Liquor in the Land of the Lost Cause: Southern White Evangelicals and the Prohibition Movement

Liquor in the Land of the Lost Cause: Southern White Evangelicals and the Prohibition Movement

Liquor in the Land of the Lost Cause: Southern White Evangelicals and the Prohibition Movement

Liquor in the Land of the Lost Cause: Southern White Evangelicals and the Prohibition Movement

Synopsis

In the late 1800s, Southern evangelicals believed contemporary troubles -- everything from poverty to political corruption to violence between African Americans and whites -- sprang from the bottles of "demon rum" regularly consumed in the South. Though temperance quickly gained support in the antebellum North, Southerners cast a skeptical eye on the movement, because of its ties with antislavery efforts. Postwar evangelicals quickly realized they had to make temperance appealing to the South by transforming the Yankee moral reform movement into something compatible with southern values and culture. In Liquor in the Land of the Lost Cause: Southern White Evangelicals and the Prohibition Movement, Joe L. Coker examines the tactics and results of temperance reformers between 1880 and 1915. Though their denominations traditionally forbade the preaching of politics from the pulpit, an outgrowth of evangelical fervor led ministers and their congregations to sound the call for prohibition. Determined to save the South from the evils of alcohol, they played on southern cultural attitudes about politics, race, women, and honor to communicate their message. The evangelicals were successful in their approach, negotiating such political obstacles as public disapproval the church's role in politics and vehement opposition to prohibition voiced by Jefferson Davis. The evangelical community successfully convinced the public that cheap liquor in the hands of African American "beasts" and drunkard husbands posed a serious threat to white women. Eventually, the code of honor that depended upon alcohol-centered hospitality and camaraderie was redefined to favor those who lived as Christians and supported the prohibition movement. Liquor in the Land of the Lost Cause is the first comprehensive survey of temperance in the South. By tailoring the prohibition message to the unique context of the American South, southern evangelicals transformed the region into a hotbed of temperance activity, leading the national prohibition movement.

Excerpt

On the evening of July 30, 1907, a spirit of revelry swept over the evangelical Christians of Atlanta, Georgia. Hundreds celebrated around the statue of Henry Grady, the famed post–Civil War booster of economic development in the New South. Lula Ansley, a leader of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in Georgia, later recalled the jubilation: “The scene was indescribable— grown men sobbed like children, women threw themselves into each others’ arms weeping—bells rang, horns blew, whistles screamed.” the celebrants also sang the doxology, although the blessing for which they praised God flowed, most immediately, from the Georgia state legislature. Earlier in the day Georgia lawmakers had passed a bill outlawing the manufacture or sale of alcoholic beverages anywhere in the state. This marked the first time that statewide prohibition legislation had ever been passed in a southern state.

The celebration was not simply the expression of Christians who were grateful that the government had struck a blow against the vice of drinking and the forces of evil. Most twenty-first-century Americans familiar with the South might fail to appreciate the momentous nature of that day’s events. Indeed, the region is still known as a place where restrictions on the sale of alcohol linger, even though the United States abandoned its experiment with national prohibition more than seven decades ago. For Georgia evangelicals in 1907, however, the passage of this legislation was the culmination of decades of toil to build southern support for prohibition, and it provided a monumental victory for a movement whose success was far from guaranteed.

The struggle had been a long one, frequently contentious and bitter. It had taken place in pulpits, on political hustings, in denomi-

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