The New South versus the Old The late nineteenth century was a confusing time for southern states in America. Fresh out of a devastating civil war that had divided the country down the middle; the country was slowly trying to pull itself back together. Although slaves were in fact freed, and rights such as land owning and suffrage were granted to them, it did little to cool the racially flared problems deep in the south of the country. The biggest problems concerning the country as a whole during this period were concerning the rebuilding of the severely damaged economy after the devastating economic crash of the sass’s.
Not only were the once rich plantations owners now stripped of what they had considered for generations to be, “their property’, and forced to pay wages to freedmen, but the influx of new workers into the workforce caused inflation and the price of cotton, that had once been the back bone of the southern economy, began to plummet. Dealing with the dropping prices, farmers of the south became disillusioned with the idea of a “New South”, and began to demand change.
A country, now undergoing so much modernization in such a short amount of time, was at odds with the desire to progress industrially and economically, while still holding n to its former identity. No one in the country was caught in this dilemma more than the South as it battled to keep up with its neighbors in the North and its traditional past. One such modernization that was sweeping across the country, both North and South, was based on appearances. As years past and things like education and technology began to progress, so did the styles and culture of the United States.
New clothing, language and expectations were sweeping across the north and making their way, albeit at a slightly slower pace, to the south. Because so many in the South ere based around agriculture, the South became associated with old-fashioned ideals and out-of-date styles. As Areas put it, “in an era increasingly concerned with appearances, the farmers fell behind. “l Although southern farmers did own the land they worked on, and therefore made direct profit off what they sold Just as many businessmen in the Northern states, they were increasingly viewed as a lower rank.
Associated with uncouth clothing, vulgar language, uncivilized behavior and little to no education; those looking forward to a New South competing with the contemporary North felt things had to change. Although farmers provided the back bone of the economy; specifically that in the south, because of the changes to modern fashions and education in the north, they were viewed as red-neck. Farmers were not the only ones being faced with conflicting ideals of appearances as the Old South fought the New. Women were beginning to take charge in their own lives as well.
As an article published in the Southern Planter stated, “The time has past for admiring pale, young women with hour glass waists, unable to eat more than a few mouthfuls and ready to faint at a moment’s notice. “2 The standards that had once en necessary to consider a young Southern Belle beautiful were now changing, but not every southerner was in agreement. The new model of beauty for women southern movement concerning women was leading down a dire path. Many upholders of the old southern ideals still believed women were to be quiet, well behaved and delicate; something that exercise and revealing clothing were contradicting.
Unfortunately, it would take years for the Old South to finally relent to the new southern movement of fashion and style. The problems concerning racism and racial equality would continue to be a beefing feature in the struggle between the archaic and the New South. Although everyone, including white southerners, agreed that the betterment of the country depended on some type of reconciliation between the two races, not all whites were in agreement of how to go about doing it. Neither were all blacks.
Many white southerners would have rather seen racial relations go back to the ways before the civil war, while some supported complete equalities between blacks and whites. Booker T. Washington was a very prominent voice during the struggles between the modern New South and the traditional Old South. As an African American born of a black mother and white father, whom he never knew, he gained national recognition in 1895 when he spoke biblically at an Exhibition in Atlanta Georgia. His platform stated that “racial peace was crucial for Southern economic progress and economic progress was essential for racial peace. 3 Although he was supported by both African Americans and white southerners alike, the ambiguity of his statement left a lot of room for interpretation of what this meant. One of Washington’s philosophies rested on blacks turning away from higher education and placing more concentration n industrial training instead. According to Washington, this was the perfect technique to provide eventual change in the African American’s lives. White southerners, of course, supported his principles because it subdued the need for immediate advancements for African Americans.
Washington believed that African Americans needed to stop their pursuit of immediate equality in politics and economic issues because it was, according to him, not in the cards at that time. “Electoral politics offered more danger than promise in 1895. “4 He believed that these issues were already lost and energies were better spent working towards goals hat were actually attainable at that moment. He “urged the negro to acquire property, own his own land, drive his own mule attached to his own wagon… 5 this alone would elevate him in generations to come, therefore leading to the equalities they all yearned for. According to him, it was best to deal with these issues at hand and the politics would eventually come back in their favor. Although some African Americans did agree with Washington’s philosophies, many believed that this was a step in the wrong direction. That by giving up the fight for the right to hold public office or vote was stepping back to the archaic ways of the south, something African Americans had fought so hard against.
Those opposed to the changes taking place in the New South were happy to hear of a plan to subdue the immediate advancement of African American freedmen, seeing in this the possibility for things to go back to the traditional ways of the south. Slaves may have been freed, but at least white southerners would continue to reign supreme. Coupled with the speeches of Booker T. Washington, national attention was also given to the Negro building in the Atlanta exposition itself. Although all African Americans were allowed entry to the exhibition, were required to stay in the Negro building.
According to Areas “The negro building showed that southern whites recognized that southern blacks deserved representation and formal recognition, but the building also embodied the new thoroughness of segregation emerging”. 6 The Negro building stood to represent the changes taking place in the New South and the struggle the Old South put up against it. Although changes in rights for African Americans were forced upon those who did to agree with them, they made substantial efforts to fight them in any way they could.
The Atlanta, Georgia Exhibition would show the beginnings of what would become the south’s answer to its racial problems. They may not have been able to bar blacks from attending, but they would make sure they were secluded in their own sections. What would eventually gain Supreme Court recognition in the Peoples Vs… Ferguson case, the exhibition would bring to light the Old South’s answer, separate but equal. The fight for women’s rights was another subject that pitted the Old South against the blooming New South.
Traditions in the south were so ingrained in their culture, that as modern ideals began to take effect throughout the southern states they were met with intense opposition. Not only were the expectations of the appearances of women beginning to change, but so was propriety and their rights as individuals. Across the United States, beginning in the North, women started taking up recreational activities, such as riding bicycles. This activity in particular was seen as extremely unladylike behavior to many inhabitants of the south. The idea that omen needed to spread one leg on each side of the bicycle was seen as improper and offensive.
Swimming, an acceptable past time, was beginning to gain popularity with much more revealing swimming suits, something that caused intense controversy as the idea of modesty mixed with modernity. Women’s suffrage also became a huge cause for debate in the New south near the end of the nineteenth century. The Old South, believing women to be subdued and incapable of making their own decisions, fought women striving for independence as much as they had fought against it with former slaves. Starting, once again, in the North, women began to form their own women’s clubs, and began a suffrage movement of their own.
Slowly, it filtered its way down through the southern states; however it too was met with intense opposition. Although no concrete changes would come about until 1920 with the passing of the nineteenth constitutional amendment, this period laid the ground work for the changes to come and showed Just how much the Old South was at odds with the New. Another important facet of the changing southern perspective is evident in the southern literature that emerged during this period. Southern authors saw themselves as mediators between a genteel readership and a South that often refused to conform to standards of northern gentility. 7 This quote itself embodies the idea that many in the south disagreed with the ways of the north, and the influence it was having in the “NeW’ South. Many authors in the south strove to prove that “the Old South had nurtured some values worth maintaining”8; that, contrary to Northern perspectives, the south was not Just a backwards place of uncultured red-necks. Many prominent southern authors emerged during this period hat worked to mingle the traditions of the south in a modern way, and many Just outright rejected it.
George Washington Cable was an author that gained national New Orleans, was an open supporter of the confederacy during the civil war, but later developed misgivings about the “brutality he saw inflicted against blacks. “9 Although his books gained national regard in both the north and the south, some in the south saw his works as “selling-out” to the prejudice and hostile north. His reputation was eventually crushed in the South due to his outward campaign against he southern prison and asylum systems. Although he was a renowned author, many in the South were unreceptive of his critiques.
Mark Twain was another southern author that, while early in his career wrote using comical and racial comments referring to African Americans, having fond memories of the Old South. He eventually changed his beliefs. Twain saw “black southerners as the most honest and interesting people in the cursed region. “10 One of Twain’s most famous works, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a direct comparison between the Old South and the New. Twain’s writing did an incredible Job to describe the way the south saw itself, as well as pointed out its shortcomings involving racial brutality.
One author in particular, held a different perception from Washington’s and Twain’s. Thomas Nelson Page’s writing embodied the idea that many in the south still yearned for the days-of-old. Page’s writing told of the “glorious life of the antebellum years. “11 He wrote of stories romanticizes the times before the Civil War, times when individuals “had their fixed and secure places. “12 Page’s popularity showed that there were any across America who still idealized the Old South, which continued to clash with the New.
The American south during sass’s was a very diverse landscape. So many changes took place during such a short period of time, causing quite a bit of discomfort amongst those who preferred the way of life they were accustomed to. The emancipation of the slaves earlier in the century led to changes in African American rights, which would lead to problems involving long standing race discriminations. This period is known as the New South, but it was not as cut-and-dry as it may appear historically.
Although changes were taking place across the south, involving appearances, women’s rights, literature and segregation, not all inhabitants of the south supported the modern changes their region was undergoing. In fact, they fought it tooth-and-nail. Many agreed that progress was the best path out of the depression their country suffered, but many did not like the changes that went along with it. Unfortunately, the Old South fought many aspects of the New South, and would not be resolved without the passing of generations. Areas, Edward.