Deep South

The Deep South is a cultural and geographic subregion in the Southern United States. The term was first used to describe the states most dependent on plantations and chattel slavery during the early period of United States history. The region suffered economic hardship after the American Civil War and was a major site of racial tension during and after the Reconstruction era. State governments enshrined white supremacy as a guiding principle and worked to deny political rights and economic opportunities to black citizens, partly through Jim Crow laws. The Civil Rights Movement ushered in a new era, sometimes referred to as the New South. 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]

Deep South
Cultural region of the United States
Country United States
States Alabama
 South Carolina
Approximate geographic definition of the Deep South and neighboring regions in the greater Southern United States. The Deep South is consistently thought to include most or all of the states shown in red and overlaps into portions of those in orange. While the Census Bureau considers those in yellow to be part of the South, they are not typically attached to the Deep South geographic label. The inner core of the region, characterized by very rich black soil that supported cotton plantations, is known as the Black Belt (geological formation). The Black Belt in the American South has since become better known as a sociocultural region.


Southern Black Belt counties with an African-American population of 30% or higher in 2000

The term "Deep South" is defined in a variety of ways:

  • Most definitions include the following states: Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi, and Louisiana.[3]
  • Texas and Florida are sometimes included,[4] due to being peripheral states, having coastlines with the Gulf of Mexico, their history of slavery, their 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 a part of the Deep South region, typically the area north of Ocala.[3]
  • Arkansas is sometimes included[4][5] or considered to be "in the peripheral" or Rim South rather than the Deep South."[6]
  • 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 number of slaves. Ultimately, the Confederacy included 11 states.
  • A large part of the original "Cotton Belt". This was considered to extend from eastern North Carolina to South Carolina, through the Gulf States as far west as East Texas, and including parts of western Tennessee and eastern Arkansas in the Mississippi embayment.[7] Some of this is coterminous with the Black Belt, a term used for much of the Cotton Belt, which had a high percentage of African-American slave labor.
  • Studies of the Civil Rights Movement often highlight the region. In 2012, 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."[8]


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 Georgia, southern Alabama, northern Florida, Mississippi, northern Louisiana, southern Arkansas, and eastern Texas, all historical areas of cotton plantations and slavery.[9] This was the part of the South many considered the "most Southern."[10]

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 East Texas and North Florida. In its broadest application today, 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."[7]


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, their 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 generally, the population grew relentlessly and the farms were subdivided smaller and smaller. Growing discontent helped give rise to the Populist movement around 1890. It represented a sort of class warfare, in which the poor farmers were the losers.[11][12]

Race tensions

Race relations were tense and white supremacy was a significant factor as imposed by the white Redeemers after 1877.[13] The 1200 lynchings in the Deep South in the 1880-1930 half-century were a majority of all American lynchings.[14] After 1950, the region became a major locale for the Civil Rights Movement, including: the emergence of a young (25 years old) new pastor of a local church, Martin Luther King Jr., the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott, the 1960 founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the 1964 Freedom Summer.[15][16]

Major cities and urban areas

The Deep South has four major combined statistical areas (CSAs) located solely within its boundaries, with populations exceeding 1,000,000 residents. Atlanta, the 11th largest CSA in the United States, is the Deep South's largest population center.

Metropolitan areas

Largest Deep South metropolitan areas include:

  • Metro Atlanta
  • Greater New Orleans
  • Greater Birmingham
  • The Upstate (South Carolina)
  • Columbia, SC Metro
  • Charleston, SC Metro
  • Augusta, GA Metro
  • Jackson, MS Metro

Rankings are assorted by metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) population.

Rank City State City (2019) MSA (2019) CSA (2019)
1 Atlanta Georgia 488,800 6,020,364 6,853,392
2 New Orleans Louisiana 390,845 1,270,530 1,507,017
3 Birmingham Alabama 212,297 1,090,435 1,317,702
4 Greenville South Carolina 67,737 920,477 1,475,235
5 Columbia South Carolina 133,273 838,433 963,048
6 Charleston South Carolina 135,257 802,122 ––
7 Augusta Georgia 197,191 608,980 ––
8 Jackson Mississippi 166,383 594,806 674,340


2000 Census Population Ancestry Map, with African-American ancestry in purple.

In the 1980 census, of people who identified solely by one European national ancestry, most European Americans identified as being of English ancestry in every Southern state except Louisiana, where more people identified as having French ancestry.[17][18] A significant number also have Irish and Scotch-Irish ancestry.

With regards to 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:

  • Alabama – 857,864 persons out of a total of 2,165,653 people in the state identified as "English," making them 41% of the state and the largest national ancestry group at the time by a wide margin.
  • Georgia – 1,132,184 out of 3,009,486 people identified as "English," making them 37.62% of the state's total.
  • Mississippi – 496,481 people out of 1,551,364 people identified as "English," making them 32.00% of the total, the largest national group by a wide margin.
  • Florida – 1,132,033 people out of 5,159,967 identified "English" as their only ancestry group, making them 21.94% of the total.
  • Louisiana – 440,558 people out of 2,319,259 people identified only as "English," making them 19.00% of the total people and the second-largest ancestry group in the state at the time. Those who wrote only "French" were 480,711 people out of 2,319,259 people, or 20.73% of the total state population.
  • South Carolina – 578,338 people out of 1,706,966 identified as "English," making them 33.88% of the total at the time.
  • Texas – 1,639,322 people identified as "English" only out of a total of 7,859,393 people, making them 20.86% of the total people in the state and the largest ancestry group by a large margin.

These figures do not take into account people who identified as "English" and another ancestry 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.[19] South Carolina was settled earlier than other states commonly classified as the Deep South. Its population in 1980 included 578,338 people out of 1,706,966 people, who identified as "English" only, making them 33.88% of the total population, the largest national ancestry group by a wide margin.

The map to the right was prepared by the Census Bureau from the 2000 census; it shows the predominant ancestry in each county as self-identified by residents themselves. Note: The Census said that areas with the largest "American"-identified ancestry populations, were mostly settled by descendants of English and others from the British Isles, French, Germans and later Italians. Those with African ancestry tended to identify as African American, although most African Americans also have some British or Northern European ancestors as well.[20]

As of 2003, the majority of African-descended Americans in the South live in the Black Belt geographic area.[21]

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; most are not yet citizens.[22]


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."[23]

From the late 1870s to the mid-1960s, conservative whites of the Deep South held control of state governments and overwhelmingly identified and supported the old version of the Democratic Party.[24] The most powerful leaders belonged to the party's moderate-to-conservative wing. The Republicans also controlled many mountain districts on the fringe of the Deep South.[25]

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.[26] The white Democratic-dominated state legislatures passed Jim Crow laws to impose white supremacy, including caste segregation of public facilities.[27] 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.[28]

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.[29]

The Republican Party in the South had been crippled by the disenfranchisement of blacks, and the national party was unable to relieve their injustices in the South. 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.[30] 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.[31] Since then, upwards of 90 percent of African Americans in the South and rest of the nation have voted for the Democratic Party,[32] including 93 percent for Obama in 2012 and 88 percent for Hillary Clinton in 2016.[33]

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.[34]

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.[23]

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.[35]

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 Southern voters have voted for Republican candidates in every presidential election except in 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 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 would vote Democrat, in favor of Joe Biden.

See also


  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. "Deep South". The Free Dictionary. Retrieved May 25, 2018.
  4. 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. 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.
  6. Diane D. Blair; Jay Barth (2005). Arkansas Politics and Government. U of Nebraska Press. p. 66. ISBN 0-8032-0489-2.
  7. John Reed and Dale Volberg Reed, 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About the South, Doubleday, 1996
  8. Seth C. McKee, The Past, Present, and Future of Southern Politics (2012) online.
  9. Roller, David C., and Twyman, Robert W., editors (1979). The Encyclopedia of Southern History. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.
  10. James C. Cobb, The Most Southern Place on Earth: The Mississippi Delta and the Roots of Regional Identity (1992) p. vii.
  11. Ted Ownby, "The Defeated Generation at Work: White Farmers in the Deep South, 1865-1890." Southern Studies 23 (1984): 325-47.
  12. Edward L. Ayers, The promise of the new South: Life after reconstruction (Oxford UP, 2007) 187-214, 283-289.
  13. J. William Harris, Deep Souths: Delta, Piedmont, and Sea Island Society in the Age of Segregation (2001)
  14. Katherine Stovel, "Local sequential patterns: The structure of lynching in the Deep South, 1882–1930." Social Forces 79.3 (2001): 843-880 online.
  15. 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.
  16. Howell Raines, My soul is rested: Movement days in the deep south remembered (Penguin, 1983).
  17. Grady McWhiney, Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways in the Old South (1989)
  18. David Hackett Fischer, Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America (1989) pp 605–757.
  19. "African American DNA".
  20. 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.
  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
  22. 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)
  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. 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
  30. Mark Stern, Calculating visions: Kennedy, Johnson, and civil rights (Rutgers UP, 1992).
  31. Brad Lockerbie, "Race and religion: Voting behavior and political attitudes." Social Science Quarterly 94.4 (2013): 1145–1158.
  32. Tami Luhby and Jennifer Agiesta, "Exit polls: Clinton fails to energize African-Americans, Latinos and the young" CNN Nov, 9, 2016
  33. See Matthew Yglesias, "Why did the South turn Republican?", The Atlantic August 24, 2007.
  34. Phillips, p. 255
  35. Thomas J. Sugrue, "It's Not Dixie's Fault", The Washington Post, 17 July 2015
  36. "Demise of the Southern Democrat is Now Nearly Complete". The Sydney Morning Herald. December 12, 2007. Retrieved December 13, 2007.
  37. Charles S. Bullock III and Mark J. Rozell, eds. The New Politics of the Old South: An Introduction to Southern Politics (2009) p 208.

Further reading

  • Black, Merle, and Earl Black. "Deep South politics: the enduring racial division in national elections". doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195381948.013.0018.
  • Brown, D. Clayton. King Cotton: A Cultural, Political, and Economic History since 1945 (University Press of Mississippi, 2011) 440 pp. ISBN 978-1-60473-798-1
  • Davis, Allison. Deep South: A Social Anthropological Study of Caste and Class (1941) classic case study from the late 1930s
  • Dollard, John. Caste and Class in a Southern Town (1941), a classic case study
  • Fite, Gilbert C. Cotton fields no more: Southern agriculture, 1865-1980 (UP of Kentucky, 2015).
  • Gulley, Harold E. "Women and the lost cause: Preserving a Confederate identity in the American Deep South." Journal of historical geography 19.2 (1993): 125–141.
  • Harris, J. William. Deep Souths: Delta, Piedmont, and Sea Island Society in the Age of Segregation (2003)
  • Hughes, Dudley J. Oil in the Deep South: A History of the Oil Business in Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, 1859-1945 (Univ. Press of Mississippi, 1993).
  • Key, V.O. Southern Politics in State and Nation (1951) classic political analysis, state by state. online free to borrow
  • Kirby, Jack Temple. Rural Worlds Lost: The American South, 1920-1960 (LSU Press, 1986) major scholarly survey with detailed bibliography; online free to borrow.
  • Lang, Clarence. "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
  • Pierce, Neal R. The Deep South States of America: People, Politics, and Power in the Seven States of the Deep South (1974) in-depth study of politics and issues, state by state
  • Rogers, William Warren, et al. Alabama: The history of a deep south state (University of Alabama Press, 2018).
  • Roller, David C. and Robert W. Twyman, eds. The Encyclopedia of Southern History (Louisiana State University Press, 1979)
  • Rothman, Adam. Slave Country: American Expansion and the Origins of the Deep South (2007)
  • Thornton, J. Mills. Politics and power in a slave society: Alabama, 1800-1860 (1978) online free to borrow
  • Vance, Rupert B. Regionalism and the South (UNC Press Books, 1982).

Primary sources

  • Carson, Clayborne et al. eds. The Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader: Documents, Speeches, and Firsthand Accounts from the Black Freedom Struggle (Penguin, 1991), 784pp.
  • Johnson, Charles S. Statistical atlas of southern counties: listing and analysis of socio-economic indices of 1104 southern counties (1941). excerpt
  • Raines, Howell, ed. My soul is rested: Movement days in the deep south remembered (Penguin, 1983).
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