Painting Dixie Red: When, Where, Why, and How the South Became Republican. Edited by Glenn Feldman . (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2011. Pp. xii, 388. $74.95.)
Article first published online: 13 MAR 2013
© 2013 Phi Alpha Theta
Volume 75, Issue 1, pages 142–144, Spring 2013
How to Cite
Bass, H. F. (2013), Painting Dixie Red: When, Where, Why, and How the South Became Republican. Edited by Glenn Feldman . (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2011. Pp. xii, 388. $74.95.). Historian, 75: 142–144. doi: 10.1111/hisn.12004_17
- Issue published online: 13 MAR 2013
- Article first published online: 13 MAR 2013
Understanding partisan change in the post-World War II South is one of the most significant challenges confronting students of modern American history and politics, and three generations of scholars have now been engaged in this endeavor. Glenn Feldman's edited volume is a useful addition to the substantial array of scholarly literature addressing the topic.
Why has the once solidly Democratic South shifted into the Republican camp in the postwar era? This is a complicated question that does not lend itself to a simplistic answer. In seeking explanation, Feldman and his contributors round up the usual suspects: race, class, residence, modernization, ideology, religion, and culture. The chapters provide narrowly cast, ground-level insights that make clear that the big story of partisan change features noteworthy variations across time and space and with regard to these causal factors. They also call attention to the importance of individuals in positions of national, state, and local leadership in political parties, interest groups, churches, and the academy.
Feldman's introductory overview is both analytical and descriptive. Part 1 considers the role of religion in partisan realignment. Three chapters address generally the mobilization of heretofore relatively apolitical evangelicals, whose enthusiastic embrace of the Republican Party fueled its regional advance.
Part 2, entitled “State, Section, Suburb, and Race,” consists of five chapters that detail diverse developments in Georgia, Virginia, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Arkansas. They identify various competing and complementary approaches to and foundations for party building by Republican activists seeking to make inroads across the region. The suburban strategy saw opportunities in economic development and shifting residential patterns to bring Southern voters more in line with their Northern counterparts, with the GOP becoming the partisan choice of the more affluent. The Southern strategy sought to capitalize on the dissatisfaction among traditionally conservative Southern whites with the national Democratic Party's growing commitment to the ideology of modern liberalism, with specific references to civil rights and federal authority. The Arkansas chapter offers a fascinating account of an ephemeral road not taken elsewhere. Winthrop Rockefeller's successful 1966 gubernatorial campaign associated the Republican nominee with the causes of both civil rights and economic development.
Part 3, “Economics, Faction, and the Neo-Confederacy,” is the least cohesive unit in the volume. It assembles four chapters that are individually interesting and insightful, but it is difficult to find much tissue connecting considerations of shifting regional perspectives on international trade, efforts by the 1952 Eisenhower presidential nomination campaign to gain traction within the state party organizations, attempts by the Nixon administration to emphasize economic civil rights, and a portrait of an academic who promoted both Reagan conservatism and Confederate nationalism. Feldman's passionate conclusion argues, first, that partisan change in the South obscures extraordinary cultural stability on the part of the white majority, and, second, that there has been a “Southernization” of American politics.
Students of Southern history and politics will find this volume worthwhile. The picture it paints of the forest highlights some specific trees in a fashion that is both idiosyncratic and effective.