The Irony of the Solid South: Democrats, Republicans, and Race, 1865-1944

By Wynne, Ben | The Historian, Winter 2015 | Go to article overview

The Irony of the Solid South: Democrats, Republicans, and Race, 1865-1944


Wynne, Ben, The Historian


The Irony of the Solid South: Democrats, Republicans, and Race, 1865-1944. By Glenn Feldman. (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2013. Pp. xix, 459. $49.95.)

In this new work on Southern political culture, the author examines the pervasive traits that have dominated politics in the South for the past 150 years. He argues that the evolution of the "Solid South" from a region controlled by the Democratic Party to one controlled by the Republicans was a function not of change but of white Southerners consistently adhering to a collection of core values--white supremacy, cultural conservatism, religious fundamentalism, and a devotion to market values--that date back to the Reconstruction era and beyond. According to the author, it was a racially driven, conservative ethos that did not waver through the generations. It transcended party labels and through the twists and turns of history sought a home in the most conservative political organization available at any given time, such as the Southern wing of the post-Civil War Democratic Party, the so-called Dixiecrat movement of the 1940s, George Wallace's independent presidential candidacy, and eventually the Republican Party. Though Glenn Feldman's work deals primarily with Alabama, he also couches many of his conclusions in a broader context that reflects the political environment across the entire Deep South and the nation in general in the modern era.

Feldman focuses on what he calls the fundamental "ironies" of Southern political history, including the notion that the same New Deal that brought together disparate groups in the South under the Democratic banner also made it impossible for the "Solid South" to cleave to the party over the long term. Rather than a turning point in Southern politics, Feldman describes the New Deal era as an aberration, a period during which unprecedented economic concerns temporarily caused many white Southerners to lose their conservative focus. …

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