When I visit the South, I notice how prosperous and peaceful it seems. I’m going to the places that business travelers and tourists go to, which is not representative, but still it’s quite nice. Beyond the economic prosperity, there seems to be much less general anger and agitation, especially racial. There are fewer Hispanics, and blacks don’t seem to be wanting to cause trouble.
The Civil War was a pretty ugly conflict. Reconstruction was worse. Despite years of military occupation, the US couldn’t force the white population to treat blacks as legally equal citizens, much less social equals. Even northern liberals seem to have regarded the project as stupid, from the hostility to Grant and racial equality expressed later in the century.
In the end the US decided to leave well enough alone. The South would remain a part of the US, and would have its own racial policies. The South continued to have a lot of power in Washington- a Southern city, after all- and used this to their benefit.
The people in charge came to the conclusion that it didn’t need an internal threat that could cause it a lot of trouble. The late 19th century was a time of reconciliation, falsely called the Lost Cause, which was a qualitatively different thing, but simply taking the view that the South had honorably fought for the right as it saw it, and could be respected for it.
Another threat flared up with the populist politics of Huey Long. Long was killed- by a crazed lone gunman, of course!- but the US adopted a similar, if less radical, form of populist redistribution that pumped a lot of money into the South. The New Deal did not challenge racial segregation, South or North.
Then came the “civil rights” movement, which was a product first of communism and then of the Cold War. Communists regarded blacks as potential revolutionaries, and invented the idea of racism- irrational oppression of non-whites- as a way to motivate blacks to support communism. Once the Cold War developed, the US and the USSR came into competition for allies in the Third World. The US found formal segregation as practiced in the South to be embarrassing and moved against it.
Formal segregation was a way that the South had to cope with blacks. The majority in the South regarded it as essential, but there was a significant number did not. The South was still a traditional agrarian society, but it was also a place for manufacturing and urban business. To the business community formal segregation was an embarrassment and bad for business, and they greased the skids for Northern initiated desegregation.
Informal segregation works in the South because the truth is, blacks don’t really want to hang around whites too much. They find us a little boring and stiff, they like themselves- they like themselves a lot– they like other blacks, they like their own culture, they have their own neighborhoods, their own churches, their own barbecue places, and they don’t need to see whitey too much outside of work.
Bad black behavior is still a problem, but the South has a strong criminal justice system and it mostly affects blacks and poor whites that the business people don’t care about. Southern pride is still strong and cultivated by institutions like college football. The occasional Confederate flag on a pickup truck and Confederate statue in a park reminds white Southerners of who they are, beyond working for Coca Cola or Nissan.
The South has mostly been at an uneasy peace since the Civil War, but it remains the strongest internal potential opposition to the US. Embarrassing or humiliating people agitates them and brings them out of their normal state of passive acceptance, the state which allows most living creatures to function on a day to day basis.
The historical policy of the US towards the South since the Civil War has been to leave it alone as much as possible, and this has avoided large scale social conflict. The smart thing to do would be to keep it this way, but for better or worse the people in charge have been getting dumber and more childish for some time now.