Numan V. Bartley’s The New South: 1945-1980: The Story of the South’s Modernization
Numan V. Bartley’s The New South: 1945-1980: The Story of the South’s Modernization is a fantastic book that covers the transformation of the South between World War II and the Reagan era. Even though it is written from the perspective of a disappointed New Deal liberal, Bartley is sympathetic to the plight of the White working class who gained nothing from the Civil Rights Movement.
The story begins with the Truman administration and the beginning of the Cold War with the Soviet Union which dominated this era. After the death of FDR, National Democrats adopted a program of “Cold War liberalism composed of an American Century foreign policy, corporate prosperity, economic expansion, defense spending, domestic anticommunism and civil rights for black people.” In the 1948 election, there were two revolts against this agenda – one from the Left by popular front liberals led by Henry Wallace and the other from the Right led by Strom Thurmond and the Dixiecrats. Both of these challenges were beaten back by Truman who moved ahead with civil rights and desegregation.
The 1948 election cracked the New Deal coalition and Strom Thurmond and the Dixiecrats carried four states in the Deep South. Dwight Eisenhower capitalized on the discontent in the Democratic Party and carried five Southern states in the 1952 election. He carried eight Southern states when he was reelected in 1956. The shift toward the Republican Party in the South began with Eisenhower, not when LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and lost the Deep South to Barry Goldwater. JFK had lost five Southern states to Nixon in the 1960 election and Mississippi and Alabama to Sen. Harry Byrd. The Solid South hadn’t been solid for twenty years when Jim Crow fell in 1964 and 1965. The Cold War era was characterized by competitive two-party politics and national landslide victories.
The root cause of this political turmoil was always the commitment of National Democrats to civil rights reform which was driven by changing racial attitudes and foreign policy considerations. The Second Reconstruction was a social revolution that was imposed on the South by Washington against the will of our people and in the teeth of massive resistance. It began with Smith vs. Allwright which was the landmark Supreme Court decision that struck down the white primary. From Smith vs. Allwright in 1944 to Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenberg in 1971, liberalism and social engineering from the top down was in the saddle: integration of public schools, forced busing, affirmative action, miscegenation, abortion, feminism, gay liberation, the borders thrown open to the Third World immigration. The South opposed every bit of it and lost due to the commanding majorities this program enjoyed in the North and West.
The Watts Riot and the descent of the Civil Rights Movement into black power militancy after 1965 was the turning point. George Wallace and Stokely Carmichael agreed that civil rights was popular so long as it was being imposed on the South by Northern liberals from their lily White upper middle class suburbs through the power of the federal government. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 dismantled Southern segregation and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 applied only to the South. After 1965, Northern and Western cities like Los Angeles, Newark and Detroit were swept by devastating race riots. Martin Luther King, Jr. went to Chicago and the Civil Rights Movement turned its attention from the rural South to the North. Southerners in Congress also began to support federal civil rights legislation that applied nationwide and when that happened the momentum of the movement ground to a halt when the “Silent Majority” elected and reelected Richard Nixon as president whose racial policy was “benign neglect.”
Nixon was discredited and resigned as president over Watergate in 1974. This gave us Gerald Ford whose turbulent presidency coincided with the end of the Les Trente Glorieuses (Thirty Glorious Years). Nixon floated the dollar and the Bretton Woods system came to and end. There was the OPEC oil embargo and stagflation. The Vietnam War ended with America’s defeat and retreat from Southeast Asia. Nixon’s scandals gave us Jimmy Carter who was elected on the basis of his character and being an outsider. Carter’s handling of the Iranian hostage crisis, the energy crisis and inflation gave us Ronald Reagan whose answer to the social and economic crisis of the 1970s was neoliberalism.
The dominant story of this era was the end of the Second World War and Cold War military spending which transformed the Southern economy. An enormous amount of capital was pumped into the South by the federal government. It led to the mechanization of agriculture which destroyed sharecropping and depopulated the rural South. The uprooted sharecroppers either moved to the North and West or to the burgeoning metropolitan areas when they began to work in factories and services which fanned out across the South after construction of the interstate transportation system began during the Eisenhower administration. Southern state and local governments lured Northern investors to the South by subsidizing industrialization with low-taxes, right-to-work laws, cheap property and other incentives. In the span of twenty years, the South industrialized and became a predominantly urban region.
The GI Bill allowed Southern veterans to go to college and cheap home loans financed the construction and movement of their families to suburbia. Just as the tractor and the mechanical cotton picker abolished sharecropping, refrigeration and air conditioning homogenized the Southern climate and led to the explosion of Florida’s population as the state was inundated by transplants. The washer, dryer, refrigerator, dishwasher and other home appliances abolished much of the work traditionally performed by women and left them lonely, isolated and bored in the suburbs – hence, the rise of feminism – which were artificial communities that lacked traditional structures of kinship. Their children were born and raised in this affluent, but anomic environment where they were raised on the television which deracinated and introduced them to modernist values of the liberal mainstream.
After the demise of Jim Crow, the Black Belt which was the traditional stronghold of white supremacy and segregation flipped and was placed under black majority rule. Power shifted from the elites of the small towns and county seats to the moderates of the metropolitan suburbs. It was these people who became conservative Republicans and from the Reagan administration forward the rest of the White population that had supported George Wallace’s revolt would fall in line and join them. Reagan promised to restore the “family values” that had been trashed by the counterculture over the previous twenty years. This string of massive, apocalyptic defeats in the culture war had created a ripe audience among disaffected Southern evangelicals which the televangelists of the 1970s exploited to the hilt to create the Religious Right. Reagan promised to defeat the godless communists of the Soviet Union and to Make America Great Again through tax cuts and deregulation. In case this pitch was too abstract, he went to Mississippi and spoke about restoring states’ rights. Jimmy Carter lost every Southern state except his home state of Georgia in the 1980 election and only carried 36 percent of the Southern White vote.
In hindsight, the headwaters of White Nationalism trace back to the catastrophe which was the triumph of the Civil Rights Movement, which decoupled White identity and Americanism:
The Neo-Nazi Branch
Although he was never mentioned in this book, Commander George Lincoln Rockwell and the American Nazi Party were on the political fringe in this era. Rockwell and William Pierce sowed the seeds of White Nationalism which was a tiny embryo in those days. I’m throwing Rockwell in here for good measure because the anniversary of his assassination was a few days ago. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were also assassinated in these years which were a time of political violence.
The Southern Branch
I don’t trace my roots back to Rockwell. There is no doubt that our forebears – I am speaking here of my fellow Southern conservative populists who tend to be middle class or working class and from our small towns and rural areas – were Gov. George Wallace, Sen. Richard Russell and the Citizens’ Councils who opposed Kang and the Civil Rights Movement. They were defending the traditional identity and cultural values of Southern civilization. Bartley talks at length in this book about the 1/2 to 3/4th of the White Southern population which was trammeled upon by the federal government in this era and was never consulted by the “experts” who came up with all these fanciful schemes.
The “Southern Strategy” of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan worked and those of us who are the descendants of the Wallace Democrats have found ourselves stuck in the GOP under mainstream conservatism. The GOP used our fathers and grandfathers as their booster rocket to launch neoliberalism into the orbit. We were suckered into becoming their “base” and got nothing out of this deal. The family collapsed and marriage was redefined as the union of two male homosexuals or two female lesbians. The border was allowed to collapse so that cheap labor could be exploited. Even the gender binary was allowed to collapse which seems like something out of a dystopian science fiction novel.
The roots of everything that has gone wrong in this country trace back to the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s. We should make no apologies for our ancestors who were right about them.