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The Problem South

Region, Empire, and the New Liberal State, 1880?1930

Natalie J. Ring

Publication Year: 2012

For most historians, the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw the hostilities of the Civil War and the dashed hopes of Reconstruction give way to the nationalizing forces of cultural reunion, a process that is said to have downplayed sectional grievances and celebrated racial and industrial harmony. In truth, says Natalie J. Ring, this buoyant mythology competed with an equally powerful and far-reaching set of representations of the backward Problem South—one that shaped and reflected attempts by northern philanthropists, southern liberals, and federal experts to rehabilitate and reform the country's benighted region. Ring rewrites the history of sectional reconciliation and demonstrates how this group used the persuasive language of social science and regionalism to reconcile the paradox of poverty and progress by suggesting that the region was moving through an evolutionary period of “readjustment” toward a more perfect state of civilization.

In addition, The Problem South contends that the transformation of the region into a mission field and laboratory for social change took place in a transnational moment of reform. Ambitious efforts to improve the economic welfare of the southern farmer, eradicate such diseases as malaria and hookworm, educate the southern populace, “uplift” poor whites, and solve the brewing “race problem” mirrored the colonial problems vexing the architects of empire around the globe. It was no coincidence, Ring argues, that the regulatory state's efforts to solve the “southern problem” and reformers' increasing reliance on social scientific methodology occurred during the height of U.S. imperial expansion.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Series: Politics and Culture in the Twentieth-Century South

Cover, Title Page, Copyright

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p. vii

List of Illustrations

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p. ix

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pp. xi-xiv

There are many people, institutions, and associations who made this book possible. The process of researching and writing has taken longer than expected and my memory is weaker; thus I offer a preemptive apology to those I have neglected to acknowledge...

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Introduction: Regional, National, and Global Designs

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pp. 1-17

In 1920 Henry Louis Mencken published a scathing essay titled “The Sahara of the Bozart” in which he derided the American South for its lack of culture, political ignorance, degraded Anglo-Saxon stock, and “vexatious public problems.” He remarked...

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1. The “Southern Problem” and Readjustment

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pp. 18-57

In the first decade of the twentieth century President Theodore Roosevelt wrote, “The problem of any one part of our great common country should be held to be the problem of all our country.”1 Roosevelt’s statement echoed what many Americans had already come to believe, that the...

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2. The Menace of the Diseased South

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pp. 58-94

In May 1914 in Memphis, Tennessee, the Southern Sociological Congress gathered to address the social and economic problems of the South. James McCulloch, a clergyman and social reformer from Alabama, noted in the introductory remarks of the published conference proceedings...

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3. The White Plague of Cotton

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pp. 95-134

Nowhere is the paradox of progress and poverty in the New South more apparent than in the region’s reliance on and devotion to cotton. Writing in the Independent, G. L. Fossick proclaimed, “Cotton is the South’s blessing or its curse; at once its hope and its greatest...

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4. The Poor White Problem as the “New Race Question”

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pp. 135-174

In April 1902 the Arena published a national article cautioning that the South now faced a greater problem than the “negro question.” S. A. Hamilton, from Roaring Spring, Pennsylvania, described how this “new ‘race question’” had “approached so insidiously, and from so unexpected...

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5. The “Race Problem” and the Fiction of the Color Line

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pp. 175-215

In the summer of 1890 over one hundred white philanthropists, reformers, politicians, newspaper editors, and clergymen from across the country met to discuss the “Negro question” at Lake Mohonk in Ulster County, New York. It was not the first such gathering at Lake Mohonk....

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EPILOGUE: The Enduring Paradox of the South

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pp. 216-220

In 1926, Edwin Mims, chair of the literature department at Vanderbilt University, wrote in The Advancing South that “the conflict between the forces of progress and reaction has been going on ever since Appomattox.” Writing on the heels of the Scopes trial in Dayton...


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pp. 221-268


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pp. 269-302


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pp. 303-334

E-ISBN-13: 9780820344027
E-ISBN-10: 0820329037
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820329031
Print-ISBN-10: 0820329037

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 10 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Politics and Culture in the Twentieth-Century South
Series Editor Byline: Bryant Simon and Jane Dailey, Series Editors See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 786176229
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Problem South

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Southern States -- Economic policy.
  • Southern States -- Economic conditions.
  • Southern States -- Social conditions -- 1865-1945.
  • Liberalism -- Southern States -- History.
  • Southern States -- Politics and government -- 1865-1950.
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