The Transformation of Southern Politics Analysis

Walter DeVries

The Transformation of Southern Politics

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 19)

In this sweeping study of the formidable political change in the South, Jack Bass and Walter DeVries analyze Southern political attitudes and developments by considering each Southern state as an individual political entity and as part of a collective political group. The eleven Southern states are projected as possessing a distinctive political character and style, but the differences are comparable to those that may occur between eleven brothers and sisters coming from a single family. They are part of the South and linked by a common history. Bass and DeVries refer to such basic shared features as a plantation tradition based on slavery, a one-party system suppressing issues and removing most blacks from political participation, and the unique American experience of wartime defeat and devastation.

The Reconstruction measures imposed on the defeated Confederacy generated the solidarity reaction that gave rise to the political phenomenon of the Democratic “solid South,” lasting until 1948. In the election year of 1948 the “solid South” cracked. This date may, therefore, be viewed as a turning point, the beginning of the transformation of Southern politics. As a kind of point of departure, the authors refer to the acclaimed landmark study on Southern politics by V. O. Key, which appeared in 1949, at the threshold of the new era. Key had identified and analyzed the institutional forces which suppressed the grievances of the poor and kept all power in the hands of rural conservatives. The forces discussed by Key had disintegrated with the arrival of the 1970’s. During the last approximately twenty-five years the South experienced the gradual collapse of its traditional social structure, based on rigid racial segregation. Tremendous social change had been brought about by the massive movement of people from farms to cities, from agriculture to industry, and the mass migration of blacks moving out of the region and white professionals and managers moving into it. Such enormous demographic changes inevitably meant considerable political change. Among the important developments leading to the emergence of the “New South” were the acquisition of political power by blacks through the civil rights legislation and the termination of the over-representation of the rural areas through reapportionment. Coalitions of blacks and those whites who were adjusting to the changing circumstances constituted the basis for the “New South.”

Bass and DeVries, who combine the resources of journalism and political science, utilize extensive opinion surveys indicating that the differences between the South and the non-South are fading. Nevertheless, some regional distinction remains. The authors note that the percentage of the black population in the South is almost three times that of the non-South; the white population is substantially more Anglo-Saxon and less East European in its ancestry; its religion is more fundamentalist Protestant; and the region’s per capita personal income and the median level of education are lower than that of the rest of the country. The political change has been accompanied by social and economic change more rapid than in the rest of the country.

The state-by-state analysis reveals that each Southern state experienced a nearly universal political transformation in its own unique way. However, some general patterns and trends can be identified. Typically, for instance, an effective challenge by a rising Republican Party or an “anti-Establishment” force would lead to a period of upheaval and eventually to a new period of political modernization and moderation. Illustrative are the elections of Republican governors in Florida and Arkansas in 1966. Such impressive challenges brought about the revitalization of the Democratic Party and the emergence of such progressive leaders as Dale Bumpers in Arkansas and Reubin Askew in Florida. Their elections, also, reestablished Democratic dominance in their respective states.

In Georgia the anti-Establishment challenge of Lester Maddox, accompanied by a strong Republican bid for the governorship, ushered in the transition period, followed by the election of moderate Democrat Jimmy Carter for governor in 1970 and black civil rights leader Andrew Young for Congress in 1972. In this case, too, the revitalized Democratic Party restored its dominance.

In Tennessee, a Southern state where the Republican Party had been competitive for some time, the election of Republicans for governor and both United States senators provided the impetus for the Democrats to organize and recapture the governorship, as well as two congressional seats in 1974.

In North Carolina, a state which has not kept up with other Southern states in social and economic development, but stands out regarding the role of women in politics, the Republicans captured the statehouse in 1972. Consistent with the pattern, the Democrats recaptured it in 1976.

In South Carolina,...

(The entire section is 2036 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 19)

America. CXXXV, November 4, 1976, p. 305.

Best Sellers. XXXVI, November, 1976, p. 268.

Book World. August 22, 1976, p. F5.

New Republic. CLXXV, September 11, 1976, p. 31.

New York Times Book Review. August 15, 1976, p. 4.

Village Voice. XXI, August 23, 1976, p. 35.