Over the years of 1877 to the 1900’s many changes were occurring. The Southern cities were changing faster than anyone could’ve imagined with new transportation, growing industries, and the end of slavery. Not to mention, the changing role of women. In the New South by the year 1880, steel and iron mills were progressing across the North. Railroad construction was fast paced in the 1880s. Comparing 1880 to 1890 the tracks had doubled with Texas and Georgia having the biggest growth. In 1886, an agreement was made to have a standardized width on the railroad tracks.
This would help create a national transportation system. By creating this, the increasing demand of buying and selling goods would be fulfilled at a faster pace. Also, with this new transportation came new land for families to move into for work. The textile industry was growing significantly also because more people were traveling to the South. With immigrants and Southerners needing a steady form of income entrepreneurs took on the textile business not only to build good relationships with the people of the South but also to be less dependent on capital and manufactured products from the North.
Tobacco was also a growing business with Virginia leading in the sales of chewing tobacco across the nation. When the discovery of bright-leaf tobacco was made, tobacco habits were changed into the form of cigarettes by James B. Duke. He had the first cigarette-making machine installed in his plant and by the year 1900, Duke’s tobacco company was controlling eighty percent of tobacco manufacturing in the United States. With these booming industries came low wages. The South experienced a downfall with the rise they were experiencing.
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Since the workers of the South were poorly paid they could not afford to buy much so the market in the South for manufactured goods was kept low as was the consumer demand. Low wages only brought in immigrants that were low-skilled so skilled laborers were more likely to go north and work complicated machinery to produce high-quality goods. The South had close to no capital reserves to expand leaving Northern financers to purchase the five major rail lines serving the South at a bargain after failing during a depression in the 1870s.
Since the South was such a risk to invest in the textile industry stayed small-scale. On the other hand, the South’s largest industry, the lumber industry grew. Since it required little capital and provided unskilled laborers with a job, these raw materials were quickly produced. The tobacco industry unlike the textile industry avoided some turmoil. James B. Duke’s tobacco company was profitable enough to become its own bank. With enough capital to have the latest technologies on his plants, he was fortunate enough to buy out his competitors.
In the late nineteenth century women began fighting to improve the status of women, sometimes by joining with men. Because women in the South were left with providing for their families when the South lost the war, some never wanting to depend on men again and others who dealt with Southern men who were shaken by defeat, they were not as motivated to campaign reform and threaten gender role changes. Despite such battles, southern women found opportunities in schools, and stores for example that expanded their social role twenty years after 1880.
Women of the South, both black and white of the middle class, played important roles in civic work and reform. These middle class women began performing in activities ranging from lobbying for various causes, taking leadership on plenty of important issues and organizing clubs. Some of the first women’s clubs starting in the 1880s were self-improvement societies that did not care for reform. Women’s clubs grew and by 1890, most towns and cities had several women’s clubs. Some of the club’s and its members even began taking part in political issues.
While both black and white women had their clubs, the activities of black women’s clubs were slightly different in comparison to the white women’s clubs. Black women’s clubs looked out for the women and children in their cities, supporting daycare facilities for working mothers and settlement houses in poor black neighborhoods. They also established homes for single black women so that they would not be an easy victim to sexual exploitation. Atlanta’s Neighborhood Union founded playgrounds, a health center and also received a grant to improve black education.
These women also worked for woman suffrage. While both groups of women had strong beliefs and motives to speak their minds they rarely communicated with each other. Some white women would even use racial solidarity as a weapon to promote white women’s right to vote. They did this to prove the point that with white men and women’s votes combined they could further white interests. The black generation that came of age in this environment where blacks and whites could maintain cordial relations expected many privileges in society like the right to vote, work and attend school.
Among these, they also wanted self-respect, dignity and to be considered equal to the white men and women. White southerners who came of age in this same environment saw blacks as the enemy. They wanted to preserve white purity and dominance. Because the tensions between blacks and whites continued to grow, not only on the view of equality but in jobs as well, violence against black people boomed in the 1890s. Some of these violent crimes included lynching. After two of the unspoken rules had been violated the lynchings started.
White men began to see themselves as protectors of the weak, but it more importantly reinforced white solidarity and reminded the blacks that white supremacy ruled the South. When the Fifteenth Amendment guaranteed freedmen the right to vote, poll taxes, literacy test, understanding clause and grandfather clause were all some of the disfranchising legislation that began to prevent blacks from voting. Blacks began moving to cities in the South where they could be somewhat free from white surveillance after feeling like American democracy had hung a “whites only” sign.
Blacks began to create their own rich communities and the businesses and institutions they built during Reconstruction began to grow and some even flourish. By the year 1900, black southerners had less political power than they had before and were far more isolated from white southerners. Despite every obstacle, they were successful in building a comfortable community life and a rising middle class, all while being in a restricted environment.
The changes brought over the time frame of 1877 to the 1900’s were the framework for some of the opportunities we have today. The South had plenty going on over the years, from building and trying to keep industries, to men and women moving into the Southern cities with new opportunity that their ancestors did not have and Blacks fighting for their rights when white solidarity was having such a heavy effect on their lifestyles. The South was fast growing but holding itself back with segregation, and black disfranchisement.
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