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The Improbable Era

The Improbable Era: The South since World War II

Charles P. Roland
Copyright Date: 1976
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    The Improbable Era
    Book Description:

    In this concise yet comprehensive, thoroughly researched, and crisply written study, The Improbable Era places developments over the last three decades in Southern economics, politics, education, religion, the arts, and racial revolution into a disciplined framework that brings a measure of order to the perplexing chaos of this era of fundamental change in Southern life.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4619-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Prologue
    (pp. 1-10)

    The South was fated to be changed almost as much by World War II as by the Civil War. Both conflicts brought toil, sacrifice, social chaos, and grief along with an exhilarating sense of patriotic purpose. But here the comparison ends. Instead of being invaded by hostile and destroying northern soldiers, during the recent struggle the South was host to millions of allied if not entirely friendly northern troops in training; it was strewn with armament and equipment factories built or subsidized by the federal government; its cities were beehives of commerce, manufacture, and transportation. In 1865 the South was...

  5. I. The Postwar Economic Drama
    (pp. 11-29)

    The southern economy during the postwar years fulfilled the hopes of those who had forecast a booming future for the region. Factories arose everywhere to take advantage of the Southʹs raw materials, hungry markets, favorable tax laws, and cheap and plentiful labor. Cities tripled in population as millions of rural inhabitants thronged in from the farms and took jobs in trade and industry. Southern agriculture flourished through mechanization, crop diversification, and the merging of small holdings into giant commercial farms. The southern people as a whole enjoyed the greatest prosperity of the regionʹs history. By the 1970s the South was...

  6. II. The Challenge to Racial Inequality
    (pp. 30-42)

    The black portion of the southern society during the quarter-century following World War II underwent the most striking changes experienced by the race in America since the Civil War and Reconstruction. They were the principal actors in a second Reconstruction, which, if less dramatic than the first, promised a more lasting result. Through federal authority and coercion, through the exertions of white and black leaders and the resoluteness of the black masses, and finally through the efforts and understanding of a significant minority of the southern white community, southern blacks gained full citizenship, at least in a legal sense. When...

  7. III. The Achievement of Legal Equality
    (pp. 43-58)

    Inevitably the movement for racial equality in the South spread beyond the demand for school desegregation alone and adopted measures less deliberate than those of the courtroom. A prolonged black boycott in 1955–1956 of the city busses in Montgomery, Alabama, ultimately drew a federal court order banning segregated seating on the vehicles. More important, the boycott produced a leader who was to develop a full strategy and an idealistic philosophy of protest, and to rally the black masses to their support. This man was Martin Luther King, Jr. A native of Atlanta, the twenty-six-year-old Baptist minister held a Ph.D....

  8. IV. The Politics of Transition
    (pp. 59-73)

    Southern politics after World War II was as much concerned as ever with protecting the regionʹs traditional economic and social interests against both external and internal pressures. In spite of the vast economic changes and the significant legal and social developments of the 1940s and 1950s, the foundations of regional politics long remained intact. For more than a decade after World War II the Democratic party continued to dominate southern politics at all levels; blacks were excluded from party leadership and their interests largely ignored in party policy. The turbulent 1960s gave a new quality to the politics of the...

  9. V. The Politics of Accommodation
    (pp. 74-97)

    The year 1960 may be considered a landmark in recent southern political history. The election of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson as president and vice president opened a series of events that brought about the most profound changes in southern politics since Reconstruction. During the decade of the 1960s the economic, legal, and social developments of the times began to make themselves felt in the public policies and practices of the region. By the mid-1970s the two most distinguishing observable characteristics of the old politics—Democratic solidarity and white exclusiveness—were gone.

    Yet in a deeper sense southern...

  10. VI. Turbulent Progress in Education
    (pp. 98-118)

    Southern faith in formal education reached new heights in the post–World War II years. The unparalleled prosperity of the times seemed to be partly the result of the great educational efforts made by the southern people during the first half of the century, and thus it appeared to fulfill the prophecies of earlier generations who had looked to the schools as the cure for the ills of the region. Every prominent public figure—whether Democrat, Dixiecrat, or Republican, whether liberal, moderate, or conservative in social and political outlook—gave unflagging support to the expansion and improvement of the schools....

  11. VII. Religion & Controversy
    (pp. 119-136)

    Southern religion like the rest of southern life felt the effects of postwar change, as those forces that challenged traditional political, economic, and social practices challenged also the conservative regional theology with its relative indifference to schemes for earthly betterment. Liberal stirrings among a minority of church members threatened the tranquillity of every denomination and caused rifts in some. Yet religious orthodoxy remained largely triumphant; the South in the 1970s was perhaps as much as ever the nationʹs Bible Belt.

    Observers agreed that southerners continued to practice their religion in distinctive ways and with an intensity that exceeded that of...

  12. VIII. After the Southern Renaissance
    (pp. 137-149)

    Southern literature and fine arts in the postwar years were as subject as regional politics, economics, education, or religion to impulses from beyond the borders of the South. The growth of university programs in literature, theater, art, music, and architecture tended to draw these forms of regional expression into the national or even the international mainstream of culture. An almost universal literacy combined with the spread of libraries and the sale of relatively inexpensive paperbound books to bring about a virtual revolution in southern reading habits; no longer apt was the gibe that more southerners wrote books than read them....

  13. IX. Music & the Visual Arts
    (pp. 150-167)

    The South after World War II was the scene of an unprecedented stirring of interest and activity in the fine arts. A combination of increased prosperity, expanded programs of formal education in the arts, and the aesthetic stimulation of broader travel and improved communications brought an awakening in this field that was as widespread if not as profound as that of the southern literary renaissance. Also, southern arts received support from the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency created in the 1960s to provide money to the states by more or less matching funds appropriated locally. Every state...

  14. X. Change & Tradition in Southern Society
    (pp. 168-184)

    Southern society after World War II underwent the most severe stress of its entire history. Despite the trials of the Civil War and the upheavals of Reconstruction, neither of these experiences had threatened the core of the traditional southern society with the force of the recent political, economic, and social changes. Yet countless landmarks of sectional distinctiveness remained. The changes themselves took place in a manner peculiar to the South. Moreover, the primary institutions and modes of conduct survived, even where drastically modified. Every study of southern behavior and attitudes in the 1960s and 1970s indicated the persistence of the...

  15. XI. The Enduring South
    (pp. 185-194)

    The South by the mid-1970s was obviously approaching the close of an economic, political, and social era. Its postwar industrial and financial surge was giving way to a nationwide and worldwide energy shortage and recession. Its traditional advantages in Congress through the rules of seniority and unlimited debate were eroding swiftly and seemed likely to be gone altogether by the end of the decade. The activist stage of the civil rights movement was over, leaving the South, ironically, the most desegregated and racially harmonious part of the country. Old desegregation battlegrounds such as Birmingham, Jackson, and Selma were almost smugly...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 195-204)
  17. Bibliographical Note
    (pp. 205-214)
  18. Index
    (pp. 215-230)