6.6 Deep South (1920-1965): Depression, War and Cracks in Jim Crow

 

 

1920

(48 states)

1940

(48 states)

1960

(50 states)

South Carolina

1,683,724

26th

1,899,804

26th

2,382,594

26th

Georgia

2,895,832

12th

3,123,723

14th

3,943,116

16th

Florida

968,470

32nd

1,897,414

27th

4,951,560

10th

Alabama

2,348,174

18th

2,832,961

17th

3,266,740

19th

Mississippi

1,790,618

23rd

2,183,796

23rd

2,178,141

29th

Louisiana

1,798,509

22nd

2,363,880

21st

3,257,022

20th

 

10.8%

 

10.8%

 

11.1%

 

 
 

Key events that shaped law and society:

  • The Great Depression (1929-1941) struck the Deep South hard.  The region strongly supported the New Deal, and Deep South legislatures passed a broad variety of similar relief measures including mortgage “moratoriums” and laws creating new agencies designed to regulate business competition, encourage labor unions and provide rural electrification.   Beginning with Mississippi in 1936, the Deep South also led the way in creating “balance agriculture with industry” programs – laws permitting state and local government to build facilities designed to attract private industry, a model which spread to other parts of the nation after World War II. 
  • The Deep South regained a measure of prosperity during the Depression and World War II.  New Deal relief programs helped many residents escape abject poverty, and the region benefited heavily from the defense build-up during World War II.  Thanks to the region’s delegation in Congress, which had built up much power through seniority, many military bases and plants built for the war remained in place after 1945 to meet the defense needs of the Cold War era.
  • American culture became increasingly nationalized during this era, due to unifying events such as universal military service and a strong sense of national solidarity during the war; the educational opportunities the federal G.I. Bill (1946) offered to veterans after the war; and the rise of national radio and television networks.  The development of air conditioning made Southern living more attractive for natives and Northern immigrants alike, and helped the South compete economically with other regions.  Elements of nationalization also appeared in American legal culture:  for example, every state except Louisiana adopted the Uniform Commercial Code during this era. 
    • Although Deep South states participated in the nationalization process, Jim Crow continued to keep the region apart from the rest of the nation in important ways.  After the U.S. Supreme Court scrapped the “separate but equal” doctrine and declared school segregation unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), most Deep South states denounced the court actively resisted integration.  Cracks gradually appeared in the Jim Crow system after 1954, but on the eve of passage of the landmark federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, segregation was still firmly entrenched in the Deep South.  

  • Florida transformed itself during this era.  Fueled by northern retirees who found its warm climate attractive and other northerners attracted by economic opportunity, Florida’s population increased fivefold from 1920 to 1960 and it went from the smallest to the largest state in the Deep South.  Florida retained many components of Southern culture, but because of heavy Northern immigration it was less resistant to Brown and other efforts to end segregation than the rest of the Deep South.