3.5 Old South: Jim Crow and Southern Progressivism (1877-1920)


 

 

1880

(37 states)

1900

(45 states)

1920

(48 states)

Maryland

934,943

23rd

1,188,044

26th

1,449,661

28th

Delaware

146,608

37th

184,735

42nd

223,003

46th

Virginia

1,512,565

14th

1,854,154

17th

2,309,187

20th

North Carolina

1,399,750

15th

1,893,810

15th

2,559,123

14th

Percent of U.S. population

8.0%

 

6.7%

 

 

6.2%

 

 

Cities and metropolitan areas among 25 largest in U.S.:

Population, rank

1880

1900

1920

Baltimore

Metro

332,313

7th

508,957

532,000

6th

7th 

733,826

753,000

8th

10th








Key events that shaped law and society: 

  • Reconstruction ended early in the Old South.  Conservative “Bourbon” Democrats regained control of Maryland in 1867, Virginia in 1870 and North Carolina in 1875; in Delaware, they had never been out of power.  But Republicans retained significant bases of support in all Old South states.  Throughout this period, they occasionally were able to take advantage of Democratic divisions to gain power in Maryland and Delaware. 
  • In the late 1870s, popular resentment of Virginia Bourbons’ insistence on paying off the state’s Civil War debts in full enabled an insurgent “Readjuster” faction of the Democracy, led by an ex-Confederate general William Mahone, to fuse with Virginia Republicans and hold power until the movement faded in the mid-1880s.  When depression struck in the early 1890s, many North Carolina farmers and workers looked to the Grange movement and Populism for a solution; they, too, fused with the Republicans and temporarily took control of the state, leading to a brief period of economic reform and modest racial cooperation. 
  • The Bourbons adopted a policy of relative racial moderation in order to prevent further federal interference in state affairs.  Blacks in the Old South were left in peace and their basic civil rights were continued, on the understanding that they would not challenge Bourbon political and economic dominance.  Virginia and North Carolina leaders worked to develop a “new South” less dependent on agriculture and more integrated into the nation’s industrializing economy.  Their biggest success was the rapid growth of North Carolina’s textile and furniture-making industries.  Maryland and Delaware did not need a “new” economy, because their economies had been closely linked to the North for decades.  That trend continued during the late 19th and early 20th centuries:  Baltimore continued to be an important national trading hub, western Maryland’s coal industry grew and served a national market, and between 1900 and 1920 Delaware’s DuPont family transformed its chemical business into an empire.
  • Because Maryland and Delaware were heavily influenced by Northern political and economic currents and Virginia and North Carolina industrialized more rapidly then other parts of the South, workers and small farmers did not mount a “straight out” rebellion at the end of the 19th century and did not press for all-out restriction of black suffrage, as did most Deep South states.  Nevertheless, restriction of black suffrage and civil rights increased, albeit more gently than elsewhere in the South.  
  • Like other parts of the South, Old South states enacted “Jim Crow” laws requiring segregation of railroads, streetcars, hotels and other places of public accommodation, and even of residential areas.  The laws were designed to formalize and support an increasingly rigid social code that limited interracial contact  and required blacks to show subservience at all times when such contact was necessary.  A handful of black leaders and white reformers challenged  Jim Crow laws, but in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) the U.S. Supreme Court held that segregation was constitutional as long as “equal” facilities were provided for each race.  Plessy dampened enthusiasm for further challenges to segregation, although isolated challenges continued and in the case of residential segregation laws were successful.      
  • The Old South did not opt out of the Progressive era, but it took a cautious approach.  Southern Progressives believed that preserving the established racial order was paramount and were careful not to push reforms that might upset it.  Between 1890 and 1920, Old South states sporadically enacted laws to reduce political corruption, tax reform laws, laws regulating railroads and utilities, and laws to improve industrial workers’ conditions, but the reforms came late and caused little legal stir.
 
 
Sixth Street market, Richmond, Va.
Market, Richmond, Virginia, 1908 - courtesy Library of Congress

Steamers along the piers, Baltimore, Md.
Baltimore harbor, 1905 - courtesy Library of Congress