- Cold War Dixie: Militarization and Modernization in the American South by Kari Frederickson
At a 1982 Southern Historical Association conference Morton Sosna put forth the idea that “all in all, World War II probably had a greater impact on the South than the Civil War.” However, WWII was not the only thing that would affect the region. Other factors such as suburbanization, industrialization, the Civil Rights movement, and the Cold War also contributed to the political, social, and economic changes in the region from the 1950s onward. Kari Frederickson has provided an excellent case study of how the Cold War continued the rapid modernization of areas in the American South where military bases and defense industries were located. She examines the impact of the combined military–industrial efforts of the Atomic Energy Commission and the Du Pont Corporation to build and operate the Savannah River Plant (SRP) in Aiken County, a rural section of South Carolina. For the military this facility was a critical component in its Cold War arsenal, and it connected this small area of South Carolina with the international efforts to compete militarily with communism.
For the people living in the area it meant not only the opportunity for higher–paying jobs, an improved infrastructure, and an opportunity for local entrepreneurs but a force that would alter the status quo. Initially, there was concern from the “agricultural interests” who feared that the facility might take away workers from the local market, landowners, and those who worried about the influx of outsiders into the region. However, instead of a strong resistance to the facility Frederickson shows that a blend of rural locals, Old Aiken/Winter Colony folks and Du Ponters created a unique community that was more open to modernization and change, especially racial integration, than elsewhere in the South. And, some African American [End Page 309] residents saw the coming of the facility as an opportunity to secure higher paying jobs.
Du Pont officials were very cautious about being associated with a weapons project because of their earlier reputation as a ‘merchant of death.’ They decided that the financial rewards were great enough to take on this project. Dupont did not build a company town or provide comprehensive plans for the development of housing, services, and roads as had been done in WWII. Instead, it relied on the private sector and local government to create an infrastructure to service the labor force. The unique corporate culture of Du Pont spread to the local community as Du Pont’s white collar employees began to chip away at the established political power structure. Du Ponters also became involved in civic groups that became the incubators for the Republican Party’s growth in the area in the late 1960s.
In the late 1940s the specter of communist intrigue around the globe, the start of the Korean War, and the Soviet Union’s explosion of an atomic bomb motivated the Truman administration to begin work on the hydrogen bomb. A new manufacturing facility was needed to provide the nuclear program with adequate supplies of plutonium and tritium. The Atomic Energy Commission and the Du Pont Corporation selected the Savannah River site referred to as Site 5. While not perfect, the area fit most of their criteria well. Once official notice that the Savannah River Plant was going to be built Du Pont began a media campaign to deal with resident’s concerns. Although the media campaign emphasized the great benefits of the Savannah River Plant in terms of jobs and an economic boost to the local economy many were still apprehensive about the coming changes. When landowners were approached by “men in double-breasted suits” (49) and told that they had to vacate their land forever, the economic benefits seemed insignificant to the loss of their land and the dismantling of their rural community and its traditions. A number of landowners refused to accept what the Land Acquisition Division of the Army Corps of Engineers considered fair market value...