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The New South

Henry Grady was an editor with the Atlanta Constitution. Grady advertised to the nation and to the world at large that the South was no longer the South of the old plantation days but one that was ready to grow and prosper. In his speech before the New England Society, he faced an impressive audience of businessmen, politicians, and industrialists. Grady’s speech, made three very important points:

  • The US was no longer two separate nations.
  • The Southern economy had changed—industrialization had replaced plantation agriculture.
  • Race relations had changed—blacks were now partners in the “New South.”

Many felt the South should follow the pattern of the North. Some argued Southerners should bury their old feud with the North and do what they could to bring outside capital to the Southern states.

There were three main areas of industrial advancement in the South—Cotton milling, iron production and manufacture as well as tobacco. Before these three industries could grow it was necessary to rebuild the transportation and communication systems that had been destroyed during the Civil War.

Southerners started by rebuilding and expanding their railroads lines. By the end of the 1880s, the track mileage of the South had increased to over 40,000 miles. The federal government invested millions of dollars, in Southern port cities like New Orleans, Mobile, and Galveston, Texas, to help make the South a major commercial center. The expansion of transportation and port facilities in the South helped to prepare it for further industrial expansion.

Following the rebuilding of the transportation system, the cotton industry was the first sign of industrial advancement in the post-War South. Before the Civil War, the bulk of Southern cotton, was sent outside the South for processing. Textile mills sprang up all over the South in the 1870s and early 80s. It became a matter of civic pride to build a mill in your community. Both blacks and whites worked in the cotton mills. The blacks, however, rarely, if ever, were allowed to work on any of the machinery. Male African-Americans were hired for a variety of unskilled labor tasks. The African American also represented a reserve labor pool. If white workers threatened to join a union and go on strike, the mill owners would threaten to fire them and bring in this black reserve pool of labor.

By the mid-1870s, Southerners were beginning to tap the rich iron and coal regions of the Southern Appalachians. By 1900, coal production in the South had become one of the two most important sources in the entire world.

Even though the South had grown lots of tobacco before the civil war, it had processed very little of it. Very few large plantations that grew tobacco had tobacco factories. In the 1870s, Southerners eager to move from farm to factory, began to build tobacco-processing plants. The number of these plants grew rapidly over the first two decades after the war.

In cotton, iron and tobacco the manufacturing and processing came from Southerners themselves. But, Northern investors and foreign investors began, by the turn of the 1880s, to take control of the industry. By 1900, the economic control of the nation's, tobacco industry, lay firmly in hands of the great banking houses of New York City, like J. P. Morgan, the most important financial institution in the nation.

While the “New South” made an important economic transition from farm to factory in the years after the Civil War, in many respects it never really gained the kind of economic independence that some Southern boosters had hoped for. In virtually every economic sphere, in tobacco, in iron, in cotton, and elsewhere, Northern investors, ultimately achieved control.

In the years before the Civil War, Southern leaders complained that the lack of industrial development in the South held the region back and gave the North an economic advantage. If the aim was to achieve Southern economic independence, in large measure, they failed in that task.


Source: The New South
© Benjamin Price 2011

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