic conditions. Too, World War I led to a strenuous effort by northern industries to "pull" blacks (and poor whites) from the South.

Prior to 1914, national industrial expansion had depended on millions of European immigrants to meet the large demand for labor. More than one-third of the US population in 1910 was foreign born or had at least one parent born outside the country.

When the war shut off this supply, an alternative was found in the large unemployed and underemployed southern labor pool.

The southern economy might not have suffered from the exodus of blacks if the population involved had not also been selective. Most blacks who left were between the ages of 18 and 35. Raised in the South, this group's most economically productive years were then spent outside the region. Many of those who remained behind were in their later productive years, retired, or not yet in the labor force. Racial limitations on opportunities in professional occupations also resulted in a loss of many of the most highly trained young people from the region.

Another consequence of the Civil War was an intensification of the sectionalism already felt in the region. The South is the only part of the United States to have suffered occupation by a conquering army, and more than a century and a great deal of economic growth did little to temper the bitterness that followed.

The Civil War and reconstruction were also instrumental in unifying Southern whites. The "Solid South" was a term that indicated that the entire region voted as a bloc and often in direct contradiction to other national trends. The war and reconstruction were associated with the North and the Republican party, so southern whites became stubborn opposition Democrats. When southern whites could no longer tolerate the ideological connection with the Democratic party, the explicit sectional label "southern Democrats" became common.

Today, national political changes and southern cultural changes have remade the South, which has remainedr solid, but not Democratic. The full range of the political spectrum is represented among southern elected officials, although the whites now vote Republican, and the blacks vote Democrat.

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Page last modified: 01-11-2017 19:24:05 ZULU