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 of the old plantation days was now ready to grow and prosper. In a speech to the New England Society, he faced an impressive audience of businessmen, politicians, and industrialists. Grady’s speech made these 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 manufacturing, and the tobacco industry. But first it was necessary to rebuild the transportation and communication systems that had been destroyed during the Civil War.

Southerners rebuilt and expanded their railroads lines. The federal government invested millions of dollars in Southern port cities like New Orleans and Galveston.

Before the Civil War, most Southern cotton was sent outside the South for processing. Textile mills sprang up all over the South in the 1870s and early 80s. Both blacks and whites worked in the cotton mills. The blacks, however, were limited to the 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 could fire them and bring in this black reserve pool of labor.

By the mid-1870s, Southerners tapped into the rich iron and coal regions of the Southern Appalachians, making coal production one of the two most important sources in the world.

Even though the South had grown tobacco before the Civil War, it did not process the plants. In the 1870s, Southerners eager to move from farm to factory, rapidly built tobacco-processing plants.

In cotton, iron, and tobacco, the manufacturing and processing came from Southerners themselves. But after the turn of the 1880s, Northern and foreign investors took control of the industries.

While the “New South” made an important economic transition from farm to factory in the years after the Civil War, it never really gained the kind of economic independence that some Southern boosters had hoped for. Northern investors gained control over almost every economic sphere.

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.

Source: The New South
© Benjamin Price 2011

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