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The Southern United States—commonly referred to as the American South, Dixie, Down South, or simply the South—constitutes a large distinctive region in the southeastern and south-central United States. Because of the region's unique cultural and historic heritage, including Native Americans; early European settlements of Spanish, English and French heritage; importation of hundreds of thousands of enslaved Africans; growth of a large proportion of African Americans in the population, reliance on slave labor, and legacy of the Confederacy after the American Civil War, the South developed its own customs, literature, musical styles, and varied cuisines.

In the last few decades, the South has become more industrialized and urban, attracting internal and international migrants. As parts of the South are among the fastest-growing areas in the United States, they are developing new cultures.


(See Cultural Variations for more about the complexity of southern states).

As defined by the United States Census Bureau,[4] the Southern region of the United States includes sixteen states and the District of Columbia (with a total 2006 estimated population of 109,083,752.) Thirty-six percent of all U.S. residents lived in the South, the nation's most populous region. The Census Bureau defined three smaller units, or divisions:

Other terms related to the South include:

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.

Biologically, the South is a vast, diverse region, having numerous climatic zones, including temperate, sub-tropical, tropical, and arid – though the South is generally regarded as being hot and humid, with long summers and short mild winters, being significantly warmer than the rest of the country. 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, Spanish moss 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. Kudzu is a particularly big problem in the piedmont regions of Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.[7]


Main article: History of the Southern United States

The first well-dated evidence of human occupation in the south United States occurs around 9500 BC with the appearance of the earliest documented Americans, who are now referred to as Paleoindians. [8] Paleoindians were hunter-gathers that roamed in bands and frequently hunted megafauna. Several stages, such as Archaic (ca. 8000 -1000 BC) and the Woodland (ca. 1000 BC-AD 1000), pasted into what the Europeans found at the end of the 15th century-- the Mississippian culture. [8]

The Mississippian culture was a mound-building Native American culture that flourished in what is now the southeastern United States from approximately 800 AD to 1500 AD. [8] Some noted explorers who found the Mississippian culture, which was in decline, include Pánfilo de Narváez (1528), Hernando de Soto (1540), and Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville (1699). Descendants of the mound-builders include Alabama, Apalachee, Caddo, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, Guale, Hitchiti, Houma, and Seminole, many of whom still reside in the South.


The predominant culture of the South is rooted in the settlement of the region by British colonists. In the seventeenth century, most voluntary immigrants were of English origins who settled chiefly along the coastal regions of the Eastern seaboard. The French and Spanish established colonies in Florida, Louisiana, and Texas. Among the earliest arrivals were enslaved Africans, who contributed to the economy of rice and indigo cultivation with their technology and labor, as well as to all the commodity crops; and to every aspect of culture (food, music, stories and religion). Europeans were sometimes transported as indentured servants who would gain freedom after work to pay off passage. The wealthier men who paid their way received land grants known as headrights, to encourage settlement.[9]

Spanish Florida was colonized in the 1500s and reached its peak in the late 1600s. In the British and French colonies, most immigrants arrived after 1700. They cleared land, built houses and outbuildings, and worked on the large plantations that dominated export agriculture. Many were involved in the labor-intensive cultivation of tobacco, the first cash crop of Virginia. Slaves quickly became the predominant labor force on the plantations. Tobacco exhausted the soil quickly, requiring new fields to be cleared on a regular basis. Old fields were used as pasture and crops such as corn and wheat, or allowed to grow into woodlots.[10]

The origins of rice cultivation in South Carolina are obscure. Some historians have argued that slaves from the lowlands of western Africa, where rice was a basic crop, provided key skills, knowledge and technology for irrigation and construction of earthworks. The early methods and tools used in South Carolina were congruent with those in Africa. British immigrants would have had little or no familiarity with the complex process of growing rice in fields flooded by irrigation works.[11] Africans were likely instrumental in the development of major earthworks for cultivating these commodities, as well as in the knowledge of technology and techniques for processing. The earthworks included extensive, elaborate systems of dams and irrigation for rice. The colonies gradually passed laws that hardened early conditions of indenture into lifelong racial slavery attached to African descent.

In the mid- to late-18th century, large groups of Scots and Ulster-Scots (later called the Scots-Irish) immigrated and settled in the back country of Appalachia and the Piedmont. They were the largest group of immigrants from the British Isles before the American Revolution.[12] In a census taken in 2000 of Americans and their self-reported ancestries, areas where people reported 'American' ancestry were the places where, historically, many Scottish, Scotch-Irish and English Borderer Protestants settled in America: the interior as well as some of the coastal areas of the South, and especially the Appalachian region. The population with some Scots and Scots-Irish ancestry may number 47 million, as most people have multiple heritages, some of which they may not know. [13]

The early colonists, especially the Scots-Irish in the backcountry, engaged in warfare, trade, and cultural exchanges with regional Native Americans, such as the Creek Indians, Cherokee, and Choctaws.

The oldest university in the South, the College of William and Mary, was founded in 1693 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: for example, four of the first five PresidentsWashington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe — were from Virginia. The two oldest public universities are also in the South: the University of North Carolina (1795) and the University of Georgia (1785).

American RevolutionEdit

The American Revolution provided a shock to slavery in the South. Tens of thousands of slaves took advantage of wartime disruption to find their own freedom, catalyzed by the British governor Dunmore of Virginia's promise of freedom for service. Many others simply escaped. Estimates are that five thousand slaves escaped from the Chesapeake Bay area, and thirteen thousand from South Carolina reached the British. "The extent of the loss to the slave owners in the lower South is indicated by the sharp decline between 1770 and 1790 in the proportion of population made up of black people (almost all of whom were slaves): from 60.5 percent to 43.8 percent in South Carolina and from 45.2 percent to 36.1 percent in Georgia."[14]

In addition, some slaveholders were inspired to free their slaves after the Revolution. They were moved by the principles of the Revolution, and Quaker and Methodist preachers worked to encourage slaveholders to free their slaves. Planters often freed slaves by their wills. In the upper South, more than 10 percent of all blacks were free by 1810, a significant expansion from pre-war proportions of less than 1 percent free.[15]

Antebellum yearsEdit

Cotton became dominant in the lower South after 1800. After the invention of the cotton gin, short staple cotton could be grown more widely. This led to an explosion of cotton cultivation, especially in the frontier uplands of Georgia, Alabama and other parts of the Deep South. Migrants poured into those areas in the early decades of the 19th century, when county population figures rose and fell as swells of people kept moving west. The expansion of cotton cultivation required more slave labor, and the institution became even more deeply an integral part of the South's economy.[16]

With the opening up of frontier lands after the government forced most Native Americans to move west of the Mississippi, there was a major migration of both whites and blacks to those territories. From the 1820s through the 1850s, more than one million enslaved African Americans were transported to the Deep South in forced migration, two-thirds of them by slave traders and the others by masters who moved there. Planters in the Upper South sold slaves excess to their needs as they shifted from tobacco to mixed agriculture. Many enslaved families were broken up, as planters preferred mostly strong males for field work.[17]

Two major political issues that festered in the first half of the 19th century caused political alignment along sectional lines, strengthened the identities of North and South as distinct regions with certain strongly opposed interests, and fed the arguments over states' rights that culminated in secession and the Civil War. One of these issues concerned the protective tariffs enacted to assist the growth of the manufacturing sector, primarily in the North. In 1832, in resistance to federal legislation increasing tariffs, South Carolina passed an ordinance of nullification, a procedure in which a state would in effect repeal a Federal law. Soon a naval flotilla was sent to Charleston harbor, and the threat of landing 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 states' rights continued to escalate in the following decades.

The second issue concerned slavery, primarily the question of whether slavery would be permitted in newly admitted states. The issue was initially finessed by political compromises designed to balance the number of "free" and "slave" states. The issue resurfaced in more virulent form, however, around the time of the Mexican War, which raised the stakes by adding new territories primarily on the Southern side of the imaginary geographic divide. Congress opposed allowing slavery in these territories.

Before the Civil War, the number of immigrants arriving at Southern ports began to increase, although the North continued to receive the most immigrants. Numerous Irish immigrants flooded New Orleans, so much so that one of the sections of the city became known as the Irish Channel. Germans also went to New Orleans and its environs, resulting in a large area north of the city (along the Mississippi) becoming known as the German Coast; however, greater numbers still immigrated to Texas (especially after 1848), where many bought land. Many more German immigrants arrived in Texas after the Civil War, where they created the brewing industry in Houston and elsewhere, became grocers in numerous cities, and also established wide areas of farming.

Tennessee was the last state to secede the union, and it was the first to rejoin after the war.

Civil WarEdit

By 1856, the South was losing political power to the more populated North and was locked in a series of constitutional and political battles with the North regarding states' rights and the status of slavery in the territories. President James K. Polk 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 North came to power in 1861, many Southerners felt it was time to secede from the union.

Seven cotton states decided on secession after the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 (often known as the pre-Sumter Seven). They formed the Confederate States of America. In early 1861, they were joined by four more states immediately following the firing on Fort Sumter (splinter governments from two more states, Missouri and Kentucky, would join later that year but were unable to fully participate). The United States government refused to recognize the seceding states. It continued to operate several federal military installations in the South, including Fort Sumter, which the Confederacy captured in April 1861 at the Battle of Fort Sumter, in the port of Charleston. That act triggered 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 major 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. Because of low investment in railroads, 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 (the name often used in referring to the United States of America during this time) 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 overall, primarily because the war was fought almost entirely in the South. The economic loss and civilian toll has never been fully realized, although the Confederacy suffered military losses of 95,000 men killed in action and 165,000 who died of disease, for a total of 260,000,[18] out of a total white Southern population at the time of around 5.5 million.[19] Based on 1860 census figures, 8% of all white males aged 13 to 43 died in the war, including 6% in the North and an extraordinary 18% in the South.[20] However, Northern military casualties greatly exceeded Southern casualties.

Reconstruction and Jim CrowEdit

Main article: Reconstruction era of the United States

After the Civil War, the South was devastated in terms of population, infrastructure and economy. Because of states' reluctance to grant voting rights to freedmen, Congress instituted Reconstruction governments. It established military districts and governors to rule over the South until new governments could be established. Many white Southerners who had actively supported the Confederacy were temporarily disfranchised. Rebuilding was difficult as people grappled with the effects of a new labor economy of a free market in the midst of a widespread agricultural depression. In addition, what limited infrastructure the South had was mostly destroyed by the war. At the same time, the North was rapidly industrializing. </blockquote> There were thousands of people on the move, as African Americans tried to reunite families separated by slaves sales, and sometimes migrated for better opportunities in towns or other states. Other freedpeople moved from plantation areas to cities or towns for a chance to get different jobs and out from under white control. At the same time, whites returned from refuges to reclaim plantations or town dwellings. In some areas, many whites returned to the land to farm for a while. Some freedpeople left the South altogether for states such as Ohio and Indiana, and later, Kansas. Thousands of others joined the migration to new opportunities in the Mississippi and Arkansas Delta bottomlands and Texas.

With 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 African American males), African Americans in the South were made free citizens and were given the ability to vote. Under Federal protection, white and black Republicans formed constitutional conventions and state governments. Among their accomplishments was creating the first public education systems in southern states, and providing for welfare through orphanages, hospitals and similar institutions.

Northerners came south to participate in politics and business. Some were representatives of the Freedmen's Bureau and other agencies of Reconstruction; some were humanitarians with the intent to help black people; yet as is often the case in volatile environments, some were adventurers who hoped to benefit themselves by questionable methods. They were all condemned with the pejorative term of carpetbagger. Some Southerners also took advantage of the disrupted environment and made money off various schemes, including bonds and financing for railroads. [21]

Secret vigilante organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan—an organization sworn to perpetuate white supremacy— had arisen quickly after the war's end and used lynching, physical attacks, house burnings, and other forms of intimidation to keep African Americans from exercising their political rights. Although the Klan was defeated by prosecution by the Federal government in the early 1870s, other groups persisted. By the mid to late-1870s, elite white southerners created increasing resistance to the altered social structure. Paramilitary organizations such as the White League in Louisiana (1874), the Red Shirts in Mississippi (1875) and rifle clubs, all "White Line" organizations, used organized violence against Republicans, blacks and whites, to turn Republicans out of office, repress and bar black voting, and restore Democrats to power.[22] In 1876, white Democrats regained power in most of the state legislatures. They began to pass laws designed to strip African Americans and poor whites from the voter registration rolls. The success of late 19th century interracial coalitions in several states made white Democrats work harder to prevent both groups from voting. [23]

Nearly all Southerners, black and white, suffered as a result of the Civil War. Within a few years, cotton production and harvest was back to pre-war levels, but low prices through much of the 19th century hampered recovery. With many freedmen wanting to work on their own account, planters needed additional labor, especially as 90% of the Mississippi Delta was yet to be cleared and developed. They encouraged immigration by Chinese and Italian laborers into the Mississippi Delta, for instance. While the first Chinese entered as indentured laborers from Cuba, the majority came in the early 20th century. Neither group stayed long at rural farm labor.[24] The Chinese became merchants and established stores in small towns throughout the Delta, establishing a place between white and black.[25]

Migrations continued in the late 19th and early 20th century, among both blacks and whites. In the last two decades, about 141,000 blacks left the South, and more after 1900, totaling a loss of 537,000. After that, the movement increased in what became known as the Great Migration from 1910–1940, and the Second Great Migration through 1970. Even more whites left the South, some going to California for opportunities; others heading to northern industrial cities after 1900. Between 1880 and 1910, the loss of whites totaled 1,243,000.[26] Five million more left between 1940 and 1970.

From 1890 to 1908, ten of the eleven states passed disfranchising constitutions or amendments which had provisions for voter registration, such as poll taxes, residency requirements, and literacy tests, which were hard for many poor to meet. Most African Americans, Mexican Americans and tens of thousands of poor whites were disfranchised, losing the vote for decades. In some states grandfather clauses were temporarily used to exempt white illiterates from literacy tests. The numbers of voters dropped drastically throughout the South as a result. This can be seen on the feature "Turnout in Presidential and Midterm Elections" at the University of Texas Politics: Barriers to Voting. Alabama, which had established universal white suffrage in 1819 when it became a state, also substantially reduced voting by poor whites.[27][28] Legislatures passed Jim Crow laws to segregate public facilities and services, including transportation.

While African Americans, poor whites and civil rights groups started litigation against such provisions in the early 20th century, for decades Supreme Court decisions overturning such provisions were rapidly followed by new state laws with new devices to restrict voting. Most blacks in the South could not vote until 1965, after passage of the Voting Rights Act and Federal enforcement to ensure people could register. Not until the late 1960s did all American citizens regain protected civil rights by passage of legislation following the leadership of the American Civil Rights Movement.

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