Southern history has long been a passion of mine – for better and for worse. My interest in the south has led me at times despite my progressive beliefs to defend the shameful side of the region’s history, including my long internal battle about the Confederate battle flag.
One of my favorite recent books about Southern History from a political sense is Pursuit of Unity: A Political History of the American South by Michael Perman. Beginning with the nullification crisis, secession, reconstruction the populist revolt, the Great Depression and New Deal, the Democratic Party represented a unifying force in Southern politics. The influence of the party and the ability of the “solid south” to impact and ultimately control the policies of one of the major American political parties allowed the south to control its own destiny.
The result was two-fold – The South was able to bring large amounts of federal help to the region and have leaders advance to prominent national positions while the institutions of racism and segregation that had been undermined by the Reconstruction era and Republican Party were once again safe in a one-party system dominated by Democrats. Once the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed, the unity of the south was broken forever argues Perman.
A thick narrative with lots of supporting data and interesting anecdotes including how Democrats were able to fan racial tensions to put down the populist revolt (or at least integrate it back into the mainstream of the Democratic Party) and the constant battle between the united Democratic South and the growing urban northern wing of the party which included many ethnic voters, particularly Italian and Irish Catholics.
This book is well worth a quick read and a book that should always be around for reference purposes.