Sunbelt Rising: The Politics of Place, Space, and Region

Sunbelt Rising: The Politics of Place, Space, and Region

Sunbelt Rising: The Politics of Place, Space, and Region

Sunbelt Rising: The Politics of Place, Space, and Region

Synopsis

Coined by Republican strategist Kevin Phillips in 1969 to describe the new alloy of conservatism that united voters across the southern rim of the country, the term "Sunbelt" has since gained currency in the American lexicon. By the early 1970s, the region had come to embody economic growth and an ambitious political culture. With sprawling suburban landscapes, cities like Atlanta, Dallas, and Los Angeles seemed destined to sap influence from the Northeast. Corporate entrepreneurialism and a conservative ethos helped forge the Sunbelt's industrial-labor relations, military spending, education systems, and neighborhood development. Unprecedented migration to the region ensured that these developments worked in concert with sojourners' personal quests for work, family, community, and leisure. In the resplendent Sunbelt the nation seemed to glimpse the American Dream remade.

The essays in Sunbelt Rising deploy new analytic tools to explain this region's dramatic rise. Contributors to the volume study the Sunbelt as both a physical entity and a cultural invention. They examine the raised highway, the sprawling prison complex, and the fast-food restaurant as distinctive material contours of a region. In this same vein they delineate distinctive Sunbelt models of corporate and government organization, which came to shape so many aspects of the nation's political and economic future. Contributors also examine literature, religion, and civic engagement to illustrate how a particular Sunbelt cultural sensibility arose that ordered people's lives in a period of tumultuous change. By exploring the interplay between the Sunbelt as a structurally defined space and a culturally imagined place, Sunbelt Rising addresses longstanding debates about region as a category of analysis.

Published in cooperation with the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies, Southern Methodist University.

Excerpt

One week before the 1976 presidential election, evangelicals gathered in Dallas, Texas, for the National Prayer Congress sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ. Thirty-two pastors, lay leaders, Christian celebrities, and housewife activists gave warmly received talks on different facets of prayer, but two Texans with California ties stood out. Fifteen years earlier, the Reverends E. V. Hill and W. A. Criswell could not have shared the same stage; the former black radical and founding member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference from Houston and the white fundamentalist Baptist from Dallas were ideological foes in the early 1960s and stark reminders of a polarized South. Yet in 1976, the two spoke passionately and in unison about the virtues of a Sunbelt South and its spiritual and political mandate to lead the nation.

Much as he had done since the early 1970s, when speaking on behalf of Richard Nixon’s “black silent majority,” Hill offered a message of racial reconciliation through changed hearts and minds. “I’m a Texan…. I breath [sic] comfortably in Texas,” he announced, before recounting his struggles with poverty and discrimination as a child growing up in a South Texas hamlet, his personal embrace of Jesus and reliance on family in times of need, and his move to Los Angeles to guide Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church out of the Watts race wars of the mid-1960s. These were testimonial signposts evangelicals already recognized, but they nevertheless allowed the famous black preacher to reiterate his parable for the nation. There was no social welfare in his childhood hometown, just a lot of neighborly love, he explained, no government handouts, just an abundance of . . .

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