Deep South

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Deep South
The Cotton States
Map of USA Deep South.svg
States highlighted are geographically the southernmost states in the contiguous United States. The states in dark red comprise what is commonly referred to as the Deep South subregion, while the Deep South overlaps into portions of those in lighter red.
Country United States

The Deep South or the Lower South is a cultural and geographic subregion of the Southern United States. The term was first used to describe the states which were most economically dependent on plantations and slavery. After the American Civil War ended in 1865, the region suffered economic hardship and was a major site of racial tension during and after the Reconstruction era. Before 1945, the Deep South was often referred to as the "Cotton States" since cotton was the primary cash crop for economic production. [1] [2] The civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s helped usher in a new era, sometimes referred to as the New South. The Deep South is part of the highly-religious, socially conservative Bible Belt and is currently a Republican Party stronghold.



Majority-Black Counties in the U.S. as of the 2020 United States Census 2020 Census - Majority-Black Counties in the United States.png
Majority-Black Counties in the U.S. as of the 2020 United States Census

The term "Deep South" is defined in a variety of ways: Most definitions include the following states: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. [3] Texas and Florida are sometimes included, [4] due to being peripheral states, having coastlines with the Gulf of Mexico, their history of slavery, large African American populations, and being part of the historical Confederate States of America.

The eastern part of Texas is the westernmost extension of the Deep South, while North Florida is also part of the Deep South region, typically the area north of Ocala. [3] Tennessee, particularly West Tennessee, is sometimes included due to its history of slavery, its prominence in cotton production during the antebellum period, [5] and cultural similarity to the Mississippi Delta region. [6] Arkansas is sometimes included [4] [7] or considered to be "in the peripheral" or Rim South rather than the Deep South. [8]

The seven states that seceded from the United States before the firing on Fort Sumter and the start of the American Civil War, which originally formed the Confederate States of America. In order of secession, they are South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas.

The first six states to secede were those that held the largest percentage of slaves. Ultimately, the Confederacy included eleven states. A large part of the original "Cotton Belt" is sometimes included in Deep South terminology. This was considered to extend from eastern North Carolina to Georgia, through the Gulf States as far west as East Texas, including West Tennessee, eastern Arkansas, and up the Mississippi embayment. [9] The inner core of the Deep South, characterized by very rich black soil that supported cotton plantations, is a geological formation known as the Black Belt. The Black Belt has since become better known as a sociocultural region; in this context it is a term used for much of the Cotton Belt, which had a high percentage of African-American slave labor.


Although often used in history books to refer to the seven states that originally formed the Confederacy, the term "Deep South" did not come into general usage until long after the Civil War ended. For at least the remainder of the 19th century, "Lower South" was the primary designation for those states. When "Deep South" first began to gain mainstream currency in print in the middle of the 20th century, it applied to the states and areas of South Carolina, Georgia, southern Alabama, northern Florida, Mississippi, northern Louisiana, West Tennessee, southern Arkansas, and eastern Texas, all historical areas of cotton plantations and slavery. [10] This was the part of the South many considered the "most Southern." [11]

Later, the general definition expanded to include all of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, as well as often taking in bordering areas of West Tennessee, East Texas and North Florida. In its broadest application, the Deep South is considered to be "an area roughly coextensive with the old cotton belt, from eastern North Carolina through South Carolina, west into East Texas, with extensions north and south along the Mississippi." [9]

Early economics

After the Civil War, the region was economically poor. After Reconstruction ended in 1877, a small fraction of the white population composed of wealthy landowners, merchants and bankers controlled the economy and, largely, the politics. Most white farmers were poor and had to do manual work on their farms to survive. As prices fell, farmers' work became harder and longer because of a change from largely self-sufficient farms, based on corn and pigs, to the growing of a cash crop of cotton or tobacco. Cotton cultivation took twice as many hours of work as raising corn. The farmers lost their freedom to determine what crops they would grow, ran into increasing indebtedness, and many were forced into tenancy or into working for someone else. Some out-migration occurred, especially to Texas, but over time, the population continued to grow and the farms were subdivided smaller and smaller. Growing discontent helped give rise to the Populist movement in the early 1890s. It represented a sort of class warfare, in which the poor farmers sought to gain more of an economic and political voice. [12] [13]

From Reconstruction through the Civil Rights Movement

After 1950, the region became a major center of the Civil Rights Movement, including: the work of Martin Luther King Jr., the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott, the 1960 founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the 1964 Freedom Summer. [14] [15]

Major cities and urban areas

The Deep South has three major Metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) located solely within its boundaries, with populations exceeding 1,000,000 residents (Four including Memphis). Atlanta, the 8th largest metro area in the United States, is the Deep South's largest population center, followed by Memphis, New Orleans, and Birmingham.

Metropolitan areas

The 18 Deep South metropolitan areas (MSAs) within the 150 largest population centers in the United States are ranked below:

RankCityStateCity (2022)Metro Area MSA (2022)National Rank CSA (2022)
1 Atlanta* Georgia 499,127 Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Alpharetta, GA MSA 6,222,10687,136,414
2 Memphis Tennessee 621,056 Memphis, TN MSA 1,332,305431,382,503
3 New Orleans Louisiana 369,749 New Orleans-Metairie, LA MSA 1,246,176471,348,462
4 Birmingham Alabama 196,910 Birmingham-Hoover, AL MSA 1,116,857501,362,731
5 Greenville South Carolina 72,310 Greenville-Anderson, SC MSA 958,958601,561,465
6 Baton Rouge* Louisiana 221,453 Baton Rouge, LA MSA 873,060661,010,108
7 Columbia* South Carolina 139,698 Columbia, SC MSA 847,686721,073,039
8 Charleston South Carolina 153,672 Charleston-North Charleston, SC MSA 830,52974799,636
9 Augusta Georgia 202,096 Augusta-Richmond County, GA-SC MSA 624,08396615,933
10 Jackson* Mississippi 145,995 Jackson-Yazoo City, MS MSA 583,19799688,270
11 Chattanooga Tennessee 181,099 Chattanooga, TN-GA MSA 562,647101992,408
12 Myrtle Beach South Carolina 38,417 Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach SC-NC MSA 536,165111447,823
13 Huntsville Alabama 221,933 Huntsville, AL MSA 514,465113879,315
14 Lafayette Louisiana 121,389 Lafayette, LA MSA 481,125118562,898
15 Mobile Alabama 183,289 Mobile County, AL MSA 411,411128657,846
16 Gulfport Mississippi 72,236 Gulfport-Biloxi-Pascagoula, MS MSA 420,782133442,432
17 Savannah Georgia 148,004 Savannah, GA MSA 418,373134629,401
18 Shreveport Louisiana 180,153 Shreveport-Bossier City, LA MSA 385,154140420,797

* Indicates state capital

Other substantial cities include:

Alabama Montgomery, Tuscaloosa, Auburn, and Dothan
Georgia Columbus, Macon, Valdosta and Athens
Louisiana Alexandria, Monroe, and Lake Charles
Mississippi Meridian, Tupelo, and Hattiesburg
South Carolina Sumter, and Florence


As part of the Sun Belt, the Deep South tends to have Temperate and Subtropical climates with long hot summers and short mild winters. The climate tends to display more pronounced Subtropical characteristics the closer you get to the coast. Due to its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean, hurricanes are also a frequently-occurring natural disaster.


2000 Census Population Ancestry Map, with African-American ancestry in purple. Census-2000-Data-Top-US-Ancestries-by-County.svg
2000 Census Population Ancestry Map, with African-American ancestry in purple.

Most White people in the Deep South who identified themselves with one European ethnic group in the 1980 census self-identified as English. This occurred in every southern state with the exception of Louisiana where more White people self-identified as French than English. [16] [17] A large number of the White population also derives from ethnic groups of Ireland (Irish and Ulster Scots). With regard to White people in the Deep South who reported only a single European-American ancestry group, the 1980 census showed the following self-identification in each state in this region:

These figures do not take into account people who self-identified as English and some other ancestral group. When the two were added together, people who self-identified as being English with other ancestry, made up an even larger portion of southerners. [18]

As of 2003, the majority of Black Americans in the South live in the Black Belt in the American South from Virginia to Texas. [19] [20]

Hispanic and Latino Americans largely started arriving in the Deep South during the 1990s, and their numbers have grown rapidly. Politically they have not been very active. [21]


Political expert Kevin Phillips states that, "From the end of Reconstruction until 1948, the Deep South Black Belts, where only whites could vote, were the nation's leading Democratic Party bastions." [22]

From the late 1870s to the mid-1960s, conservative whites of the Deep South held control of state governments and overwhelmingly identified with and supported the Democratic Party. [23] The most powerful leaders belonged to the party's moderate-to-conservative wing. The Republican Party would only control mainly mountain districts in Southern Appalachia, on the fringe of the Deep South, during the "Solid South" period. [24]

At the turn of the 20th century, all Southern states, starting with Mississippi in 1890, passed new constitutions and other laws that effectively disenfranchised the great majority of blacks and sometimes many poor whites as well. Blacks were excluded subsequently from the political system entirely. [25] The white Democratic-dominated state legislatures passed Jim Crow laws to impose white supremacy, including caste segregation of public facilities. [26] In politics, the region became known for decades as the "Solid South." While this disenfranchisement was enforced, all of the states in this region were mainly one-party states dominated by white Southern Democrats. Southern representatives accrued outsized power in the Congress and the national Democratic Party, as they controlled all the seats apportioned to southern states based on total population, but only represented the richer subset of their white populations. [27]

Major demographic changes would ensue in the 20th century. During the two waves of the Great Migration (1916–1970), a total of six million African Americans left the South for the Northeast, Midwest, and West, to escape the oppression and violence in the South. Beginning with the Goldwater–Johnson election of 1964, a significant contingent of white conservative voters in the Deep South stopped supporting national Democratic Party candidates and switched to the Republican Party. They still would vote for many Democrats at the state and local level into the 1990s. [28] Studies of the Civil Rights Movement often highlight the region.[ citation needed ] Political scientist Seth McKee concluded that in the 1964 presidential election, "Once again, the high level of support for Goldwater in the Deep South, and especially their Black Belt counties, spoke to the enduring significance of white resistance to black progress." [29]

White southern voters consistently voted for the Democratic Party for many years to hold onto Jim Crow Laws. Once Franklin D. Roosevelt came to power in 1932, the limited southern electorate found itself supporting Democratic candidates who frequently did not share its views. Journalist Matthew Yglesias argues:

The weird thing about Jim Crow politics is that white southerners with conservative views on taxes, moral values, and national security would vote for Democratic presidential candidates who didn't share their views. They did that as part of a strategy for maintaining white supremacy in the South. [30]

Kevin Phillips states that, "Beginning in 1948, however, the white voters of the Black Belts shifted partisan gears and sought to lead the Deep South out of the Democratic Party. Upcountry, pineywoods and bayou voters felt less hostility towards the New Deal and Fair Deal economic and caste policies which agitated the Black Belts, and for another decade, they kept The Deep South in the Democratic presidential column. [22]

Phillips emphasizes the three-way 1968 presidential election:

Wallace won very high support from Black Belt whites and no support at all from Black Belt Negroes. In the Black Belt counties of the Deep South, racial polarization was practically complete. Negroes voted for Hubert Humphrey, whites for George Wallace. GOP nominee Nixon garnered very little backing and counties where Barry Goldwater had captured 90 percent to 100 percent of the vote in 1964. [31]

The Republican Party in the South had been crippled by the disenfranchisement of blacks, and the national party was unable to relieve their past with the South where Reconstruction was negatively viewed. During the Great Depression and the administration of Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt, some New Deal measures were promoted as intending to aid African Americans across the country and in the poor rural South, as well as poor whites. In the post-World War II era, Democratic Party presidents and national politicians began to support desegregation and other elements of the Civil Rights Movement, from President Harry S. Truman's desegregating the military, to John F. Kennedy's support for non-violent protests. [32] These efforts culminated in Lyndon B. Johnson's important work in gaining Congressional approval for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965. [33] Since then, upwards of 90 percent of African Americans in the South have voted for the Democratic Party, [34] including 93 percent for Obama in 2012, though this dropped to 88 percent for Hillary Clinton in 2016. [35]

Late 20th century to present

Historian Thomas Sugrue attributes the political and cultural changes, along with the easing of racial tensions, as the reason why Southern voters began to vote for Republican national candidates, in line with their political ideology. [36] Since then, white Deep South voters have tended to vote for Republican candidates in most presidential elections. Times the Democratic Party has won in the Deep South since the late 20th century include: the 1976 election when Georgia native Jimmy Carter received the Democratic nomination, the 1980 election when Carter won Georgia, the 1992 election when Arkansas native and former governor Bill Clinton won Georgia, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Arkansas, the 1996 election when the incumbent president Clinton again won Louisiana, Tennessee and Arkansas, and when Georgia was won by Joe Biden in the 2020 United States presidential election.

In 1995, Georgia Republican Newt Gingrich was elected by representatives of a Republican-dominated House as Speaker of the House.

Since the 1990s the white majority has continued to shift toward Republican candidates at the state and local levels. This trend culminated in 2014 when the Republicans swept every statewide office in the Deep South region midterm elections. As a result, the Republican party came to control all the state legislatures in the region, as well as all House seats that were not representing majority-minority districts. [37]

Presidential elections in which the Deep South diverged noticeably from the Upper South occurred in 1928, 1948, 1964, 1968, and, to a lesser extent, in 1952, 1956, 1992, and 2008. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee fared well in the Deep South in the 2008 Republican primaries, losing only one state (South Carolina) while running (he had dropped out of the race before the Mississippi primary). [38]

In the 2020 presidential election, the state of Georgia was considered a toss-up state hinting at a possible Democratic shift in the area. It ultimately voted Democratic, in favor of Joe Biden. During the 2021 January Senate runoff elections, Georgia also voted for two Democrats, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. However, Georgia still maintains a Republican lean with a PVI rating of R+3 in line with its Deep South neighbors, with Republicans currently controlling every statewide office, its state Supreme Court, and its legislature.


From colonial times to the early twentieth century, much of the Lower South had a black majority. Three Southern states had populations that were majority-black: Louisiana (from 1810 until about 1890 [39] ), South Carolina (until the 1920s [40] ), and Mississippi (from the 1830s to the 1930s [41] ). In the same period, Georgia, [42] Alabama, [43] and Florida [44] had populations that were nearly 50% black, while Maryland, [45] North Carolina, [46] and Virginia [47] had black populations approaching or exceeding 40%. Texas' black population reached 30%. [48]

The demographics of these states changed markedly from the 1890s through the 1950s, as two waves of the Great Migration led more than 6,500,000 African-Americans to abandon the economically depressed, segregated Deep South in search of better employment opportunities and living conditions, first in Northern and Midwestern industrial cities, and later west to California. One-fifth of Florida's black population had left the state by 1940, for instance. [49] During the last thirty years of the twentieth century into the twenty-first century, scholars have documented a reverse New Great Migration of black people back to southern states, but typically to destinations in the New South, which have the best jobs and developing economies. [50]

The District of Columbia, one of the magnets for black people during the Great Migration, was long the sole majority-minority federal jurisdiction in the continental U.S. The black proportion has declined since the 1990s due to gentrification and expanding opportunities, with many black people moving to southern states such as Texas, Georgia, Florida, and Maryland and others migrating to jobs in states of the New South in a reverse of the Great Migration. [50]


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  1. Fryer, Darcy. "The Origins of the Lower South". Lehigh University . Retrieved December 30, 2008.
  2. Freehling, William (1994). "The Editorial Revolution, Virginia, and the Coming of the Civil War: A Review Essay". The Reintegration of American History. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 10. ISBN   978-0-19-508808-3 . Retrieved December 30, 2008.
  3. 1 2 "Deep South". The Free Dictionary. Retrieved May 25, 2018.
  4. 1 2 Neal R. Pierce, The Deep South States of America: People, Politics, and Power in the Seven States of the Deep South (1974), pp 123–61
  5. Randal Rust. "Cotton". Tennessee Encyclopedia. Retrieved March 22, 2022.
  6. "History and Culture of the Mississippi Delta Region - Lower Mississippi Delta Region (U.S. National Park Service)". Retrieved March 22, 2022.
  7. Williard B. Gatewood Jr.; Jeannie M. Whayne, eds. (1996). The Arkansas Delta: Land of Paradox. University of Arkansas Press. p. 3. ISBN   978-1-61075-032-5.
  8. Diane D. Blair; Jay Barth (2005). Arkansas Politics and Government. University of Nebraska Press. p. 66. ISBN   0-8032-0489-2.
  9. 1 2 John Reed and Dale Volberg Reed, 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About the South, Doubleday, 1996
  10. Roller, David C., and Twyman, Robert W., editors (1979). The Encyclopedia of Southern History. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.
  11. James C. Cobb, The Most Southern Place on Earth: The Mississippi Delta and the Roots of Regional Identity (1992) p. vii.
  12. Ted Ownby, "The Defeated Generation at Work: White Farmers in the Deep South, 1865–1890". Southern Studies 23 (1984): 325–347.
  13. Edward L. Ayers, The promise of the new South: Life after reconstruction (Oxford University Press, 2007) 187–214, 283–289.
  14. Clarence Lang, "Locating the civil rights movement: An essay on the Deep South, Midwest, and border South in Black Freedom Studies." Journal of Social History 47.2 (2013): 371–400. Online.
  15. Howell Raines, My soul is rested: Movement days in the deep south remembered (Penguin, 1983).
  16. Grady McWhiney, Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways in the Old South (1989)
  17. David Hackett Fischer, Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America (1989) pp 605–757.
  18. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on October 26, 2019. Retrieved October 26, 2015.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  19. Frank D. Bean; Gillian Stevens (2003). America's Newcomers and the Dynamics of Diversity . Russell Sage Foundation. p.  213. ISBN   978-1-61044-035-6. JSTOR   10.7758/9781610440356.
  20. Wilson, Charles Reagan (October 10, 2017). "Black Belt/Prairie". Mississippi Encyclopedia. Retrieved August 23, 2020. The Mississippi Black Belt is part of a larger region, stretching from Virginia south to the Carolinas and west through the Deep South, defined by a majority African American population and a long history of cotton production.
  21. Charles S. Bullock, and M. V. Hood, "A Mile‐Wide Gap: The Evolution of Hispanic Political Emergence in the Deep South." Social Science Quarterly 87.5 (2006): 1117–1135. Online [ dead link ]
  22. 1 2 Kevin Phillips, The Emerging Republican Majority: Updated Edition (2nd ed. 2917) p. 232.
  23. Michael Perman, Pursuit of unity: a political history of the American South (U of North Carolina Press, 2010).
  24. 6 J. Morgan Kousser, The Shaping of Southern Politics: Suffrage Restriction and the Rise of the One-Party South, 1880–1910 (Yale UP, 1974).
  25. Michael Perman, Struggle for mastery: Disfranchisement in the South, 1888–1908 (U of North Carolina Press, 2003).
  26. Gabriel J. Chin & Randy Wagner, "The Tyranny of the Minority: Jim Crow and the Counter-Majoritarian Difficulty, "43 Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review 65 (2008) [ permanent dead link ]
  27. Valelly, Richard M. (October 2, 2009). The Two Reconstructions: The Struggle for Black Enfranchisement. University of Chicago Press. ISBN   9780226845272 via Google Books.
  28. Earl Black and Merle Black, The rise of southern Republicans (Harvard University Press, 2009).
  29. Seth C. McKee, The Past, Present, and Future of Southern Politics (2012) online.
  30. See Matthew Yglesias, "Why did the South turn Republican?", The Atlantic August 24, 2007.
  31. Phillips, p. 255
  32. Harvard Sitkoff, "Harry Truman and the Election of 1948: The Coming of Age of Civil Rights in American Politics." Journal of Southern History 37.4 (1971): 597–616
  33. Mark Stern, Calculating visions: Kennedy, Johnson, and civil rights (Rutgers UP, 1992).
  34. Brad Lockerbie, "Race and religion: Voting behavior and political attitudes." Social Science Quarterly 94.4 (2013): 1145–1158.
  35. Tami Luhby and Jennifer Agiesta, "Exit polls: Clinton fails to energize African-Americans, Latinos and the young" CNN Nov, 9, 2016
  36. Thomas J. Sugrue, "It's Not Dixie's Fault", The Washington Post, July 17, 2015
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Further reading

Primary sources