Public Address in the Twentieth-Century South: The Evolution of a Region

Public Address in the Twentieth-Century South: The Evolution of a Region

Public Address in the Twentieth-Century South: The Evolution of a Region

Public Address in the Twentieth-Century South: The Evolution of a Region

Synopsis

This anthology is the only collection of speeches by southerners on the major themes that have shaped the history and culture of the South in the 20th century. Selections illustrate the evolution of the South from a land of defensiveness, poverty, and segregation at the beginning of the century to a region that prides itself, justifiably, on the fact that it has overcome these conditions and has taken its place as an equal partner in eyes of the nation. Introductory comments and biographical sketches of the speakers assist the reader in putting the speeches into historical context.

Excerpt

In spite of what the New South advocates like Henry Grady claimed and proclaimed, the South of the last years of the nineteenth and first decades of the twentieth centuries was hardly "new," nor was it a land of opportunity and success--at least, not for the overwhelming masses of the people, black and white. Poverty was grinding and unrelenting for many southerners, especially those tied to the land, not through slavery, but through sharecropping a one-crop agriculture. Life was desolate for those women and children who were equally bound to the textile mills of the Piedmont, or for the men who were "owned by the company store" at the coal mines of Appalachia. Few could read or write and few saw any hope for a climb out of their desperate ranks.

There was, however, one difference between the races at this lowest economic level: many of the whites were allowed to vote--their black neighbors in poverty and illiteracy could not, for the most part, practice this basic democratic ritual. As a result, a class of southern politicians from the 1890s through the late-1960s grew strong and waxed powerful in the state houses of the South and in the national councils of Washington. These men came to be known as the Southern Demagogues, political figures who exploited the poor whites' ability to vote, their deplorable economic conditions, and their long-standing fear of those blacks just below them on the economic ladder. The demagogues' rhetoric focused on emotions rather than on their audiences' reasoning powers. They attacked scapegoats such as "Wall Street," bankers, corporations, railroads, Jews, immigrants, and, especially, Blacks. Their language was violent, impolite, undiplomatic, but it spoke to, and for, the little guys who up to now, felt they had no spokesmen.

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