The new order of race relations that was incubated in the cities was one of the more peculiar legacies of the New South era. The inability to five up to its aims of black uplift, which it had proclaimed as an essential prerequisite to regional progress, was perhaps the most obvious weakness of the New South movement. Among its other bequests were a mixture of remarkable accomplishments and undeniable disappointments, all with lasting influence in the modern South.
Not least among the achievements of the New South was the creation of a vast network of towns and cities that had been integrated into a regional and national economy by rail, steamship, and telegraph. The number of southern towns and cities exploded between 1880 and 1910, particularly at the lower end of the urban hierarchy, providing a firm foundation upon which a regional urban system could build. With the proliferation of new towns, the South's population began a sustained shift from country to city that multiplied the urban share of the population almost three times in a half century, from less than 7 percent in 1860 to nearly 20 percent by 1910 and then climbing steadily to 68 percent by 1980 (see table 1.1). More than any agricultural reform programs from the New South era through the New Deal and more recent times, urbanization rescued a large number of country folk from the chronic misery of rural life in the South. Migration to the city was no guarantee of a better life, but the lure was sufficient to form the dissatisfied and the ambitious into a relentless stream of migrants from country to city. It was mostly urbanites living in the comforts of Nashville and other cities who waxed romantic about the agrarian world the South had lost.
As the towns pulled more people in from the country, an expanding urban commercial network simultaneously invaded the hinterland and drew the remaining rural inhabitants into a market economy in unprecedented ways.