THE SOUTH – UNREPENTENT
In many countries the parts don’t fit together comfortably, i.e. regional differences and rivalries produce deep divisions and ongoing mistrust. The Scots may prefer to go their own way and leave Great Britain; Northern Italians don’t much care for their Southern countrymen; Kurds in the North of Iraq barely belong to the rest of the country; and what keeps Belgium together is an ongoing mystery.
And in the United States, let’s not forget the South. That region has long been a problem. Southerners welcomed the Revolution and gave us George Washington (although they also joined the ranks of the Tories in large numbers). Southern states endorsed the Constitution (largely because of its three-fifths rule, which gave enhanced power to the South by allowing them to include their slaves in a population count which determined representation) and supplied all the early Presidents (except the Adams’s) until 1828.
But while the North freed the slaves in the years after 1800, the South encouraged the growth and spread of slavery. A South based upon slave-grown cotton came increasingly to resent an industrializing North and the growing number of vocal abolitionists there. As a result Southern adventurers began plotting to invade and annex territories (which would be open to slavery) to the South – especially Cuba and parts of Central America. When these schemes failed and Lincoln was elected President in 1860, the South chose to secede from the Union. And so the war came, by far the bloodiest we’ve ever fought.
Though it lost, the South resisted Northern demands that the recently freed slaves, now U.S. citizens and able to vote, be treated fairly. White supremacist groups, such as the KKK and the Knights of the White Camelia, instead turned to attacking black communities and murdering those who resisted. Ultimately black voting essentially ended in the South and a system of racialized social segregation was imposed in one Southern state after another. Blacks who resisted (often consigned to chain gangs or sent to toil in a convict labor system) also risked being lynched before approving white crowds which, on occasion, then rampaged through black neighborhoods or communities. It would come as no surprise then when, beginning in the first years of the 20th Century, the “great Migration” of blacks out of the South and to the Northwest gained momentum.
As we move through those years, the South remained the poorest region of the U.S., as well as a section attracted to fundamentalist religion and an area bitterly opposed to labor unions. It was also the “Solid South,” i.e., uniformly loyal to the Democratic Party. In Congress this meant that Southern representatives were repeatedly re-elected which gave them seniority and with it the chairmanships of many powerful Congressional committees. From there they wielded considerable influence over New Deal legislation, usually voting to limit the scope of the laws and to ensure that they did not threaten racial “arrangements” in the region.
After World War II, the South (always supportive of the military) signed on to the Cold War, and the Anti-Communist Crusade, backed the Military Industrial Complex and the creation of the Security State. But, the Civil Rights movement became the main focus of attention with the South reacting with “massive resistance” to desegregation and voting rights for African Americans. This resistance fit neatly into the South’s narrative about the coming of the Civil War. Once again the Confederacy (Confederate flags became even more popular in the south in this period) would, they said, need to stand up against Northern oppression and rise to the defense of “States Rights”.
One result of the ensuing turmoil was to turn the solidly Democratic South into a bastion of the Republican Party. In state after state Republicans replaced Democratic officeholders who were now tainted by the passage of Civil Rights legislation during the Johnson administration. In time traditional Southern Conservatives morphed into hyper Conservatives and super patriots, organizing around such issues as abortion, guns, religion in the schools, gay rights, creationism and at the Affordable Care Act. The “White Man” was once again defending the nation from its detractors and from those prepared to curtail “freedom” and scuttle traditional values.
Even before Secession in 1861, the South had often been on the wrong side of history. There is, as we’ve seen, considerable evidence that since then not much has changed.