Philip Scranton, ed. The Second Wave: Southern Industrialization from the 1940s to the 1970s. Economy and Society in the Modern South. Athens and London: University of Georgia Press, 2001. xiv + 310 pp. $50.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8203-2218-6.
Reviewed by Ethan Blue (Department of History, University of Texas at Austin)
Published on H-South (May, 2002)
Navigators on Capital's Waves: Economic Transformation in the Post-WWII South
Navigators on Capital's Waves: Economic Transformation in the Post-WWII South
The essays in The Second Wave emerged from a 1998 conference driven by the question of how the Second World War transformed the southern economic landscape from one of economic stagnation to one of dynamic growth. "More specifically," asks editor Philip Scranton, "what shifts in the region's industrial system took shape in the decades after the 1940s, thus gradually erecting the bridges to its present-day vitality?" (p. x). While this vitality has seen uncertain distribution, especially in rural areas bypassed by industrial development, The Second Wave contributes to the growing literature on the South in the relatively recent past. Scranton's Introduction and Gavin Wright's Afterword make fine bookends by prominent scholars in the field and provide broader overviews than any of the tightly focused chapters allow.
The book begins with three essays on the formation of the Bell Aviation factory in Marietta, Georgia, which officially opened in January 1942. Shut down for only a few years between VJ Day and the beginning of the Korean War (reopened under Lockheed), this plant has operated continuously as one of the largest industries in Georgia. The Bell triptych brings three complementary perspectives toward a defining feature of southern life since the Second World War: the growth of military production and the connection of the southern political economy to what Eisenhower called the military-industrial complex. Bell Aviation is a case in point.
Thomas A. Scott's essay, "Winning the War in an Atlanta Suburb" traces the paths taken by local boosters, industrialists, and national military planners to build this huge bomber plant in Marietta. He argues that winning this economic prize was largely the work of prominent local boosters and entrepreneurs. In this regard, Marietta was blessed by a set of patronage and old-boy networks that extended into Washington's elite military planning circles. These boosters were "southern progressives" who favored governmental economic stimulation through military production, but their progressivism extended neither to unionism nor civil rights (p. 2). The limited hiring of African Americans at Bell and conflict with organized workers delineated the bottom edges of the patronage network, and the terms on which it existed during WWII. By 1943, the first bombers began rolling out of southern skies and across the globe.
Richard S. Combes' "Aircraft Manufacturing in Georgia: A Case Study of Federal Investment," is the second part of the Bell triptych, and uses Bell's presence in Georgia as an example of how important military contracts have been in the South. Though Gregory Hooks's concluding essay, "Guns and Butter, North and South," employs statistical pyrotechnics (in a national county-by-county comparison) to demonstrate that the South did not receive a disproportionate share of postwar federal investment, Hooks and Combes agree that federal money played an integral role in shaping the southern economic landscape, doubly so considering the paucity of preexisting industrial capacity. The massive production of B-29s by Bell, and subsequent generations of military aircraft under Lockheed, could not have happened without equally massive support from the post-World War II federal contracts that essentially placed the US on a permanent Cold War production basis. In the process, Combes documents how this feature of the southern regional economy has become largely dependant on military production and federal intervention. In periods when Lockheed faltered due to cost overruns, the federal government bailed them out. Combes states "Lockheed's business remained viable because the federal government, essentially its sole customer, would not allow it to fail" (p. 37).
At its wartime height, Bell Industries employed over 28,000 people and drew employees from throughout Georgia and the South. While the majority of those employed with Bell were white women, Bell also employed upwards of two thousand African American men and women. In "The Politics of Exclusion," the only chapter of the book to focus on the impact of industrialization on African Americans, Karen Ferguson makes clear most of these black southerners were directly channeled into custodial or cafeteria work, or, for those few involved in line production, into segregated jobs and buildings. Nevertheless, these service jobs paid well when compared to other wage labor opportunities open to African Americans in the Jim Crow South.
Drawing on the work of Kevin K. Gaines, Ferguson traces the uplift activities of Atlanta's elite blacks, and particularly those in the Urban League, in their relationship to Bell Aviation. She contends that much of the black civil rights movement of the war years was based around a politics of respectability, in which middle class African Americans sought to distance themselves from the masses of uneducated, recently re-located rural blacks that they feared might taint their own bids for social equality. She writes, "While the black reform elite worked for full democracy, its mobilization efforts focused on those African Americans who could or would share its notions of citizenship and behavior, while excluding those who did not" (p. 46). Thus the Urban League tried to channel only the most "respectable" blacks into war industries, and to show the white establishment that African Americans were highly patriotic, shared many of their values, and duly deserved the full political and economic rights of citizenship.
Despite the constraints that remained on black Atlantans in war industries, imposed both by racist hiring and exclusionary strategies by black uplifters, industrialization offered new economic and political opportunities. "Wartime industrialization was crucial to the democracy movement in the South," writes Ferguson. "By modernizing the southern economy, it released hundreds of thousands of black southerners from the paternalism and dependency" of either sharecropping or domestic labor (p. 45). Nevertheless, many gains lasted only as long as the wartime emergency, as black southerners were typically the first fired in the postwar demobilization. It proved easier to win political concessions from whites in the post-war years than it would lasting economic opportunity.
Following the three treatments of Bell Industries and the subsequent aircraft manufacture in Cobb County, the rest of the essays in The Second Wave stand independently. Randall Patton's thorough chapter, "Regional Advantage in the New South," focuses on the tufted carpet industry in Dalton, Georgia, and complicates longstanding theses about the domination of the southern economy by northern industries. Contrary to this general trend, Patton demonstrates the complex forces that contributed to the regional advantage that made Dalton the center for the tufted carpet industry in the United States. In essence, local creativity, changing market conditions, a network of interconnected entrepreneurs, low wages, and lax environmental regulation combined to make Dalton a national center in the carpet industry. Yet the seeming "progress" of this local industrial story is tinged by understanding that heavy reliance on a single industry risks economic disaster in an unstable market, and setting lax pollution standards in order to keep employers happy has serious consequences for those who live downstream.
Similar themes emerge in "Texas v. the Petrochemical Industry," Craig E. Colton's study of environmental regulation, but Colton's focus moves to the state-level politics of pollution in economic development. Just as Dalton politicians were unwilling to challenge how carpet makers disposed of their waste, postwar Texas legislators opted to tread gingerly with oil companies about their environmental impact--especially on Texas waterways and wildlife species. Colton suggests that the most important feature of this regulation came when industrial pollution was demonstrably tainting the water supplies of local communities. The protection of specific species, as well as undesignated plant and animal life, also came to be recognized as important resources that deserved governmental protection.
Industrial giants such as DuPont and Monsanto, however, took the lead in the self-regulation of industrial pollution, while agencies such as the Game, Fish and Oyster Commission maintained little muscle with which to enforce law. Large firms insisted in publicized campaigns that regulation of pollution was good for business. In so doing, "chemical producers sought a public relations benefit from their efforts while also evading conflict with the state" (p. 156). By taking positive, if not radical, steps toward self-policing, Texas petrochemical corporations set the terms of how environmental regulation would occur, while politicians allowed industrial self-regulation as a viable compromise. Not surprisingly, Colten writes, "few enforcement actions followed such a delegation of authority" (p. 158).
In a chapter bringing a different set of questions and emphases from many of the other essays, Toby Moore's "Dismantling the South's Cotton Mill Village System" moves the processes of economic transformation from entrepreneurs' offices into the homes of southern mill workers. Moore charts the transformation of village life so ably documented in the classic Like A Family from southern paternalist mill ownership to one where mill workers bought their own homes or moved out of the villages that had once been the center of mill owner hegemony. Dissolving mill ownership of mill villages "was the tool with which the textile industry switched from one mode of regulating labor to another...from an avowedly southern version of welfare capitalism to a lukewarm variant of the Fordism of the rest of the country" (p. 115).
Moore's sophisticated analysis demonstrates the ambivalent changes wrought by economic transformation in the South. The demise of the mill village system brought increased home ownership and property for mill workers, but it simultaneously bound workers to new forms of dependency and debt. Mill workers' desire for home ownership and consumable goods proved no less restrictive than the forms of coercion available through a mill owner's control of the village.
Like Colten's analysis of environmental regulation in the Texas petrochemical industry, William Boyd brings together environmental, regional, and business history methodologies in discussion of industrial forestry. His chapter, "The Forest is the Future?" charts the expansion and transformation of the paper and pulp mill industry between the mid 1930s and the 1950s, and the subsequent acceleration of industrial forestry through the present. These new, capital-intensive mills begun in the mid-1930s were an important departure from the region's previous use of forest products, whose extractive industry practices had more in common with mining than with agricultural production. Under the lead of the Union Paper and Bag Corporation in Savannah, this fundamental change in industrial forestry transformed the American South into the "wood basket of the world" (p. 172).
The major transformation of the timber industry had roots in the conservation ethics of New Deal progressivism, and resulted from substantial public-private cooperation in industrial development, and the post-New Deal transformation of a Southern cotton economy to one where wood products were the largest cash crop. The transformation involved institutional changes in tax structures, infrastructural development, and general business rationalization. All of this was part of a process of what Boyd terms "regional collective learning" in which universities, the state, financiers, and timber industrialists worked together to maximize production. Absent from the equation, however, were the workers who harvested the trees, and their role in the processes of crop development, or, furthermore, the changing managerial strategies over the people whose labor was key to bringing this newly-intensified crop to market.
In "Greenfields in the Heart of Dixie," Karsten Hülsemann examines the automotive industry in the South across the full span of the twentieth century, and explicitly links localized southern economic transformation to global economic priorities. The arrival of new and substantial automotive industries in southern towns have been a boon to local economies, but Hülsemann, like Moore, warns of the ambivalence of newfound economic change. Though automobile plants are capital intensive and such economic investment suggests permanence, reliance on a single industry still makes for a shaky foundation. If the plant shuts down, so does the town.
Hülsemann makes the claim that today, most regions of the United States exist in colonial relationships--no longer to the US northeast, but rather to the amorphous markets and non-regional centers of capital--which are not necessarily in the United States. This assessment of auto manufacturing in the South ably locates southern industrialization in global markets. Placed toward the end of the book, this chapter brings readers and the South beyond the 1970s and into the era of flexible production, from Fordism toward Toyotization in the global economy (239). In this piece, we are necessarily led to understand the US South's relationship to the global South beyond American borders.
The Second Wave broaches many important subjects and will be valuable to an array of southern scholars for that very reason. On occasion, its methodological eclecticism is dizzying, and as a result readers will find certain essays more suited to their needs than others. Despite this, the collection coheres admirably, especially for a region as variegated, both internally and at its borders, as the South. Though it might seem an unusual comment on an edited volume, this reader would have enjoyed a more diverse collection that touched on the lives of a broader group of southerners than the weighty emphasis on boosters, planners, and architects of southern industrialization favored here. For example, how did industrial transformation in this period affect women, African Americans (outside of Atlanta's uplift elite), and industrial and rural workers? And, how did these internally diffracted groups affect processes of industrialization and economic change? Would analyses based less in industry archives offer alternative stories of southern economic transformation? As the twentieth century recedes and comes into greater historical perspective, readers will find The Second Wave both an important collection of contemporary scholarship and see within it numerous points of departure.
. Kevin K. Gaines, Uplifting the Race: Black Leadership, Politics, and Culture in the Twentieth Century (Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1996).
. Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, James Leloudis, Robert Korsad, Mary Murphy, Lu Ann Jones, and Christopher B. Daly, Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World (Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1987).
. See, for example, Devon G. Peña, The Terror of the Machine: Technology, Work, Gender and Ecology on the U.S.-Mexico Border (Austin, TX: The Center for Mexican American Studies, University of Texas at Austin, 1997).
. For one study that centers on race and southern labor struggles since WWII, see Timothy Minchin, Hiring the Black Worker: The Racial Integration of the Southern Textile Industry, 1960-1980 (Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1999).
Ethan Blue. Review of Scranton, Philip, ed., The Second Wave: Southern Industrialization from the 1940s to the 1970s.
H-South, H-Net Reviews.
Copyright © 2002 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.