The Start of the New South
On April 9, 1865, Robert E. Lee surrendered his Confederate Army at the Appomattox Courthouse. The Old South was dead, and, as we cite in our introductory video to the exhibit Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers, the New South was about to begin.
Upon the loss of the Civil War, slavery was abolished in the South, and newly emancipated African Americans found themselves, for the first time, with the rights to try to prosper in a society that had previously barred them from not only citizenship but humanity.
In the Cotton Fields exhibit, we tell the particular case of F.A. Clinton. Born a slave on a plantation in Lancaster, South Carolina, in 1838, by the end of the Civil War, Clinton was able to climb the social ladder and establish a legacy within the South. After being freed, Clinton went on to serve in the South Carolina State Senate for four terms from 1870-1878 and played a vital role in securing public education for all people in South Carolina.
From slave to statesman—Clinton’s story is a personification of the great changes that took place and led to the eventual conception of the New South.
He is also a stark reminder of how much didn’t last.
The brief period of social success for African Americans, like the right to vote and serve in public office, to strike out on one’s own and pursue happiness, was soon met with an era of lasting disenfranchisement. Beginning in the 1870s, acts of terrorism by the Ku Klux Klan and lynch mobs discouraged blacks and poor whites from voting and by the 1890s, African Americans were driven out of southern politics while economic systems like sharecropping and employment discrimination confined them to low-wages and generational poverty.
Despite this reversal, the South felt itself changing and reinventing in a number of ways. Be it infrastructure or industry, these changes are still felt today. One hundred and fifty years since the conclusion of the Civil War and start of the New South, the region has taken on many different identities—each with its own successes as well as failures.
150 years since the start of the New South, what, if anything, from the Old South still resonates today?
In 150 years, have we been able to live up to the promise that so many like F.A. Clinton could finally taste as the end of the Civil War?
If you have time, come explore our Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers exhibit to see the stories of F.A. Clinton as well as others present at the end of the Civil War and how they have impacted the region.