6.5 Deep South (1877-1920): Bourbons, Straight-Outs, Jim Crow and Southern Progressivism



 

1880

(37 states)

1900

(45 states)

1920

(48 states)

South Carolina

995,577

21st

1,340,316

24th

1,683,724

26th

Georgia

1,542,180

13th

2,216,331

11th

2,895,832

12th 

Florida

269,493

34th

528,542

32nd

968,470

32nd

Alabama

1,262,505

17th

1,828,697

18th

2,348,174

18th

Mississippi

1,131,597

18th

1,551,270

20th

1,790,618

23rd

Louisiana

939,946

22nd

1,381,625

23rd

1,798,509

22nd

 

12.2%

 

11.6%

 

10.8%

 


Key events that shaped law and society:

  • Those who took control of Deep South states at the end of Reconstruction were known as “Redeemers” or “Bourbons.”  They consisted mainly of planters and other members of the South’s pre-war economic and social elite.  The Bourbons adopted a policy of relative racial moderation in order to prevent further federal interference in their states’ affairs.  Blacks in the Deep South were left in relative peace and their basic civil rights were maintained, on the understanding that they would not try to expand those rights or challenge Bourbon dominance. 
  • Many Bourbons worked to develop a “new South” less dependent on agriculture and more integrated into the nation’s industrializing economy.  Textile mills sprang up in South Carolina; Alabama developed extensive coal-mining operations and the beginnings of a major steel industry, centered in Birmingham; New Orleans preserved its pre-war status as a national commercial center, and Atlanta joined it.  Developers of south Florida, which began to fill up during the era, promoted a mixed economy based on agriculture, light industry and tourism.  
  • Economic change led to political change.  In the late 1880s white workers and small farmers in many parts of the Deep South, fearful of black competition and resentful of Bourbon political dominance, rebelled:  they demanded a larger role in running their states and stronger measures to ensure that blacks would be eliminated as economic and political competition. 
  • The “straight-outs” were disarmingly frank about their desire to eliminate the threat of black political and economic power.  Throughout the Deep South (and other parts of the South), they enacted “Jim Crow” laws requiring segregation of railroads, streetcars, hotels and other places of public accommodation, and even residential areas.  The laws were designed to formalize and support an increasingly rigid social code that limited contact between blacks and whites and required blacks to show subservience in all interracial contacts. 
  • 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 “separate but 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 Deep 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, Deep South states sporadically enacted laws to reduce political corruption, tax reform laws, laws regulating railroads and utilities, and improving industrial workers’ conditions.   Many Deep South states eventually enacted such reforms, but the reforms came late and caused little legal stir because their constitutionality had been fought out and decided in other states long before.