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U.S. Southern states

The U.S. South

Location in the U.S.

Population: 99,664,761
Total Area: 2,384,143 km˛
Largest City (proper): Houston, Texas 2,009,834
Highest Elevation: Guadalupe Peak 2,667 m
Lowest Elevation: New Orleans -2.5 m
Largest State: Texas 696,241 km˛
Smallest State: Delaware 6,452 km˛
Census Bureau Divisions

The U.S. Southern states or The South, known during the American Civil War era as Dixie, is a distinctive region of the United States with its own unique historical perspective, customs, musical styles, and cuisine. There is some overlap with The Southwest and the Mid-Atlantic States.

As defined by the 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, which are Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia (plus the District of Columbia); the East South Central States of Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee; and the West South Central States of Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas.

The largest city in the region is Houston, Texas. Other important cities include Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, New Orleans, Memphis, Nashville, Little Rock, Atlanta, Charlotte, Louisville, Jackson, Birmingham, Richmond, Miami, Jacksonville, Ft. Lauderdale, Tampa, and Orlando.



The region has abundant rainfall and a mild-to-warm climate. Many kinds of 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 have landscape characterized by the presence live oaks, magnolia trees, jessamine vines, and flowering dogwoods.


The South in the American Colonial Era

Like New England, the South was originally settled by English Protestants, later becoming a melting pot of religions as with other parts of the country. The first permanent colony began in Jamestown, Virginia in 1606, 14 years before the landing at Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Whereas New Englanders tended to stress their differences from the British, Southerners tended to emulate them. Even so, Southerners were prominent among the leaders of the American Revolution, and four of America's first five Presidents were Virginians.

Industrial Revolution

After 1800, however, the interests of the manufacturing North and the agrarian South began to diverge, especially in coastal areas where southern settlers grew wealthy by raising and selling rice, indigo, cotton, and tobacco. The most economical way to raise these crops was on large farms, called plantations, which required the work of many laborers. To supply this need, American and British slavers purchased slaves from Africans and sold them to plantation owners, and slavery spread throughout the Americas. The slavers bought the slaves with vats of rum made in New England from cane sugar grown in the Caribbean. This exchange of sugar, rum, and slaves is called the "Triangular Trade."

Magazine Movements lead to Southern Cultural Cohesion

One factor that lead to a unified mindset was the proliferation of cultural and literary magazines. The Southern Literary Messenger was one such magazine. Reference:[1]

Slavery in the South

Although slavery was legal in many northern states before the advent of "free states" leading to the American Civil War, the huge, slave-run plantations were only found in the Deep South. The vast majority of Southerners never owned slaves; most were independent yeoman farmers just like their counterparts in the North, and slavery was not part of everyday life for ordinary citizens. Though some in the North felt that slavery was a moral issue, many northerners felt that the abolition of slavery would be bad for business, because the loss of cotton would damage the textile industry.

Demographics changes threaten Southern Political Representation

As the population in the North grew from the influx of European immigrants, the Northern representation in Congress also grew to a number that made the South more and more uncomfortable. Many Southerners became concerned that they would find themselves at the mercy of a government in which they no longer had an effective voice. Jefferson Davis, a Senator from Mississippi, stated that this new Northern majority in the Congress would make the government of the United States "an engine of Northern aggrandizement" and that the Northern leaders had an agenda to "promote the industry of the United States at the expense of the people of the South."

The Election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 initiates Secession

These fears proved true in the mind of the South when Abraham Lincoln was elected to the presidency in 1860 with 40% of the popular vote and without carrying one Southern state.

South Carolina had previously sworn to leave the Union if Lincoln was elected, and true to its word, seceded on December 20, 1860. Mississippi left on January 9, 1861, and Florida on the 10th. Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas followed in the next month. The sitting President, James Buchanan felt himself powerless to act. Federal arsenals and fortifications throughout the South were occupied by Southern authorities without a shot being fired. In the four months between Lincoln’s election and his inauguration, the South was allowed to strengthen its position undisturbed.

Lincoln's Response to Secession

Once in office, Lincoln was unwilling to strike the initial blow to compel the southern states back into the Union, so he decided to bide his time. When a Federal ship carrying supplies was dispatched to resupply Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor, the secessionists felt their hand being forced. To forestall the resupply of the fort, the Rebel batteries surrounding it opened fire at 4:30 a.m. on the 12th of April, 1861, forcing its rapid capitulation. In response to the firing on Fort Sumter, President Lincoln immediately called upon the states to supply 75,000 troops to serve for ninety days against “combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings.” Seeing the President they did not elect call for troops to invade another Southern state, Virginia, Arkansas, and Tennessee promptly seceded.

The eleven Southern states left the Union formed a separate nation, the Confederate States of America. The war that broke out was called the American Civil War in the North, but it was called the "War for Southern Independence," "The War Between the States," and "The War of Northern Aggression" in the South. The variations are indicative of the differing perceptions of the war in the South. The war was fought mostly on Southern lands, which prompts many contemporary Southerners to quip, "There was nothing civil about it." During the war, the pro-Union northwestern region of Confederate Virginia seceded to become the new Union state of West Virginia. Several other Southern states also had areas with strong Union sympathies; generally these were upland areas where plantation-style agriculture and hence widespread slavery had never been feasible. Likewise, many Northern states had regions with Southern sympathies, especially in the border states.

At the outbreak of the war, slavery was legal in the Northern States of Delaware, Maryland, and Kentucky. Slavery was also legal in Washington D.C. and remained legal in the new Union State of West Virginia. On January 1, 1863, as the third year of the war approached, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation as a way to transform the character of the war into a crusade for freedom. The Emancipation Proclamation was limited in many ways. It applied only to states that had seceded from the Union, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal border states. It also expressly exempted parts of the Confederacy that had already come under Northern control. Most importantly, the freedom it promised depended upon Union military victory. In 1864, a year before the war came to an end, the Southern States of Tennessee, Arkansas, and Louisiana abolished slavery.

Out-gunned, out-manned, and out-financed, defeat loomed over the head of the Confederacy after four years of fighting. Jefferson Davis, now the President of the Confederacy, advocated resorting to guerrilla warfare to extend the struggle for an even longer time, but his generals, notably Robert E. Lee, felt the honorable thing to do was to end the war and begin reconciliation with the North.

Contrary to common belief, the end of the war did not equate to the end of slavery. Slavery still existed in the Northern states of Vermont and Kentucky until the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution passed in December 1865, eight months after General Lee's surrender.

The abolition of slavery failed to provide Africans with political or economic equality: Southern states, towns, and cities legalized and refined the practice of racial segregation. For a long period thereafter, well into the 20th century, the South enforced regional white supremacy through Jim Crow laws, segregation, sharecropping, and disenfranchisement. Domestic terrorist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan also plagued African-Americans in both the North and the South.

The American Civil War of 1861 to 1865 devastated the Old South socially and economically. Before the war, the South was the wealthiest part of the United States. After the war, during the Reconstruction period, the South struggled to rise from poverty and worked to establish a successful economy from the ashes. Richmond, Virginia, the former Capital of the Confederacy, grew quickly mostly due to its railroads, canals, and cutting edge electric trolley system, and later its Federal Reserve Bank. Sometime after World War II, the old agrarian Southern economy evolved into the "New South" – a manufacturing region with strong roots in Northern-style financial capitalism. High-rise buildings now crowd the skylines of Atlanta, Charlotte, Houston, Dallas, Nashville, and Little Rock. In the 20th century, the South saw an impressive regional outpouring of literature by William Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe, Andrew Nelson Lytle, Robert Penn Warren, Katherine Anne Porter, Tennessee Williams, Eudora Welty and Flannery O'Connor, among others.

Southern Culture in the 21st Century

As the effects of slavery and racial loyalty disappear, a new regional identity is being carefully crafted under the banner of the aforementioned "New South" through such events as the hip annual Spoleto Music Festival in Charleston, South Carolina, and the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia. Although the South as a whole defies stereotyping, it is nonetheless known for entrenched political conservatism, for its Calvinist religious fundamentalism, and for feelings of nostalgia toward the old rural South still present in events like Confederate Memorial Day, groups such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and small intellectual movements such as the revisionist "League of the South" and the Southern Agrarians.

Southern American cuisine is still somewhat distinctive. The Southern midday and evening meal tends still to consist of the "meat and three", usually a simple meat preparation such as meat loaf, baked ham, or fried pork chops, and three "vegetables" (a term often stretched to include macaroni and cheese, fried apples, Jello salad, and the like). Vegetables which are truly such are often flavored with lard or other fats and cooked for long periods, far longer than would be customary in other styles of cooking. Beverages of choice include "sweet tea", iced tea which is sweetened with large quantities of sugar while it is being brewed, and various soft drinks, many of which (like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Dr Pepper) had their origins in the South. This diet contains an unhealthy level of fat if consumed regularly, especially by persons with sedentary lifestyles, and is one of the main reasons that the South is associated with obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes being more endemic even than in the rest of North America. Traditional Southern food is often called "soul food" and associated primarily with African-Americans in the rest of the U.S.; in reality there is little difference between the traditional diets of white and black Southerners except that the diets of the latter are more apt to include offal dishes such as chitterlings ("chitlins"). Of course, most Southern cities and even some smaller towns now offer a wide variety of cuisines of other origins such as Chinese, Mexican, and Italian, as well as restaurants still serving primarily or solely Southern specialites. See:Southern U.S. cuisine

The South, probably more than any other industrially advanced society in the world, is highly religious, and politicians and sociologists often refer to it as the "Bible Belt" due to the prevelance of evangelical Protestantism and other conservative Christian faiths being held in predomiance. The Southern conservative seldom identifies with the Democratic Party any longer, and since the Reagan era many have switched loyalties to the Republican Party, in large measure due to its open courting of the evangelical Christian vote, largely rewriting its platform to accommodate the views of this group in a way that is highly unlikely to be emulated by the Democrats. Unlike modern Southern public schools, churches and neighborhoods are still largely segregated voluntarily, especially in rural areas; in some areas affluent suburbs are now largely racially integrated, and a small but increasing number of churches are as well.

Fights over the old "Rebel Flag" of the defunct Confederacy still occur from time to time, and it and other reminders of the Old South can be seen everywhere on automobile bumper-stickers, on t-shirts, and flown from homes. However, these remnants are slowly fading away in urban and suburban areas, and Southern accents are heard ever-less often in the larger growing cities, and the South is clearly merging into the greater commercial culture of the whole United States.

Exceptions and Variations

  • Southern Louisiana, having been colonized by France and Spain rather than Great Britain, has a different culture and traditions, especially with the Cajun culture of southwest Louisiana, and the Creole French, Latin American and Caribbean influenced culture of the New Orleans area. The Gulf Coast regions of Alabama, Mississippi, and northern Florida also share a similar French/Spanish colonial history, but lack the various other influences present in modern Louisiana.
  • Texas was a dependency of New Spain, but was originally claimed for France, became its own "Kingdom of Texas" under the Spanish, then part of Mexico, and lastly the independent Republic of Texas. After being annexed by the United States, it sided with the Confederate States of America in the American Civil War. There have been "six flags" over Texas. In many ways Texas has one foot in the South, and one in the Southwest. The major cities, especially Houston, see a very diverse population, especially that of Hispanic- and Asian-Americans.
  • Florida has had rapid population growth due to retirees 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, and also Puerto Rico, Haiti and other parts of Latin America, as non-Hispanic whites and native-born African Americans have fled north to find higher wages, lower costs of living, and cultures where they feel more comfortable. While southern and central Florida is seen by many as not truly part of the U.S. South in terms of culture, the areas of northeast Florida and the Panhandle still, for the most part, hold Southern traditions and ways-of-life dear.
  • The culture of Northern Kentucky is more Midwestern than Southern as this region is culturally and economically attached to Cincinnati, although the latter was once famously characterized as "combining Southern bigotry with Midwestern uptightness," this quotation most commonly being attributed to H.L. Mencken, though the authenticity of this is not universally accepted. Conversely, Southern Indiana is more Southern than it is Midwestern, as it is culturally and southwestern Indiana is economically attached to Louisville, Kentucky. Similarly, Southern Illinois (Little Egypt) is more Southern than it is Midwestern; it forms a coherent cultural region with the Missouri Bootheel, northeast Arkansas, Kentucky's Purchase, and West Tennessee; indeed, some claim that Interstate 70 is where the cultural "South" actually begins in this area, a definition that would also place parts of southern (especially southeastern) Ohio, as well as southern Indiana and Illinois, within the South (advocates of reckoning southern Ohio as "Southern" also cite the fact that the state's civil rights law includes "persons of Appalachian ancestry" among the categories against which discrimination is prohibited, this group being concentrated in the southeastern part of the state and "Appalachians" being viewed as a subset of "Southerners" by most observers). It should also be noted that many in Kentucky (generally, those in the western and northern regions) do not believe themselves to be "Southerners," historically or culturally—the cite Kentucky's initial neutrality in the Civil War, followed by the state siding with the Union. These Kentuckians often refuse to call themselves either midwestern nor southern.
  • Many do not consider Maryland and Delaware to be culturally Southern states, but the designation is disputed due to their proximity to both North and South. Those who see them as Southern cite the fact that although neither joined the Confederacy, slavery remained legal in them until the end of the Civil War in 1865, and that the Mason-Dixon line, long considered to be the border between North and South, is in fact the Maryland-Pennsylvania border. Today, they are sometimes grouped with Southern states for corporate and governmental administrative regions. However, Baltimore, Maryland, Wilmington, Delaware, and Newark, Delaware, lie along the Northeast Corridor that spans Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, which further separates them from the South, and ties them to a culture that has little in common with Southern culture.
  • 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 Internet boom around the turn of the 21st century. Economically it is linked to Washington, D.C.. Residents of the region tend to consider it part of the North, as do Southerners. However, it remains politically somewhat conservative, as opposed to the Maryland suburbs of Washington across the Potomac River, which are generally politically quite liberal.
  • Prior to its statehood in 1907, Oklahoma was "Indian Territory." The majority of the Native American tribes sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War. Oklahoma is similar to Texas in that it has a Southwestern influence. Still it has a strong Southern cultural feel as evidenced by dialect, religion, politics, cuisine, etc. It is geographically often grouped with the Midwest, but culturally is truly more Southern, especially in the eastern part of the state.

See also

External links


Regions of the United States
Census Bureau Regions
U.S. Midwest | U.S. Northeast | U.S. South | U.S. West
Non-Census Bureau Regions
Coastal states | Deep South | Delmarva | East | Eastern Seaboard | Gulf States | Great Lakes States | International Border states | Mid-Atlantic | Mississippi Delta | Mountain states | New England | North | Pacific Northwest | the Plains States | South Central States | Southeast | Southwest | Upper Midwest | West | West Coast

Last updated: 02-07-2005 18:41:23
Last updated: 04-25-2005 03:06:01