4.5 Mountain South: Depression, War and the Death of Jim Crow (1920-1965)



 

1920

(48 states)

1940

(48 states)

1960

(48 states)

Kentucky

2,416,630

15th

2,845,627

16th

3,038,156

22nd

Tennessee

2,337,885

19th

2,915,841

15th

3,567,089

17th

West Virginia

1,463,701

27th

1,901,974

25th

1,860,421

30th

Missouri

3,404,055

9th

3,784,664

10th

4,319,813

13th

Arkansas

1,752,204

25th

1,949,387

24th

1,786,272

31st

Percent of U.S. population

10.7%

 

10.1%

 

8.1%

 


Key events that shaped law and society:

  • The Great Depression (1929-1941) struck the mountain South hard.  Mountain South legislatures passed a broad variety of relief measures such as mortgage “moratoriums” and laws creating new agencies designed to regulate business competition, provide rural electrification and improve the economy in other ways.  Kentucky and Tennessee benefited from the massive Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) dam-building and rural electrification project, a centerpiece of the New Deal; they and Missouri also benefited economically from the defense build-up during World War II.
  • The mountain South regained prosperity during and after the Depression and World War II, but not as rapidly as many other regions.  The region attracted fewer northern migrants than other parts of the South.  West Virginia and Arkansas in particular stagnated; both states lost population between 1940 and 1965. 
  • Mountain South states participated in the nationalization process, but at the same time Jim Crow continued to separate the South 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), mountain South states (except for Arkansas) resisted integration less aggressively than their deep South counterparts.  Cracks appeared in the Jim Crow system after 1954, but on the eve of passage of the landmark federal civil rights laws of 1964 and 1965, segregation was still deeply entrenched in most areas of mountain South life.  
  • 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 World War II; the educational opportunities the federal G.I. Bill (1946) offered to veterans after the war; the rise of national radio and television networks; and not least, the development of air conditioning, which transformed Southern life.  Elements of nationalization also appeared in American legal culture:  for example, the Uniform Commercial Code, governing most business and banking transactions, was adopted by every state except Louisiana.  Mountain South states participated fully in this cultural nationalization process.  


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Tennessee Valley Authority - Norris Dam, Tennessee (1942) - courtesy Edward Rothstein, Farm Security Administration and Library of Congress