Oratory and Rhetoric in the Nineteenth-Century South: A Rhetoric of Defense

By W. Stuart Towns | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 10
Precursors of Progressivism: Nineteenth-Century Advocates for a More Humane South

Many of the critics and historians who have written about the post-bellum South have focused on the economic problems and the need for urbanization, agricultural diversification, industrialization, and, simply put, modernization. There is no question that the post-Civil War South found itself in dire economic straits and the siren call for industrialization and a "New South" proved irresistible to many southerners.

It could be argued, however, that the South's problems were not simply economic and that the human problem should have ranked equally high on the region's agenda. Some of the dimensions of the human element included a practically nonexistant education system for either race; lynching and other brutal treatment of black men; the driving white passion to keep the black race "in its place"; ill-health, poor housing, primitive or insubstantial social services for both white and black; an inhumane prison system; narrow thinking about state rights; paranoia stemming from a regional inferiority complex; and a fear of the future coupled with an unhealthy reverance for the past. These tendencies all came together as powerful forces that constrained growth and reduced the possibilities for significant progress--economic or otherwise. The blinders worn by most of the New South advocates prevented any significant attack on these human problems. The region remained in the nation's backwater until past the half-way point of the next century, when in the 1970s and 1980s, the region became synonomous with growth and prosperity.

One of the most serious and pervasive problems facing the black man in the South in the decades after the Civil War was lynching. Used by whites as a method of Negro control (that is, "keeping the Negro in his place"), lynching took an incredible toll throughout the region. Between 1882, the first year that statistics were kept on the practice, and 1952, at least 4,739 persons were murdered nationwide at the hands of a mob. In the West lynching

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