A New History of the American South
Edward L. Ayers is the Tucker-Boatwright Professor of the Humanities at the University of Richmond. He received his undergraduate degree at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, summa cum laude, and his PhD in American Studies from Yale University. Professor Ayers has written or edited 12 books on the history of 19th-century America. He is the author of The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America, which won the Lincoln Prize. A predecessor to that book, In the Presence of Mine Enemies: Civil War in the Heart of America, 1859–1864, won the Bancroft Prize for distinguished writing in American history. Professor Ayers’s book The Promise of the New South was a finalist for both a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize. Since 2008, Professor Ayers has served as one of the cohosts for BackStory, a podcast that explores a different facet of American history each week. Professor Ayers is also the founder of Bunk (www.bunkhistory.org), a website that weaves together articles, blogs, videos, podcasts, and digital projects about the American past. Professor Ayers has won many awards for his teaching and service. Most prominently, he was named National Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Institute for the Advancement of Teaching and received the National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama.
01: The Geography of the American South
Begin by previewing the four parts of the course that will recount the dramatic saga of the American South. Then, learn about the prehistory of the region, from its geographical features to the ancient peoples that settled it. Delve into the history of the chiefdoms that dominated the region before the arrival of Europeans, and trace the decimation of native populations that followed.
02: The World of Slavery
Investigate the complex origins of slavery in Africa, in social systems where human beings became commodities of exchange. Learn how the Atlantic slave trade was initiated by the Portuguese, and how it evolved into a system of vast economic gain, supplying labor for New World plantations. Note how Britain’s American colonies were originally intended to function by means of English labor.
03: Slavery Becomes American
Examine economic conditions within Virginia before slavery, and growing discontent among English indentured laborers. Trace the rise of slavery in the British Caribbean, the factors that made it a practical business model in Virginia, and how colonists rationalized slaveholding. Observe how Virginia set the blueprint for slave society in what would become the American South.
04: The Southern Colonies Take Root
Learn about the apogee of the Atlantic slave trade, and how enslaved people adapted to their plight. Witness how Barbados planters spurred the colonization of the Carolinas as a thriving, slave-based rice economy, and follow the founding of Georgia and how it became a slave society. Take account of the society of the flourishing planter elite, and the factors that led to the American Revolution.
05: Southern States in the New Nation
Grasp how the events of the American Revolution affected the Southern colonies and their population of the enslaved. Learn about the implications of the new federal government and Constitution for the Southern states and slaveholders, and how Congress both granted concessions to the slave system and sought to restrict it. Follow the gradual emancipation of slaves in the Northern states.
06: War, Uprising, and Southern Solidarity
In the early 19th century, massive changes took place in the territories that became the South. Study the series of wars the new nation fought with the British, Native American factions, and escaped slaves in areas of what became Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. Note how the advent of these multiple conflicts involving both Native Americans and enslaved blacks ultimately forged a new unity among white Southerners.
07: The Birth of the Cotton South
Witness the dislocations, rebellion, and surging population of the enslaved in the South following the American Revolution. Learn how Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi were settled, and how both cotton and sugar became defining commodities of the Southern economy. Then, delve into the mechanics of the slave trade, in the large-scale importation of slaves into the lower South.
08: Evangelical Faith in the South
Here, assess the role of religion in the culture of Southern society and in the culture of slavery. Learn how British Anglicanism came to be replaced in the South by evangelical Christianity. Observe how this faith included blacks, and became a source of strength and survival for the enslaved, yet also reinforced, for whites, the social status quo and the conceptual justifications for slavery.
09: Rebellion, Renewal: Tightening of Slavery
Follow two significant slave rebellions in the early 19th century: the aborted South Carolina revolt led by the freed slave Denmark Vesey, and the famous Nat Turner rebellion in Virginia. Take account of the ensuing Virginia debates on slavery, culminating in harsher laws restricting blacks. Also, study the brutal, forced removal of Native Americans in the Southern states from their traditional lands.
10: Arguments for and against Slavery
Learn about the heated controversy over the admission of Missouri to the union as a slave state, and how this crisis polarized the country as never before. Trace the rise of abolitionism and antislavery societies, and the violent backlash of anti-abolitionists. Then, examine pro-slavery thought in the South, both secular and religious, within the context of pre-Civil War Southern intellectual life.
11: A Restless South: Expansion and Conflict
Relive the highly charged events surrounding the settlement of Texas by Americans and the Mexican-American War. Witness how the debate over slavery in former Mexican lands became a blistering national drama. Also, grasp the impact of the railroad and telegraph on the South, and the ways in which these technological innovations accelerated the divisions between North and South.
12: Life in the Slave South
Discover how American slavery became more diverse as it expanded over a huge area. Consider the wide variety of trades engaged in by the enslaved, and the complex mix of white and black cultures in the South. Learn more about the mechanics of slave trading, the terrible treatment of those sold, and how slaves lived and worked both on plantations and farms and within Southern cities.
13: Sovereignty and Slavery in the American West
With the slave economy booming in the 1850s, chart the escalation of antagonism between North and South. Observe the struggle within Kansas between pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces, and its eruption into violence, including the actions of abolitionist John Brown. Also, follow the Supreme Court case involving the slave Dred Scott, as it exacerbated the breakdown of North/South relations.
14: The Complex Road to Secession
Begin by exploring the presidential election of 1860, as it comprised the estrangement of North and South. Then, follow the Southern actions of secession, which many in the South resisted, the events surrounding Lincoln taking office, and the crisis at Fort Sumter, South Carolina. Conclude by considering two key ways of thinking about the Civil War and what precipitated it.
15: Elemental Loyalties and Descent into War
Trace the events that led to the opening shots of the Civil War. Learn about both sides’ initial strategy for the conflict, the mobilization of armies, and the role of women in the war effort. Take account of the crippling impact of the war on the Southern economy, and grasp the inconsistencies, justifications, and misconceptions on both sides that fueled the unfolding of the war.
16: End of War and of Slavery
Learn about how slaves fared and adapted as the war progressed, and how Union forces made use of the enslaved to further their aims. At the war’s conclusion, examine the actions of freed blacks, and their efforts to secure basic rights. Contemplate the divisive national climate during the initial phase of Reconstruction, as many Southerners appeared to deny the matters that the war had decided.
17: Reconstruction and the Freedmen’s Bureau
Study the work of the Freedmen’s Bureau, as it oversaw the transition from slavery to a wage economy, amid fervent resistance to attempts to remake the South. With the passage of the 14th Amendment and the Reconstruction Act, trace the era of “Radical Reconstruction,” as enmity, violence, and electioneering gradually returned the Southern states to Southern Democratic control.
18: The Landscape of the New South
Far-reaching structural changes transformed the South following Reconstruction. Follow the huge expansion of railroads, which connected Southern towns and cities, as well as North with South. See also how the rise of country stores changed the economic and cultural landscape. Observe the remarkable proliferation of new villages and towns across the South, and the rise of Southern industries.
19: Farmers and the Rise of Populism
Witness the advent of modern agriculture in the South, and how enterprising rural workers could achieve land ownership. Grasp how overcrowding, falling prices for crops, and competition led to terrible hardships for farmers. Then, delve into the highly charged era of Populism, as farmers organized to redress their problems in a bitter struggle against monopoly capitalism.
20: The Invention of Segregation
Trace the origins of legal separation between the races, a defining trait of the South through much of the 20th century. First, examine the issue of segregation regarding railroad travel, and the first wave of segregation laws. See how segregation then spread to include numerous social gathering points, and how sexual contact between the races became a contested issue on both sides.
21: Lynching and Disfranchisement
Study the climate of violence in the New South, amid widespread economic and political turmoil. Observe how lynching became, for whites, a means of countering weak governments and terrorizing blacks into submission. Then, learn how the South embarked on a constitutional disfranchisement of black voters, constructing legal means to limit suffrage and ensure white supremacy.
22: Religious Faith in the New South
Delve into the remarkable growth of religion in the late 19th-century South, and how the region came to be known as the “Bible Belt.” Learn about the proliferation of religious revivals, and the rise of the “holiness” movement, Pentecostalism, and the Church of God, religious factions that sought a more-vital faith, challenged tradition, and ultimately spread across the world.
23: Literature and Music of the New South
The making of the New South unleashed extraordinary creative and artistic energies. Investigate the vibrant musical culture of the postbellum South, and the African musical elements that converged in the birth of ragtime and jazz, as well as the evolution of blues, country music, and gospel. Also, see why writings ranging from The Tales of Uncle Remus to W.E.B. DuBois’s Souls of Black Folk achieved global popularity.
24: The Legacies of the Southern Saga
Finally, explore the fabric of life in the South as the 19th century ended and the 20th began. Investigate the work of educator Booker T. Washington; the impact on race relations of the Spanish-American War; the Plessy decision, giving government sanction to segregation; and the emerging Cult of the Confederacy. Contemplate the South as a place of ongoing movement, struggle, and renewal.