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The Problem South

The Problem South: Region, Empire, and the New Liberal State, 1880-1930

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 288
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    The Problem South
    Book Description:

    For most historians, the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw the hostilities of the Civil War and the dashed hopes of Reconstruction give way to the nationalizing forces of cultural reunion, a process that is said to have downplayed sectional grievances and celebrated racial and industrial harmony. In truth, says Natalie J. Ring, this buoyant mythology competed with an equally powerful and far-reaching set of representations of the backward Problem South-one that shaped and reflected attempts by northern philanthropists, southern liberals, and federal experts to rehabilitate and reform the country's benighted region. Ring rewrites the history of sectional reconciliation and demonstrates how this group used the persuasive language of social science and regionalism to reconcile the paradox of poverty and progress by suggesting that the region was moving through an evolutionary period of "readjustment" toward a more perfect state of civilization.In addition,The Problem Southcontends that the transformation of the region into a mission field and laboratory for social change took place in a transnational moment of reform. Ambitious efforts to improve the economic welfare of the southern farmer, eradicate such diseases as malaria and hookworm, educate the southern populace, "uplift" poor whites, and solve the brewing "race problem" mirrored the colonial problems vexing the architects of empire around the globe. It was no coincidence, Ring argues, that the regulatory state's efforts to solve the "southern problem" and reformers' increasing reliance on social scientific methodology occurred during the height of U.S. imperial expansion.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-4402-7
    Subjects: History, Sociology
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations (pp. ix-x)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. INTRODUCTION. Regional, National, and Global Designs (pp. 1-17)

    In 1920 Henry Louis Mencken published a scathing essay titled “The Sahara of the Bozart” in which he derided the American South for its lack of culture, political ignorance, degraded Anglo-Saxon stock, and “vexatious public problems.” He remarked, “It is, indeed, amazing to contemplate so vast a vacuity” and concluded that “for all its size and all its wealth and all the ‘progress’ it babbles of, it is almost as sterile, artistically, intellectually, culturally, as the Sahara Desert.” In fact, Mencken added, “It would be impossible in all history to match so complete a drying-up of a civilization.” Mencken also...

  6. CHAPTER ONE The “Southern Problem” and Readjustment (pp. 18-57)

    In the first decade of the twentieth century President Theodore Roosevelt wrote, “The problem of any one part of our great common country should be held to be the problem of all our country.”¹ Roosevelt’s statement echoed what many Americans had already come to believe, that the southern United States was a problem of great magnitude, and one the nation would do well to resolve. This was not the first time that Americans had set the South apart at odds with the rest of the nation. As early as the eighteenth century, northerners and southerners drew attention to the inherent...

  7. CHAPTER TWO The Menace of the Diseased South (pp. 58-94)

    In May 1914 in Memphis, Tennessee, the Southern Sociological Congress gathered to address the social and economic problems of the South. James McCulloch, a clergyman and social reformer from Alabama, noted in the introductory remarks of the published conference proceedings that the state of affairs in the region was precarious at best, coming on the heels of Reconstruction, and that despite the “chivalrous spirit” at work for a “nobler civilization” in the New South, much still needed to be accomplished. “Readjustment has been so rapid that the march of progress is irregular,” he continued. “The new civilization is lacking in...

  8. CHAPTER THREE The White Plague of Cotton (pp. 95-134)

    Nowhere is the paradox of progress and poverty in the New South more apparent than in the region’s reliance on and devotion to cotton. Writing in theIndependent, G. L. Fossick proclaimed, “Cotton is the South’s blessing or its curse; at once its hope and its greatest problem.”¹ At the turn of the century, the South produced roughly 50 percent of the world’s cotton supply, and optimistic champions of southern progress and material prosperity foresaw a golden future in the continued cultivation of the crop. Some self-proclaimed experts estimated the South could produce as much as 75 percent of the...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR The Poor White Problem as the “New Race Question” (pp. 135-174)

    In April 1902 theArenapublished a national article cautioning that the South now faced a greater problem than the “negro question.” S. A. Hamilton, from Roaring Spring, Pennsylvania, described how this “new ‘race question’” had “approached so insidiously, and from so unexpected a quarter, that few persons have realized in it a danger to existing political and social institutions in the South.” The “new ‘race question’” Hamilton identified was not the problem of Native Americans, Chinese exiles, or Southeastern European immigrants but the problem of poor whites. Most Americans might have been surprised to discover that men such as...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE The “Race Problem” and the Fiction of the Color Line (pp. 175-215)

    In the summer of 1890 over one hundred white philanthropists, reformers, politicians, newspaper editors, and clergymen from across the country met to discuss the “Negro question” at Lake Mohonk in Ulster County, New York. It was not the first such gathering at Lake Mohonk. Many of the same men and women, including former President Rutherford B. Hayes, Samuel Chapman Armstrong, and Lyman Abbott had attended previous Mohonk Conferences on Native Americans in the United States. At the seventh Mohonk Conference on Indian Affairs, President Hayes urged the audience to hold a symposium on the status of African Americans, and later...

  11. EPILOGUE. The Enduring Paradox of the South (pp. 216-220)

    In 1926, Edwin Mims, chair of the literature department at Vanderbilt University, wrote inThe Advancing Souththat “the conflict between the forces of progress and reaction has been going on ever since Appomattox.” Writing on the heels of the Scopes trial in Dayton, Tennessee, which pitted the fundamentalist southern guard against the modernist forces who embraced the theory of evolution, Mims described how a wave of people and organizations were “carrying on a veritable war of liberation in the Southern States.” He considered himself, along with individuals such as Walter Hines Page and Edgar Gardner Murphy, a model for...

  12. NOTES (pp. 221-268)
  13. BIBLIOGRAPHY (pp. 269-302)
  14. INDEX (pp. 303-334)
  15. Back Matter (pp. 335-335)