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Following the disastrous outcome of the Civil War, the former Confederate States of America (CSA) faced even more challenges as a defeated nation. Federal occupation and forced reconciliations such as the "Ironclad Oath" had a serious demoralizing effect on many residents of the South. In an effort to project a renewed allegiance to the Union, prominent Southerners such as the editor of the Atlanta Constitution created a public relations campaign describing the New South.
Before the Civil War, the Northern states generally focused their economy on manufacturing, while the Southern states focused primarily on raw production. A Northern factory would produce cloth from cotton provided by southern plantations, for instance. Because the antebellum South used slave labor to provide these raw goods, however, the region was generally viewed as a repressive agrarian culture with little respect for human equality.
Following the Civil War, prominent Southern whites wanted to portray the New South as a region which no longer embraced the plantation and slave labor mentality of the Old South. The region had the same capability to develop manufacturing and industry as the North. In fact, the lack of union representation and the availability of large, inexpensive tracts of commercial land should have made the area even more attractive to industry leaders.
This New South idea did catch on in various Southern towns and cities, but it wasn't exactly the public relations miracle many elite Southerners hoped it would be. While many Southern states did start to distance themselves from the prejudices and inequalities of the Old South, there were still a number of issues which continued to tarnish the perception of a truly new South. Segregation between blacks and whites was still an active practice, for example.
During the tumultuous years of the Civil Rights movement, the claims of a successful New South conversion rang especially hollow. Only after the passage of the Civil Rights Act did many examples of sanctioned segregation fall by the wayside in some Southern states. Some critics considered any application of the idea by Southern politicians to be a coded message to certain voters, much like the phrase "States' Rights" became a secret shorthand for continued segregation efforts.
The Southern region has indeed succeeded in developing industry and manufacturing which rivals its Northern neighbors. Racial relations have improved significantly in recent years, and many former residents of the Rust Belt and other troubled regions have migrated to the South in order to find work and a lower cost of living. While the idea of the New South may have been largely retired, the real South has largely managed to achieve many of its original goals and aspirations.
In my opinion the "Old South" was a myth and so is the "New South." If anyone wants to read some good books about the south, I recommend John Reed's. His father lives here-was one of our leading surgeons.