The South continued to struggle to find its new place in the country after the Civil War and Reconstruction. The days of the “Old South”-- The Lost Cause, chivalry, slavery as a “positive good”, etc (Gone With the Wind, anyone?) were over. Despite some small areas of industrialization and some rallying calls to construct a “New South,” the south struggled to rebuild.
Some southerners promoted a new vision for a self-sufficient southern economy built on modern capitalist values, industrial growth, and improved transportation. Railroads and the expansion of markets led to increased industrial production and new city development. Henry Grady, the editor of the Atlanta Constitution spread the gospel of the New South with editorials that argued for economic diversity and laissez-faire capitalism.
Despite progress, the South remained a largely agricultural section and also the poorest region in the country. The poverty of the majority of southerners was not caused by northern capitalists. Two other factors were chiefly responsible:
Although slavery has been outlawed, landowners continued to employ African Americans on their plantations through tenant farming and sharecropping.
Sharecropping is a type of agricultural system in which the landowners provide resources to farmers in return for a portion of the profits the farmers make from their crops. While this may sound reasonable, many former slaves had no choice but to work as tenants for white landowners. They could not legally own land and had to work for others.
Tenant Farming was another similar system. The landowners would rent out pieces of their land to a tenant farmer. They would pay the landowner rent through the crops they harvested that season.
There was little to no social mobility and economic opportunity for many African Africans due to racial segregation. The KKK continued using violence to keep African Americans out of the polls and legislative offices. Lynching was widespread. Literacy tests, grandfather clauses, and poll taxes were also used to restrict voting rights.
The Supreme Court ⚖️ made a series of decisions that severely limited the nature of the Fourteenth Amendment.
In the Civil Rights Cases of 1883, the Court ruled that Congress could not legislate against racial discrimination practices by private citizens, which included railroads, hotels, and other businesses. This meant that anyone but the government could discriminate against African Americans.
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The most important of these cases was Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). The case stemmed from a challenge to a Louisiana law that required separate railway cars for white and black passengers. Homer Plessy, an African American man, refused to leave a whites-only railway car and was arrested. He argued that the law violated the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantee equal protection under the law and prohibit discrimination on the basis of race.
The Supreme Court ruled that segregation was constitutional under the doctrine of “separate but equal.” This ruling ushered in the Jim Crow Era, and allowed the government institutions to practice segregation.
Various political and legal devices were invented to prevent blacks from voting. The most common were literacy tests. They were extremely difficult tests meant to stop African Americans from voting. Since many could not obtain formal education, they could not pass the test and vote in elections. Poll taxes and political party primaries for whites only (white primaries) also prevailed. Many southern states adopted grandfather clauses, which allowed a man to vote only if his grandfather had cast ballots in elections before Reconstruction.
Still, many brilliant minds (such as Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, and Ida B. Wells) continued to debate the nature of racial relations and advocate for civil rights.
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