Since I became interested in history and specifically the “Civil War”, I tried to understand why tens of thousands of poor whites supported the “rebel” cause. Most Southerners owned no slaves. Why did they give the slave owners so much support? I do not believe it was JUST states rights.
Living in the South, especiallyVirginia, I have became aware of the differences very clearly. Many business and political leaders have a disdain of unions and worker rights. There is also a, sometimes undeserved, deference paid to “leaders” whether civil or clerical. I often attribute this to the large military population in my area. But I do not think that is the only reason.
In general economics, we categorize the factors of production as, land, labor, capital, and organizational ability (entrepreneurship). But in the ante-bellum South for wealth factors, labor and capital were one. Slaves were capital and labor. In some ways, this mind set continues. Then, labor and laboring were seen as combined. Thus, capital (labor) can’t unionize and real labor is slavery. Thus the disdain of labor.
There is, of course, a racial element. This is often clearest among the poor and lower economic classes. Some low income whites act on the desire to enforce their whiteness and denigrate low income blacks. This creates a great separation among groups who are generally equal economically. This separation is continued by housing discrimination, voluntarily segregated social clubs and disparity in schools. I have found that both groups isolate themselves from each other and it seems to be voluntary on both parts. Natives know their places. The same is not true among newly arrived populations and the professional classes. But it is very clear; those that have a more open view of relationships are either shunned or more likely keep it to themselves. How many white families have abandoned the public schools? Check the membership rolls of golf clubs. This also explains the apparent indifference to social issues and the continuing erosion of programs for the indigent. It is the “southern fried” approach to leave social issues to the Churches and other charities. As to the Churches themselves….they can be the most segregated institution of all.
From the economic view… the status quo, i.e. disdain for labor continues. Politically, leaders work very hard to ensure that no changes take place. Why do we not understand the political reality of hatred of the “Federal Government”, when tax money supports minorities, laborers, and even intrudes on political life by having the Federal government oversee political changes, i.e. Congressional and local redistricting.
The current wave of disrespect of the Federal government is a Southern phenomenon. Its roots go back to the founding of this Republic. It was exacerbated by the Civil War and its aftermath. It centers on racism and is now alive all over the US not just the South. We have Southern Fried America.
Ken Ehrenthal is a member of the South Hampton Roads chapter of Virginia Organizing. He is a retired high school history teacher and spends his time advocating for workers’ rights and a variety of social issues. He is the founder of HRCAN, Hampton Roads Coalition Advocacy Network.