Southern United States

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: North American Geography

Southern United StatesThe states shown in dark red are usually included in the South, while all or portions of the striped states may or may not be considered part of the Southern United States. All the red and striped states  were slave states in 1860 (except Oklahoma, which was Indian Territory at the time, a slave territory).
Southern United States
The states shown in dark red are usually included in the South, while all or portions of the striped states may or may not be considered part of the Southern United States. All the red and striped states were slave states in 1860 (except Oklahoma, which was Indian Territory at the time, a slave territory).

The Southern United States or the South constitutes a distinctive region covering a large portion of the United States. Because of the region's unique cultural and historic heritage, including the doctrine of states' rights, the institution of slavery and the legacy of the American Civil War, the South has developed its own customs, literature, musical styles (such as country music, jazz, bluegrass, rock 'n' roll and blues), and cuisines.


As defined by the United States Census Bureau, the Southern region of the United States includes 16 states and is split into three smaller units, or divisions:

  • The South Atlantic States: Delaware, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia (plus the District of Columbia);
  • The East South Central States: Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee;
  • The West South Central States: Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas.

The region as defined by the Census Bureau currently contains eight of the twenty-five largest metropolitan areas in the United States, as well as portions of two others.

Other definitions include:

  • The Old South: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia;
  • Southern Appalachia: Kentucky and West Virginia;
  • The Deep South: various definitions; and
  • The Gulf South: various definitions.

The popular definition of the "South" is more informal and is generally associated with those states that seceded during the Civil War to form the Confederate States of America. Those states share commonalities of history and culture that carry on to the present day. The "border states" of the Civil War- specifically Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware roughly form the northern boundary of the "South". These states have a history of straddling the North-South divide, which was made clear when they did not secede during the Civil War even though they allowed slavery. Depending on the context, these states may or may not be considered part of the South. West Virginia is a unique case since it seceded from Virginia out of reluctance to join the Confederacy and retains a sense of independence; whether it is culturally part of the South again depends on context and on what distinction is drawn between Appalachian and Southern culture.

Biologically, the South is a vast, diverse region, having numerous climatic zones, including alpine, temperate, sub-tropical, tropical, and arid. Many crops grow easily in its soils and can be grown without frost for at least six months of the year. Some parts of the South, particularly the Southeast, have landscapes characterized by the presence of live oaks, magnolia trees, yellow jessamine vines, and flowering dogwoods. Another common environment is the bayous and swampland of the Gulf Coast, especially in Louisiana. The South is a victim of kudzu, an invasive fast-growing vine which covers large amounts of land and kills indigenous plant life.


The predominant culture of the South has its origins with the settlement of the region by British colonists. In the 17th century, most were of English origins, but in the 18th century, large groups of Scots-Irish settled in Appalachia and the Piedmont. These people engaged in warfare, trade and cultural exchanges with the Native Americans already in the region (such as the Creek Indians and Cherokees). After 1700, large groups of African slaves were brought in to work on the large plantations that dominated export agriculture of tobacco, rice, and indigo. Cotton became dominant after 1800. The explosion of cotton cultivation made the "peculiar institution" of slavery an integral part of the South's early 19th century economy.

The oldest university in the South, College of William and Mary, was founded in Virginia; it pioneered in the teaching of political economy and educated future U.S. Presidents Jefferson, Monroe and Tyler, all from Virginia. Indeed, the entire region dominated politics in the First Party System era, as typified by Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe.

In 1832, South Carolina passed an ordinance of nullification, a procedure in which a state could in effect repeal a Federal law, directed against the most recent tariff acts. Soon a naval flotilla was sent to Charleston harbour, and the threat of ground troops was used to compel the collection of tariffs. A compromise was reached by which the tariffs would be gradually reduced, but the underlying argument over state's rights continued to escalate in the following decades.

Civil War

By 1850, the South was losing power to the fast-growing North and waged a series of Constitutional battles regarding states rights and the status of slavery in the territories. The South imposed a low-tariff regime on the country ( Walker Tariff of 1846), which angered Pennsylvania industrialists and blocked proposed federal funding of national roads and port improvements. Once the northern Republicans came to power in 1861—with the delegations from the Confederacy absent from Congress—they passed an elaborate program for economic modernization that included national banks, homestead laws, free farms, a transcontinental railroad and support for land-grant colleges.

Seven cotton states decided on secession after the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. They formed the Confederate States of America. In 1861, they were joined by four more states. The United States government refused to recognize the new country and kept in operation its second to last fort in the South, which the Confederacy captured in April 1861 at the Battle of Fort Sumter, in the port of Charleston, triggering the Civil War. In the four years of war which followed, the South found itself as the primary battleground, with all but two of the main battles taking place on Southern soil. The Confederacy retained a low tariff regime for European imports but imposed a new tax on all imports from the North. The Union blockade stopped most commerce from entering the South, so the Confederate taxes hardly mattered. The Southern transportation system depended primarily on river and coastal traffic by boat; both were shut down by the Union Navy. The small railroad system virtually collapsed, so that by 1864 internal travel was so difficult that the Confederate economy was crippled.

The Union (so-called because they fought for the United States of America) eventually defeated the Confederate States of America (the formal name of the southern American states during the Civil War). The South suffered much more than the North, primarily because the war was fought almost entirely in the South. Overall, the Union had 95,000 killed in action and 165,000 who died of disease, for a total of 260,000, out of a total white Southern population at the time of around 5.5 million.


After the Civil War, the South had become devastated in terms of its population, infrastructure and economy. The South also found itself under Reconstruction, with Union military troops in direct political control of the South. Many white Southerners who had actively supported the Confederacy lost many of the basic rights of citizenship (such as the ability to vote) while with the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States (which outlawed slavery), the 14th Amendment (which granted full U.S. citizenship to African Americans) and the 15th amendment (which extended the right to vote to black males), African Americans in the South began to enjoy more rights than they had ever had in the region.

By the 1890s, though, a political backlash against these rights had developed in the South. Organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan—a clandestine organization sworn to perpetuate white supremacy—used lynchings and other forms of violence and intimidation to keep African Americans from exercising their political rights (the well-known cross burnings did not become a Klan ritual until the emergence of the Second Ku Klux Klan in the 1930s), while the Jim Crow laws were created to legally do the same thing. It would not be until the late 1960s that these changes would be undone by the American Civil Rights Movement.

20th century

The first major oil well in the South was drilled at Spindletop near Beaumont, Texas, on the morning of January 10, 1901. Other oil fields were later discovered nearby in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and under the Gulf of Mexico. The resulting “Oil Boom” permanently transformed the economy of the West South Central states and led to the first significant economic expansion after the Civil War.

The economy, which for the most part had still not recovered from the Civil War, was dealt a double blow by the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. After the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the economy suffered significant reversals and millions were left unemployed. Beginning in 1934 and lasting until 1939, an ecological disaster of severe wind and drought caused an exodus from Texas and Arkansas, the Oklahoma Panhandle region and the surrounding plains, in which over 500,000 Americans were homeless, hungry and jobless. Thousands left the region forever to seek economic opportunities along the West Coast.

Nearly all southerners, black and white, suffered as a result of the Civil War. With the region devastated by its loss and the destruction of its civil infrastructure, much of the South was generally unable to recover economically until World War II. The South was noted by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as the "number one priority" in terms of need of assistance during the Great Depression, instituting programs such as the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1933. Locked into low productivity agriculture, the region's growth was slowed by limited industrial development, low levels of entrepreneurship, and the lack of capital investment.


Southern culture has been and remains generally more socially conservative than that of the north. Because of the central role of agriculture in the antebellum economy, society remained stratified according to land ownership. Rural communities often developed strong attachment to their churches as the primary community institution.

The southern lifestyle, especially in the deep south, is often joked about. Southerners are often generally viewed as more laid back, and relaxed even in stressed situations. That, of course, is a stereotype, and not always the case. But, traditionally, the southern lifestyle is viewed as slower paced when in more rural areas.


The South, perhaps more than any other region of an industrialized nation, has a high concentration of Christian adherents, resulting in the reference to parts of the South as the " Bible Belt", from the prevalence of evangelical or fundamentalist Protestants (especially Baptists, and also Methodists, Presbyterians, and others). The region is often regarded as being somewhat intolerant of other religious faiths or of the non-religious, however in recent years most residents are now increasingly becoming tolerant of other faiths. Southern churches evangelize more than churches in other regions, which many non-Protestants consider hostile, but few southerners question the actual freedom of worship or non-worship.

There are significant Catholic populations in most cities in the South, with larger concentrations in cities such as New Orleans, St. Louis and Louisville whereas areas like Arkansas and Mississippi have stronger concentrations of Baptists. Cities such as Miami, Atlanta, Louisville and Houston have significant Jewish and Islamic communities. Immigrants from Southeast Asia and South Asia have brought Buddhism and Hinduism to the region as well.


Southern American English is a dialect of the English language spoken throughout the South. Southern American English can be divided into different sub-dialects, with speech differing between, for example, the Appalachian region and the coastal area around Charleston or the "low country" around Savannah, Georgia. The South Midlands dialect was influenced by the migration of Southern dialect speakers into the American West. The dialect spoken to various degrees by many African Americans, African American Vernacular English, shares many similarities with Southern dialect.

Folkorists in the 1920s and later argued that Appalachian language patterns more closely mirror Elizabethan English than other accents in the United States.


The cuisine of the South is often described as one of its most distinctive traits. But just as history and culture varies across the broad region known as the South, the traditional cuisine varies as well. In modern times, there is little difference between the diet of typical Southerners and the diet in other regions of the U.S, but the South draws on multiple unique culinary influences to form its "traditional" foods. "Southern Cuisine" also provides some of the best examples of distinctly American cuisine - that is, foods and styles that were born in the United States as opposed to adopted from elsewhere.

The food most commonly associated with the term "Southern Food" is often called " soul food" and is characterized by the heavy use of high-calorie lards and fats. This style is often attributed to influence of the African-American slave population though it draws the mix of African influences as well as Native American, Scots-Irish, and others. Southern fried chicken, vegetables cooked in lard or fat, black-eyed peas, cornbread, and biscuits are just a few examples of foods typically lumped into this broad category.

Barbecue is a food typically associated with the South. Consisting of meat that has been slow-cooked and heavily seasoned, it is characterized by sharp regional divides in style-preferences. In Texas it is often beef based. In the Carolinas it is typically pork based and further subdivided into Eastern and Western Carolina styles. Kansas City and Memphis are also considered Barbecue hubs, drawing on styles from multiple areas.

The unique history of Louisiana and the Mississippi Delta provides a unique culinary environment as well. Cajun and Creole evolved from the broad mix of cultural influences in this area - including Acadian, African, Caribbean, French, Native American, and Spanish.

Texas and its proximity and shared history with Mexico ultimately helped give rise to the modern Tex-Mex cuisine.

Many of the most popular American soft drinks today originated in the South ( Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, Mountain Dew, and Dr Pepper). In addition, there are some soft drinks available only in the South to this day, demonstrating its instrumental history in developing these types of drinks. A highly sweetened iced tea, typically called sweet tea is also associated with Southern cuisine.

As with most of America, a wide variety of cuisines of other origins are now available throughout the South, such as Chinese, Italian, French, Middle Eastern, Thai, Japanese, and Indian as well as restaurants still serving primarily Southern specialties, so-called "home cooking" establishments.


The South was distinctive for its production of tobacco, which earned premium prices from around the world. Most farmers grew a little for their own use or traded with neighbors who grew it. It was the main cash crop in North Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky and Maryland. Commercial sales became important in the late 19th century as major tobacco companies rose in the South, becoming one the largest employers in cities like Durham, North Carolina, Louisville, Kentucky, and Richmond, Virginia. In 1938, R.J. Reynolds marketed eighty-four brands of chewing tobacco, twelve brands of smoking tobacco, and the top-selling Camel brand of cigarettes. Reynolds sold large quantities of chewing tobacco, though that market peaked about 1910 as people shifted to cigarettes.

In the late 20th century, use of smokeless tobacco by adolescent American males increased by 450% for chewing tobacco and by 1500%, or fifteen-fold, for snuff. From 1978 to 1984, there was a 15% compound annual growth rate in U.S. smokeless tobacco sales. Usage is highest in the South and in the rural west. In 1992, 30% of all male high school seniors in the southeastern United States were regular users of chewing tobacco or snuff—more than smoked cigarettes, according to the Centre for Disease Control.

A historian of the American South in the late 1860s reported on typical usage in the region where it was grown, paying close attention to class and gender:

The chewing of tobacco was well-nigh universal. This habit had been widespread among the agricultural population of America both North and South before the war. Soldiers had found the quid a solace in the field and continued to revolve it in their mouths upon returning to their homes. Out of doors where his life was principally led the chewer spat upon his lands without offence to other men, and his homes and public buildings were supplied with spittoons. Brown and yellow parabolas were projected to right and left toward these receivers, but very often without the careful aim which made for cleanly living. Even the pews of fashionable churches were likely to contain these familiar conveniences. The large numbers of Southern men, and these were of the better class (officers in the Confederate army and planters, worth $20,000 or more, and barred from general amnesty) who presented themselves for the pardon of President Johnson, while they sat awaiting his pleasure in the ante-room at the White House, covered its floor with pools and rivulets of their spittle. An observant traveller in the South in 1865 said that in his belief seven-tenths of all persons above the age of twelve years, both male and female, used tobacco in some form. Women could be seen at the doors of their cabins in their bare feet, in their dirty one-piece cotton garments, their chairs tipped back, smoking pipes made of corn cobs into which were fitted reed stems or goose quills. Boys of eight or nine years of age and half-grown girls smoked. Women and girls "dipped" in their houses, on their porches, in the public parlors of hotels and in the streets.


Perhaps the most famous southern writer is William Faulkner, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1949. Faulkner brought new techniques such as stream of consciousness and complex narrative techniques to American writings (such as in his novel As I Lay Dying).

Other well-known Southern writers include Mark Twain (whose Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer are two of the most read books about the South), Zora Neale Hurston, Eudora Welty, Thomas Wolfe, Flannery O'Connor, Carson McCullers, James Dickey, Willie Morris, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote and Walker Percy.

Possibly the most famous southern novel of the 20th century is Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell, published in 1937. Another famous southern novel, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, won the Pulitzer Prize after it was published in 1960.


The South offers some of the richest music in the United States. The musical heritage of the South was developed by both whites and blacks, both influencing each other directly and indirectly.

The South's musical history actually starts before the Civil War, with the songs of the African slaves and the traditional folk music brought from Britain and Ireland. Blues was developed in the rural South by Blacks at the beginning of the 20th century. In addition, gospel music, spirituals, country music, rhythm and blues, soul music, bluegrass, jazz (including ragtime, popularized by Southerner Scott Joplin), beach music, Appalachian folk music and forms of Heavy Metal, all were either born in the South or developed in the region.

Zydeco, Cajun, and swamp pop, though never reaching the popularity of the preceding genres across the region, remain popular throughout French Louisiana and peripheral regions (including Southeast Texas). These unique Louisianian styles of folk music are celebrated as part of the traditional heritage of the people of Louisiana.

Rock n' roll began in the South. Early rock n' roll musicians from the south include Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Buddy Holly, Bo Diddley, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, James Brown, The Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Otis Redding, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis, among others. Chuck Berry, sometimes considered the most important early rock n' roll figure along with Elvis, is from St. Louis, Missouri.

Many who got their start in show business in the South eventually banked on mainstream success as well: Elvis Presley and Dolly Parton are two such examples.

Many of the roots of alternative rock are often considered to come from the South as well, with bands such as R.E.M. and The B-52's forever associated with the musically fertile college town of Athens, Georgia.

Recently, the spread of rap music (which is arguably the only major American music not started in the South) has led to the rise of the sub-genre Dirty South, among others.



While the South has had a number of Super Bowl-winning National Football League teams such as the Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Washington Redskins, the region is noted for the intensity with which people follow non-professional football teams—especially the SEC and the Atlantic Coast Conference, and also the Big 12. High school football is extremely competitive. The University of Alabama is disputedly tied with Notre Dame for the most (12) NCAA National Football Championships. The South is also noted for the multitude of great football players that it produces including (recently) Brett Favre, Derrick Brooks, Shaun Alexander, Peyton and Eli Manning, Deuce McAllister, Jamal Lewis, Clinton Portis, Herschel Walker Michael Vick and many others such as legends Emmitt Smith, Jerry Rice, Reggie White, and Walter Payton.


Basketball, particularly college basketball, is also very popular in the South, especially in North Carolina and Kentucky; the two states are home to four of the winningest college basketball programs: the North Carolina Tar Heels, Duke Blue Devils, Louisville Cardinals,and the Kentucky Wildcats. The region is also home to several NBA teams and almost all of the NBA Development League teams.


Baseball's popularity is often tied to Major League Baseball teams like the Atlanta Braves and Florida Marlins being recent World Series victors. Minor league baseball is also closely followed in the South (with the South being home to more minor league teams than any other region of the United States), and college baseball is particularly popular in Florida, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina with the Miami Hurricanes, Texas Longhorns, LSU Tigers, Clemson Tigers, and South Carolina Gamecocks almost always ranked in the Top 20. LSU is also one of only four universities to win five national championships (winning all five in less than a decade). The Texas Longhorns have won six national championships, winning its last one in 2005.


The South is the birthplace of NASCAR auto racing. It has an enormous and devoted following. Almost all drivers are from the South, and North Carolina seems to be the centre of Nascar. North Carolina hosts two major races and the Hall Of Fame in Charlotte.

Other sports

The South would not seem to be a prominent winter-sports destination, but the Tampa Bay Lightning, Dallas Stars and Carolina Hurricanes have all won the National Hockey League's Stanley Cup in recent years. In addition, the mountains of West Virginia and the western parts of Virginia and North Carolina climates cold enough to host several popular downhill skiing resorts. Atlanta was the host of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games.


The South has contributed to some of the most-loved and financially successful movies of all time, including Gone with the Wind (1939) and Smokey and the Bandit (1977). The Dukes of Hazzard remains a very popular television show nearly thirty years after its inception. All were set in Georgia with other places in the South also featured prominently. Several major motion pictures have been filmed in Memphis, Tennessee, in recent years, including Mystery Train (1989), Great Balls of Fire! (1989), Memphis Belle (1990), The Silence of the Lambs (1991), The Firm (1993), A Family Thing (1996), The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996), The Rainmaker (1997), Cast Away (2000), 21 Grams (2003), Hustle & Flow (2005), Walk the Line (2005), Forty Shades Of Blue (2005), and Black Snake Moan (2007).

The second largest studio complex in the United States, EUE Screen Gems, is located in Wilmington, North Carolina. Over the past 20 years, many films and television programs have been made on location in eastern North Carolina.

Cultural variations

There continues to be debate about what constitutes the basics elements of Southern culture. This debate is influenced partly because the South is such a large region. As a result, there are a number of cultural variations on display in the region.

Among the variations found in Southern culture are:

  • Areas having an influx of outsiders may be less likely to hold onto a distinctly Southern identity and cultural influences. For this reason, urban areas during the Civil War were less likely to favour secession than agricultural areas. Today, partly because of continuing population migration patterns between urban areas in the North and South, even historically "Southern" cities like Atlanta, Charlotte, and Richmond have assimilated regional identities distinct from a "Southern" one.
  • Some regions of Texas are associated with the South more than the Southwest (primarily East Texas and North Texas), while other regions share more similarities with the Southwest than the South (primarily West Texas and South Texas). The Texas Panhandle has much in common with parts of the United States that are considered Midwestern. The size of Texas prohibits easy categorization of the entire state in any recognized region of the United States; geographic, economic, and even cultural diversity between regions of the state preclude treating Texas as a region in its own right.
Plurality ancestry per US county, 2000:  German  English  Norwegian Finnish Dutch  Mexican  Spanish  Native  "American"   African Irish  French Italian
Plurality ancestry per US county, 2000: German English Norwegian Finnish Dutch Mexican Spanish Native "American" African Irish French Italian
  • Before its statehood in 1907, Oklahoma was known as "Indian Territory." The majority of the Native American tribes in Indian Territory sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War. Today, Oklahoma has a mostly Southwestern identity. Furthering the state's Southwestern identity, following California, it has the nation's second largest Native American population. Oklahoma is also the home of Gilcrease Museum, which houses the world's largest, most comprehensive collection of art of the American West plus Native American art and artifacts and historical manuscripts, documents, and maps. Oklahoma is frequently described as being part of the "Great Southwest." However, because of its geographic location, Oklahoma is privy to Southern culture. Southern influence can still be found in Oklahoma, particularly in the southeastern region of the state, but the influence becomes less apparent as you move north and west of this area. On a whole, most consider Oklahoma to be a Southern state.
  • South Louisiana, having been colonized by France and Spain rather than Great Britain, has different cultural traditions, especially within the Cajun, Creole, Latin American and Caribbean influenced culture of southern Louisiana. The Gulf Coast regions of Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, and northern Florida also share a similar French/Spanish colonial history but lack the heavy concentration of French influences present in Louisiana, especially from the Acadians and their Cajun descendants.
  • Florida has had rapid population growth of retirees and Jewish Americans from the North and immigrants from Latin America. Miami, Florida, has become more a part of the culture of the Caribbean, with a large influx of immigrants from Cuba, Brazil, Haiti and other parts of Latin America. While South Florida is seen by many as not truly part of the South (or in some cases, not even a part of Anglo-America, but rather a Latin American region) in terms of culture, the Florida Panhandle, northeastern areas, North Central Florida, Nature Coast, and Central Florida remain culturally tied to the South. An unofficial "Southern line" can be drawn at or just north of Tampa, Florida on the state's west coast and stretching through Lakeland, Florida, over to Melbourne, Florida, on the state's east coast; below this line, the culture of the areas can be described as much more "Northern". However, two notable exceptions to the "Southern Line" are the city of Palm Coast, (one of the fastest growing cities in the United States and with most of its growth coming from New York and New Jersey), and the Daytona metropolitan area, which contains many more retirees and immigrants from the North. Also, the middle of South Florida (that is, the "inland" areas around the Lake Okeechobee and Everglades region) remain very culturally tied to the South and agriculture and ranching (rather than tourism) remain staples of the economy there.
  • While West Virginia is often defined as a southern state, its peculiar geographic shape means that the northernmost tip is at about the same latitude as central New Jersey. This has caused the northernmost part of the state, which is about an hour's drive from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to increasingly become an exurb of the city, resulting in a less "Southern" culture. The easternmost tip of the state is close enough to Washington, D.C., that it too has started to become an exurb of that area with a unique North-South "hybrid" culture. The two easternmost counties, Berkely and Jefferson, are considered part of the Washington Metropolitan Area by the Census Bureau. Huntington, West Virginia, near the state's boundary with Ohio and Kentucky, is often identified with the Rust Belt, (although it is not officially considered part of the Rust Belt), but it also has more of a Southern climate and environment compared to the state's Northern Panhandle. West Virginia broke away from Virginia during the Civil War and remained loyal to the Union; thus, purists do not consider West Virginia to be part of the South.
  • Delaware is not considered to be a southern by many, especially the northern third of the state, which is essentially the outermost portion of the Philadelphia region. Maryland remains southern in Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, but the areas along the I-95 corridor, including metropolitan Baltimore and the state's suburbs of Washington, D.C., are culturally considered to be similar to that of the Northeastern United States. Like West Virginia, the state was part of the Union during the Civil War, partially because of immense pressure to remain so to avoid the District of Columbia from being completely surrounded by Confederate territory.
  • Northern Virginia has been largely settled by Northerners attracted to job opportunities resulting from expansion of the federal government during and after World War II. Still more expansion resulted from the dot-com bubble around the turn of the 21st century. Economically linked to Washington, D.C., residents of the region tend to consider its culture more Northern, as do Southerners. However, it remains politically somewhat more conservative, as opposed to Washington's suburbs across the Potomac River in Maryland, which are generally politically liberal.
  • The most recent shift in "Southern" cultural influence and demographics has occurred in North Carolina. As recently as the mid-1980s, this was a very entrenched "Southern" state culturally and demographically (for example, the prominence of extremely conservative politicians such as former Senator Jesse Helms). However, many newcomers have transformed the landscape since then. Many are from the Northeast and especially from the New York City and Cleveland metropolitan areas. Much of this migration has occurred in the Charlotte and Raleigh- Durham areas because of economic growth (banking/finance in Charlotte's case, high-tech in Raleigh-Durham's); and the Asheville area by retirees who a generation ago might have moved to Florida but prefer the climatic balance produced by the combination of a relatively high elevation and a southerly latitude. The most extreme example of this is found in Cary, North Carolina, a suburb in the Raleigh-Durham area that has exploded in population since 1980, almost exclusively with Northern transplants to the region. Cary has even been turned into an backronym by locals: "Containment Area for Relocated Yankees". Politically, the state is still conservative (the 2004 presidential election was easily won by George W. Bush, though early exit polling had the race much closer than initially expected), but in the Raleigh-Durham area and to a lesser extent the Charlotte area, "Southern" accents are becoming less common; and urban areas in central North Carolina (like Raleigh-Durham and the Greensboro- Winston-Salem- High Point "Piedmont Triad" area) have experienced the fastest rise in Latino and Asian American population of any part of the Southeast during recent years. To a much lesser degree, the same effect is occurring in the Atlanta metropolitan area.
  • Southern Illinois, notably ( Little Egypt and Buda), forms a coherent cultural region with the Missouri Bootheel, east Missouri, and Kentucky's Purchase. This does not mean that it is Southern in culture, but that it shares more in common with these border regions than with the Upper Midwest.
  • Although Missouri is often considered a Midwestern state, the Ozarks are typically lumped in with the Highland South, while Little Dixie in north-central Missouri is an outlier of Lowland Southern culture.


In the century after Reconstruction, the white South strongly identified with the Democratic Party. This lock on power was so strong the region was politically called the Solid South. The Republicans controlled parts of the Appalachian mountains and competed for power in the border states, but otherwise it was rare for a Southern politician to be a Republican before the 1960s.

Increasing support for civil rights legislation by the Democratic party at the national level during the 1940s caused a split between conservative Southern Democrats and other Democrats in the country. Until the passage of the Civil Rights laws of the 1960s, conservative Southern Democrats ("Dixiecrats") argued that only they could defend the region from the onslaught of northern liberals and the civil rights movement. In response to the Brown decision of 1954, the Southern Manifesto was issued in March 1956, by 101 southern congressmen (19 senators, 82 House members). It denounced the Brown decisions as a "clear abuse of judicial power [that] climaxes a trend in the federal judiciary undertaking to legislate in derogation of the authority of Congress and to encroach upon the reserved rights of the states and the people." The manifesto lauded "those states which have declared the intention to resist enforced integration by any lawful means." It was signed by all southern senators except Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson and Albert Gore, Sr, of Tennessee. Virginia closed schools in Warren County, Charlottesville, and Norfolk rather than integrate, but no other state followed suit. An element resisted integration, led by Democratic governors Orval Faubus of Arkansas, Ross Barnett of Mississippi, Lester Maddox of Georgia, and, especially George Wallace of Alabama. They appealed to a blue collar electorate.

The Democratic Party's dramatic reversal on civil rights issues culminated when Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Meanwhile, the Republicans were beginning their Southern strategy, which aimed to solidify the Republican Party's electoral hold over conservative white Southerners. Southern Democrats took notice that 1964 Republican Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater had voted against the Civil Rights Act, and in the presidential election of 1964, Goldwater's only electoral victories outside his home state of Arizona were in the states of the Deep South.

The transition to a Republican stronghold took decades. First, the states started voting Republican in presidential elections—the Democrats countered by nominating such Southerners as Jimmy Carter in 1976 and 1980, Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996, and Al Gore in 2000. Then the states began electing Republican senators and finally governors. Georgia was the last state to do so, with Sonny Perdue taking the governorship in 2002. In addition to the middle class and business base, Republicans attracted strong majorities from the evangelical Christian vote, which had not been a distinct political demographic prior to 1980.

There was major resistance to desegregation in the mid 1960s to early 1970s. Those issues faded away, replaced by culture wars between the conservatives and liberals over issues such as separation of church and state, evolution, abortion, and gay marriage.

Presidential history

Each and every new political party fielding a Presidential candidate, has only been successful from being born in the South: Federalists claimed George Washington, from Virginia; Democratic-Republicans began with Thomas Jefferson, from Virginia; Democrats began with Andrew Jackson, from South Carolina/Tennessee; Whigs began with William Henry Harrison, from Virginia; Republicans began with Abraham Lincoln, originally from Kentucky.

Before the Civil War, the South produced most of the U.S. Presidents. Memories of the war made it impossible for a Southerner to become President unless he moved North (like Woodrow Wilson) or was a vice president who moved up (like Harry Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson). In 1976, Jimmy Carter became the first Southerner to break the pattern since Zachary Taylor in 1848. With one exception, Ronald Reagan, all the Presidents since 1976 had their political base in the South.

Other politicians and political movements

The South has produced numerous other well-known politicians and political movements.

In 1948, a group of Democratic congressmen, led by Governor Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, split from the Democrats in reaction to an anti-segregation speech given by Senator Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, founding the States Rights Democratic or Dixiecrat Party. During that year's Presidential election, the party unsuccessfully ran Thurmond as its candidate.

In the 1968 Presidential election, Alabama Governor George C. Wallace ran for President on the American Independent Party ticket. Wallace ran a "law and order" campaign similar to that of Republican candidate, Richard Nixon. While Nixon won, Wallace won several Southern states. This inspired Nixon and other Republican leaders to create the Southern Strategy of winning Presidential elections. This strategy focused on securing the electoral votes of the U.S. Southern states by having candidates promote culturally conservative values, such as family issues, religion, and patriotism, which appealed strongly to Southern voters.

In 1994, another Southern politician, Newt Gingrich, ushered in a political revolution with his Contract with America. Gingrich, then the Minority Whip of the U.S. House of Representatives, created the document to detail what the Republican Party would do if they won that year's United States Congressional election. The contract mainly dealt with issues of governmental reform (such as requiring all laws that apply to the rest of the country also apply to Congress). Almost all Republican candidates in the election signed the contract, and for the first time in 40 years the Republicans took control of the U.S. Congress. Gingrich became Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, serving in that position from 1995 to 1999.

Numerous current Congressional leaders are from the South, including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Race relations


African Americans have a long history in the South, stretching back to the early settlements in the region. Beginning in the early 17th century, black slaves were purchased from slave traders who brought them from Africa(or, less often, from the Caribbean) to work on plantations. Most slaves arrived in the 1700-1750 period.

Slavery ended with the South's defeat in the American Civil War. During the Reconstruction period that followed, African Americans saw major advancements in the civil rights and political power in the South. However, as Reconstruction ended, Southern Redeemers moved to prevent black people from holding power. After 1890, the Deep South disfranchised nearly all African Americans (who did continue to vote in the Border states). The leading white demagogue was Senator Ben Tillman of South Carolina, who proudly proclaimed in 1900, "We have done our level best [to prevent blacks from voting]...we have scratched our heads to find out how we could eliminate the last one of them. We stuffed ballot boxes. We shot them. We are not ashamed of it."

With no voting rights and no voice in government, blacks were subjected to what was known as the Jim Crow laws, a system of universal segregation and discrimination in all public facilities. Blacks were given separate schools (in which all students, teachers and administrators were black). Most hotels and restaurants served only whites. Movie theaters had separate seating; railroads had separate cars; buses were divided forward and rear. Neighborhoods were segregated as well. Blacks and whites did shop in the same stores. Blacks were not called to serve on juries, and they were not allowed to vote in the Democratic primary elections (which usually decided the election outcome).

In Black Boy, an autobiographical account of life during this time, Richard Wright wrote about being struck with a bottle and knocked from a moving truck for failing to call a white man "sir". Between 1889 and 1922, the NAACP calculates that lynchings reached their worst level in history, with almost 3,500 people, two-thirds of them black men, murdered.

Civil Rights

In response to this treatment, the South witnessed two major events in the lives of 20th century African Americans: the Great Migration and the American Civil Rights Movement.

The Great Migration began during World War I, hitting its high point during World War II. During this migration, Black people left the racism and lack of opportunities in the South and settled in northern cities like Chicago, where they found work in factories and other sectors of the economy. (Katzman, 1996) However, Chicago quickly became the most segregated city in the north. This migration produced a new sense of independence in the Black community and contributed to the vibrant Black urban culture seen during the Harlem Renaissance.

The migration also empowered the growing Civil Rights Movement. While the movement existed in all parts of the United States, its focus was against the Jim Crow laws in the South. Most of the major events in the movement occurred in the South, including the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Mississippi Freedom Summer, the March on Selma, Alabama, and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. In addition, some of the most important writings to come out of the movement were written in the South, such as King's " Letter from Birmingham Jail".

As a result of the Civil Rights Movement, Jim Crow laws across the South were dropped. Today, while many people believe race relations in the South to still be a contested issue, many others now believe the region leads the country in working to end racial strife. A second migration appears to be underway, with African Americans from the North moving to the South in record numbers.


The " Rebel Flag" of the Confederacy has become a highly contentious image throughout the United States because of its use as a symbol of defiance by many in the South who opposed the Civil Rights Movement. Although it and other reminders of the Old South can be found on automobile bumper stickers, on tee shirts, and flown from homes, restrictions (notably on public buildings) have been imposed as a result of activism and boycotts.

Neo-confederate groups such as the League of the South continue to promote secession from the United States, citing a desire to protect and defend the heritage of the South. On the other side of this issue are groups like the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC), which believes that the League of the South is a hate group.

Other symbols of the Antebellum South such as the Bonnie Blue Flag, Magnolia trees, and Palmetto trees, are met with less controversy.

Present image

In the last two generations, the South has changed dramatically. After two centuries in which the region's main economic engine was agriculture, the South has in recent decades seen a boom in its service economy, manufacturing base, high technology industries, and the financial sector. Examples of this include the surge in tourism in Florida and along the Gulf Coast; numerous new automobile production plants such as Mercedes-Benz in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and the BMW production plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina; the two largest research parks in the country, Research Triangle Park in North Carolina (the world's largest research park) and the Cummings Research Park in Huntsville, Alabama (the world's fourth largest research park); and the corporate headquarters of major banking corporations Bank of America and Wachovia in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Regions Financial, Amsouth, and Compass in Birmingham. Also, the creation of computer programming and communications companies (such as the Cable News Network, which is based in Atlanta) have helped to fuel the "New South" economy. This economic expansion has enabled parts of the South to boast some of the lowest unemployment rates in the United States.

Major metropolitan areas

*Not in all definitions of the South

Rank Metropolitan Area Population State(s)
1 Dallas- Fort Worth- Arlington 5,819,475 Texas
2 Miami- Fort Lauderdale- Miami Beach 5,422,200 Florida
3 Houston- Sugar Land- Baytown 5,280,077 Texas
4 Washington- Arlington- Alexandria* 5,214,666 District of Columbia- Virginia- Maryland
5 Atlanta- Sandy Springs- Marietta 4,917,717 Georgia
6 Baltimore* 2,655,675 Maryland
7 Tampa- St. Petersburg- Clearwater 2,647,658 Florida
8 Orlando- Kissimmee 1,933,255 Florida
9 San Antonio 1,889,797 Texas
10 Virginia Beach- Norfolk- Newport News 1,647,346 Virginia
11 Charlotte- Gastonia- Concord 1,521,278 North Carolina
12 Austin- Round Rock 1,452,529 Texas
13 Nashville-Davidson- Murfreesboro 1,422,544 Tennessee
14 New Orleans- Metairie- Kenner 1,363,750 Louisiana
15 Memphis 1,260,905 Tennessee- Arkansas- Mississippi
16 Jacksonville 1,248,371 Florida
17 Oklahoma City* 1,225,084 Oklahoma
18 Louisville- Jefferson County* 1,208,452 Kentucky- Indiana
19 Richmond 1,175,654 Virginia
20 Birmingham- Hoover 1,090,126 Alabama
21 Raleigh- Cary 949,681 North Carolina
22 Tulsa* 887,715 Oklahoma
23 Baton Rouge 751,965 Louisiana
24 El Paso 721,598 Texas
25 Columbia 689,878 South Carolina
26 McAllen- Edinburg- Mission 678,275 Texas
27 Greensboro- High Point 674,500 North Carolina
28 Sarasota- Bradenton- Venice 673,035 Florida
29 Knoxville 655,400 Tennessee
30 Little Rock- North Little Rock 643,272 Arkansas
31 Charleston- North Charleston 594,899 South Carolina
32 Greenville 591,251 South Carolina

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