Culture of the Southern United States

Culture of the Southern United States
Modern definition The states in dark red are almost always included in modern day definitions of the South, while those in red are usually included. Those in dark red are also called the "deep south." The striped states are sometimes/occasionally considered Southern[1][2]

The Culture of the Southern United States, or Southern Culture, is a subculture of the United States that is perhaps America's most distinct, in the minds both of its residents and of those in other parts of the country.[citation needed] The combination of its unique history and the fact that many Southerners maintain—and even nurture—an identity separate from the rest of the country has led to its being the most studied and written about region of the United States.[citation needed]

"More than any other part of America, the South stands apart...Thousands of Northerners and foreigners have migrated to it...but Southerners they will not become. For this is still a place where you must have either been born or have 'people' there, to feel it is your native ground. "Natives will tell you this. They are proud to be Americans, but they are also proud to be Virginians, South Carolinians, Tennesseeans, Mississippians and Texans. But they are conscious of another loyalty too, one that transcends the usual ties of national patriotism and state pride. It is a loyalty to a place where habits are strong and memories are long. If those memories could speak, they would tell stories of a region powerfully shaped by its history and determined to pass it on to future generations."

Tim Jacobson, Heritage of the South

Southern culture has been and remains generally more socially conservative than that of the rest of the country. Because of the central role of agriculture in the antebellum economy, society remained stratified according to land ownership, and communities often developed strong attachment to their churches as the primary community institution.

From its many cultural influences, the South developed its own unique customs, literature, cuisine and musical styles (such as country music, bluegrass, rockabilly, southern gospel, jazz, blues and rock and roll).[citation needed]



The predominant culture of the South has its origins with the settlement of the region by British colonists.[citation needed] In the 17th century, most were of Southern English origins, mostly from regions such as Kent, East Anglia and the West Country who settled mostly on the coastal regions of the South but pushed as far inland as the Appalachian mountains by the 18th century. In the 18th century, large groups of Scots lowlanders, Northern English and Ulster-Scots (later called the Scots-Irish) settled in Appalachia and the Piedmont. They were often called "crackers" [3] by upper class neighbors. As one wrote, "I should explain… what is meant by Crackers; a name they have got from being great boasters; they are a lawless set of rascals on the frontiers of Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia, who often change their places of abode." Most Southerners today are of partial or majority English and Scots-Irish ancestry.[4] In previous census's an overwhelming majority of Southerners identified as being of English or mostly English ancestry[5][6] with 19,618,370 self-identifying as "English" on the 1980 census, followed by 3,679,277 identifying as German or mostly German.[7][5][6] It should also be noted that those who did identify themselves of German ancestry were almost exclusively found in the northern border areas of the region which are adjacent to the American Mid-West. Those from the Tidewater area identified themselves almost exclusively as of English origins, while those from the Piedmont areas were a mixture of English, Scotch-Irish and Irish origins. South Georgia has a large Irish presence, the ancestors of whom were largely at one time Roman Catholic; however many were converted to various Protestant sects due to the lack of a missionary presence of the Catholic church in the 18th and 19th centuries. The predominance of Irish surnames in South Georgia has been noted by American historians for some time.

The other primary population group in the South is made up of the African American descendants of the slaves brought into the South.[citation needed] African Americans comprise the United States' second-largest racial minority, accounting for 12.1 percent of the total population according to the 2000 census. Despite Jim Crow era outflow to the North (see Great Migration (African American)), the majority of the black population has remained concentrated in the southern states, and blacks have been returning to the South in large numbers since the end of formal segregation (see New Great Migration). African Americans in the South have transmitted their foods, music (see "negro spirituals"), art, and charismatic brand of Christianity to white Southerners, and the rest of the nation.[citation needed]

Other ethnic groups established communities in the American South. For examples are the German American population of the Edwards Plateau of Texas, whose ancestors arrived in the region in the 1840s. German cultural influence continues to be felt in cities like New Braunfels, Texas near Austin and San Antonio.[citation needed]. Much of the population of Louisiana and coastal Mississippi and Alabama traces its primary ancestry to French colonists of the 18th century. Also important is the French community of New Orleans, Louisiana dating back to the 1880s, while the city and nearby Gulf Coast area also attracted waves of Chinese or Filipino immigrants and Vietnamese refugees in the late 20th century.[citation needed]


Part of the South is known as the "Bible Belt", because of the prevalence there of evangelical Protestantism and sometimes conservative Catholicism. Some cities such as Atlanta, Birmingham, Charlotte, Charleston, Dallas, New Orleans, Memphis, Louisville, Tampa and Houston also have significant Jewish, and in some of the latter, significant Islamic communities. Immigrants from Southeast Asia and South Asia have brought Buddhism and Hinduism to the region as well. (For more information, see Charles Reagan Wilson,[8] Southern Spaces, March 16, 2004). Most Southerners attend church on a regular basis.[9]

Early on, the South was influenced by masses of religious revivals often instigated by local lay ministers or others itinerants, as well as "circuit-riders" and other trained ministers that made their way South as traveling preachers from New England. Before the Revolution, some Virginians became Baptists, and the issue of religious freedom was being struggled over. In 1765, Elijah Craig and other young men who became fervent Baptists in Fredericksburg, Virginia, were arrested for preaching without licenses from the Anglican Church. They were defended by Patrick Henry. The young James Madison also represented Baptist preachers in Virginia when he finished law school, and took his thinking about religious freedom to the Constitutional Convention after the Revolution. (Elijah Craig took hundreds of followers with him through the mountains into Kentucky, where they settled near what became Lexington and established churches and the first Baptist association in Kentucky.)

After the Revolution, the Anglican Church was dis-established, and the Episcopal Church of the United States was created. The Revolution turned more people toward Methodist and Baptist preachers in the South. The Cane Ridge Revival and subsequent "camp-meetings" on the Kentucky and Tennessee frontiers was the impetus behind the Restoration Movement. Traveling preachers used music and song to convert new members. Shape-note singing became a fundamental part of camp meetings in frontier regions. In the early decades of the 18th century, the Baptists in the South reduced their challenge to class and race. Rather than pressing for freedom for slaves, they encouraged planters to improve treatment of them, and ultimately used the Bible to justify slavery.[10]

In 1845, the Southern Baptist Convention separated from other regions. Baptist and Methodist churches proliferated across the Tidewater region, usually attracting common planters, artisans and workers. The wealthiest planters continued to be affiliated with the Episcopal Church. By the beginning of the Civil War, the Baptist and Methodist churches had attracted the most members in the South, and their churches were most numerous in the region.[10] Today, probably more than any other region of any developed nation, the South has a high concentration of evangelical and fundamentalist Christian adherents.

Historically Catholic colonists were primarily those from Spain and France, who settled in coastal areas of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. Today, there are significant Roman Catholic populations along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico (especially the port cities of New Orleans, Biloxi, Pensacola and Mobile), which preserve the continuing (and broadly popularized) Catholic traditions of Carnival at the beginning of Lent in Mardi Gras parades and related customs. Elsewhere in the region, Catholics are a small minority and of mainly Irish and French or modern Hispanic ancestry.

Atlanta, in contrast to other Southern cities, contains a large, and rapidly growing, Roman Catholic population. The number of Catholics grew from 292,300 members in 1998 to 900,000 members in 2010, an increase of 207 percent. The population is expected to top 1 million by 2011.[11][12] The increase is fueled by Catholics moving to Atlanta from other parts of the U.S. and the world, and from newcomers to the church.[12] About 16 percent of all metropolitan Atlanta residents are Catholic, comparable to many of Midwestern metropolitan areas.[13]

In general, the inland regions of the Deep South and Upper South, such as Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama were less attractive to immigrants and have stronger concentrations of Baptists, Methodists, Church of Christ and other Protestants.[14] Eastern and northern Texas are heavily Protestant, while the southern parts of the state have Mexican-American Catholic majorities.[citation needed]

The city of Charleston, South Carolina has had a significant Jewish population since the colonial period. The first were Sephardic Jews who had been living in London or on the island of Barbados. They were connected to Jewish communities in New England as well. The community figured prominently in the history of South Carolina. Richmond also had a Sephardic Jewish community before the Revolution. They built the first synagogue in Virginia about 1791.[15] New Orleans also historically (and in the present day) has a significant Jewish community.

The South Florida area is home to the nation's second largest concentration of Jewish Americans outside New York, most of them early 20th century migrants and descendants from the Northeast. They were descendants of Ashkenazi Jews from Germany, Russia, Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe. Twentieth century migration and business development have brought significant Jewish and Muslim communities to most major business and university cities, such as Miami, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and more recently, Charlotte.

Southern dialect

Approximate extent of Southern American English, based upon multiple dialect studies.[16][17][18]
The merger of pin and pen in Southern American English. The areas marked in purple are where the merger is complete for most speakers. Based on Labov, Ash, and Boberg 2006: 68.

Southern American English is a group of dialects of the English language spoken throughout the Southern region of the United States, from West Virginia and Kentucky to the Gulf Coast, and from the mid-Atlantic coast to throughout most of Texas and Oklahoma.

Southern dialects make up the largest accent group in the United States.[19] Southern American English can be divided into different sub-dialects, with speech differing between regions. African American Vernacular English (AAVE) shares similarities with Southern dialect due to African Americans' strong historical ties to the region.

It has been said that Southerners are most easily distinguished from other Americans by their speech, both in terms of accent and idiom. However, there is no single "Southern Accent." Rather, Southern American English is a collection of dialects of the English spoken throughout the South. Southern American English can be divided into different sub-dialects, with speech differing between, for example, that of Appalachian region and the coastal "low country" around Charleston, South Carolina. For example, Southerners in the Arkansas region emphasize the long "I" sound, whereas those in Mississippi accentuate their O's to sound more like "ew"s. Folklorists in the 1920s and later argued that because of the region' isolation, Appalachian language patterns more closely mirrored Elizabethan English than other accents in the United States.[20] The dialect spoken to various degrees by many African Americans, African American Vernacular English (AAVE), shares many similarities with Southern dialect, unsurprising given that group's strong historical ties to the South.

While traces of African language remain in AAVE, there are a few distinctively African dialect groups in the South, the Gullah the most famous among them. Gullah is still spoken by some African Americans in the Low Country of South Carolina, Georgia and Northeast Florida, particularly the older generation. Also called Geechee in Georgia, the language and a strongly African culture developed because of the people's relative isolation in large communities, and continued importation of slaves from the same parts of Africa. As the enslaved people on large plantations were relatively undisturbed by whites, Gullah developed as a creole language, based on African forms. Similarly the people kept many African forms in religious rituals, foodways and similar transportable culture, all influenced by the new environment in the colonies. Other, less known African American dialect groups are the rural blacks of the Mississippi Basin, and Africantown near Mobile, Alabama, where the last known ship to arrive in the Americas with slaves was abandoned in 1860.

There are several other unique linguistic enclaves in the American South. Among them is that of Tangier Island, Virginia, as well as the Outer Banks, which some scholars claim preserves a unique English dialect from the colonial period. The New Orleans or "Yat" dialect is similar to Northeastern port city accents because of an influx of German and Irish immigrants similar to those of the Northeast. Many are familiar with the French-based Cajun French that is spoken in the southern half of Louisiana.

Other distinct languages include Cajun French (Louisiana), and Isleño Spanish (Louisiana, see also Canarian Spanish).

The US South also contains many indigenous languages from the Native American Muskogean, Caddoan, Siouan–Catawban, Iroquoian, Algonquian, Yuchi, Chitimacha, Natchez, Tunica, Adai, Timucua and Atakapa families. The historical record seems to suggest a picture of great linguistic diversity (similar to California) although most languages mentioned were not documented. Several southeastern languages have become extinct and all are endangered. Historical language contact among Native Americans developed into a southeastern Sprachbund.[citation needed] The influence of native languages has led to distinct Indian varieties of English.

Regional variations

There continues to be debate about what constitutes the basics elements of Southern culture. [21] This debate is influenced partly because the South is such a large region. As a result, there are a number of cultural variations among states in the region.

Among the variations found in Southern culture are:

  • The lowland South was settled first by mostly English in the Chesapeake Bay Colony, and French and Spanish in the lower South. This was the first area developed as plantations for cash crops of tobacco, rice and indigo. Later, cotton, sugar and hemp became important cash crops, as well. Planters imported large numbers of Africans who became enslaved for life by law. The coastal areas were dominated by wealthy planters, who extended their power to state governments.
  • Historical, political, and cultural divisions continue to divide the "upcountry" or "hill" culture of the Appalachian and Ozark mountain regions from that of low-lying areas such as the Virginia Tidewater, Gulf Coast, the Low Country of South Carolina and the Mississippi Delta. By contrast, farmers in the hill country cultivated land for subsistence, and few held slaves. The hill country's population has chiefly Scots-Irish and northern English ancestry. Because they were chiefly yeoman farmers, many upland areas did not support the Confederate cause during the American Civil War (see Andrew Johnson). Those in the hill country continued to support the Republican Party when the remainder of the white South supported Democrats.
  • Areas having experienced a large influx of newcomers typically have been less likely to hold onto a distinctly Southern identity and cultural influences. For this reason, urban areas during the Civil War were less likely to favor secession than agricultural areas. Today, partly because of continuing population migration patterns between urban areas in the North and South, historically "Southern" larger urban areas, such as Atlanta, Austin, Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham, Richmond, Nashville, Jacksonville, Dallas and Houston, have assimilated modern metropolitan identities distinct from their historic "Southern" heritage. However, while these metropolitan areas have had their original southern culture somewhat diluted, they nonetheless have largely preserved their distinct "Southern" identity.[22]
  • Over the past half-century, numerous Latinos have migrated to the American South from Mexico and Latin America most notably in the cases of Texas and Florida. Urban areas such as Atlanta, New Orleans and Nashville have seen a major increase in Latino immigrants over the past ten to fifteen years. Factory and agribusiness jobs have also attracted Mexican and Latin American workers to more rural regions of the South. Many believe that Latino culture is diluting southern culture in places with high populations of Latinos.[23][24][25]


Florida is a unique situation. There is a popular saying in Florida that "The North is in the South, and the South is in the North" or "The more north you go the more Southern it gets." This refers to the vast cultural difference between peoples of North and South Florida. Despite being the most geographically southeastern state, it has experienced such rapid population growth from regions outside of the traditional South that it is sometimes no longer considered to be "culturally Southern" in some areas (especially true of South Florida). However, this depends on the area of the state. For example, while the culturally-Southern Florida Panhandle counts for only 7% of the state's population, largely non-Southern South Florida accounts for a full third of the state's population, with Miami-Dade County (where a majority of residents were born outside of the United States) alone having approximately twice as many residents as the entire Panhandle. North Floridians commonly are staunch defenders of their southern heritage, often noting that they were the third state after South Carolina and Mississippi to secede from the Union prior to the US Civil War and also that Tallahassee was the only capital east of the Mississippi never captured by Union forces during the war, solidifying their placement within traditional southern culture. Florida and Oklahoma are the only two states in the Census-defined South in which the largest ancestry group is German-American, as opposed to the "American" ancestry that is most common in the South among whites; in this manner, these states more closely resemble states of the Midwest and Mountain West than they do Southern states.[26] While Southern American English is the dominant dialect across the entire South, this accent is largely absent from South Florida unlike certain areas in the western, northern, and central regions of the state and other rural areas.[27] The religious composition of Florida is also highly atypical for the South; Florida, Louisiana, Maryland and Texas are the only Census-defined Southern states in which Catholics outnumber Southern Baptists, and Florida has the largest Jewish population by a significant margin among Census-defined Southern states.[28][29]

The least "Southern" part of the state is South Florida, which has been transformed by the rapid influx of Northern migrants and immigration from (especially) Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe, and Asia. Miami-Dade County is the only county in the entire United States in which a majority (51.4%) of residents were born outside of the country,[30] with Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe counties all having far more transplanted residents than native-born Floridians. The northern, central and rural areas are more "southern", with such areas as most of Central Florida, the Florida Panhandle, and the Florida Heartland demonstrating the typical Southern culture (i.e. the South is in the North).

Plurality ancestry per US county, 2000: German English Norwegian Finnish Dutch Mexican Spanish Native "American" African American Irish French Italian


With its northern border at the confluence of the Upper South and the Midwest, Kentucky demonstrates multiple cultural influences.[31] A study in the 1990s revealed that 79% of Kentuckians agreed they were living within the south. The study also showed that 84 percent of Texans, and 82 percent of Virginians believe they live in the south. Between 80–90% of residents in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, Georgia and the Carolinas described themselves as southerners.[32] This is likely because regional identification often varies dramatically within Kentucky. For example, many consider northern Kentucky to be the most Midwestern region as it shares culture with Cincinnati. Studies show that a significant minority of people in Northern Kentucky still identify with the South. Conversely, southern Ohio and southern Indiana are highly Southern in comparison to most of the Midwest, as is the "little Egypt" region of southern Illinois.

Some sources treat Southern Indiana as essentially the upper tip of Upland South culture while others maintain that Southern culture, while significant, is not dominant in the region.[33] Louisville is viewed as culturally and economically Midwestern in some analyses, because it rapidly industrialized during the late 19th century (although not to the same extent as most northern cities), as opposed to the slow industrialization that occurred in the South.[34] Other observers consider Louisville to be southern culturally, due to dialect and various other aspects of culture.[35] It is often described as both "the Gateway to the South" and "the northernmost Southern city and southernmost Northern city." Unlike the remainder of the state, Louisville, Covington, and Newport received large amounts of German immigrants due to manufacturing interests on the Ohio river, thus making the culture there somewhat distinct from the rest of the state. Had Kentucky been a free-state, prior to the Civil War, it would have likely drawn more German immigration, as there was usually a relatively small number of slaves in the areas where Germans did settle.[36]

While varying degrees of southern cultural influence can be found in Kentucky inside the Cincinnati area and Louisville, smaller cities such as Owensboro, Bowling Green, Hopkinsville and Paducah, together with most of the state's rural areas, have continued to be more distinctly Southern in character. Outside of those two specific areas, southern culture, dialect, mannerisms, etc. are prominent. Southern cuisine is quite common across the state. Western Kentucky is famous for a regional style of southern barbecue, and other forms of southern food such as catfish, country ham, greens beans etc. can also be found.[37] Today most of the state, outside of Northern Kentucky, shares a cultural identity with Tennessee and the rest of the Upland South in ancestry, dialect, and various other aspects of culture.[17][38][39][40]

In most contexts, especially culturally, the state is grouped as part of the south.[16][41][42][43][44]


The state was first colonized by France and Spain rather than Great Britain, a difference which gave it a different form of law and other distinct cultural traditions. The French, Spanish, Cajun, Creole, African and Caribbean-influenced culture is especially strong in the southern portion of the state. Coastal Mississippi and Mobile, Alabama were both part of colonial Louisiana and both areas retain strong traces of Louisiana culture which is present in local cuisine such as gumbo and local celebrations such as Mardi Gras. Beaumont, Texas was not originally a part of Louisiana but was settled by many Cajuns from Louisiana who relocated there in the early 1900s to take jobs in the oil fields. These areas are all considered as "culturally Louisiana."

In the antebellum years, a significant population of free people of color or Creoles of color, as opposed to White Creoles known as French Creoles, had formed in New Orleans, in part because of the system of plaçage that developed since the colonial period. Many became educated, had their own businesses and owned property. They formed a distinct third class between Europeans Americans and enslaved Africans, although their freedoms were reduced after the Louisiana Purchase and imposition of Americans' binary racial views. Together with the cosmopolitan views of an international seaport, Roman Catholics in metropolitan New Orleans had relatively tolerant attitudes toward alcohol use, gambling, and prostitution in contrast to the outwardly conservative evangelical Protestant beliefs of many in the Deep South.

North Carolina

Some say that the most recent shift in Southern cultural influence and demographics has occurred in North Carolina. The state's metropolitan areas, notably that of the Research Triangle, have a more liberal tendency, while the rural piedmont, coastal and appalachian regions remain strongly conservative.

Many new residents have come for work from the North and Midwest, especially from the New York City and Cleveland metropolitan areas. The Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham areas have attracted the most new residents because of economic growth: banking/finance in Charlotte; universities and high-tech in Raleigh-Durham. The Asheville area has attracted more retirees.

In addition to Northerners, the job markets in North Carolina's three largest metropolitan regions — Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham and the Greensboro-Winston-Salem-High Point Piedmont Triad — have also attracted large and growing Latino and Asian American immigration and migration. A report released by the Brookings Institute in May 2006 entitled Diversity Spreads Out, noted that the Charlotte metro area ranked second nationally with a 49.8% growth rate in its Hispanic population between 2000 and 2004. The Raleigh-Durham metro area followed in third place with a 46.7% rate of growth.[45]


Oklahoma is part of the South as defined by the Census Bureau (see map near beginning of article) but, culturally, it is more of a transition zone from the South to the West. Before being admitted as a state in 1907, Oklahoma was known as "Indian Territory." It was the site where Indian tribes were relocated after having been removed from areas east of the Mississippi River, most of them from the South. Primary among those removed to Oklahoma were the "Five Civilized Tribes" including the Seminoles, Creeks, Chickisaws, Choctaws and Cherokees. The majority of the Native American tribes in Indian Territory sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War, in part because many of them had slaveholding members. Oklahoma maintained a non-voting delegate in the Confederate Congress throughout the Civil War. Due to the mass-migrations into Oklahoma during the late 1800s by non-Southern whites, much of its original Southern cultural character became diluted. Still, parts of Oklahoma are known as "Little Dixie" today due to the strong Southern cultural ties and characteristics found there.

Oklahoma has the nation's largest Native American population. Its cultural heritage is both southern and western. Oklahoma is home of the Gilcrease Museum, which houses the world's largest, most comprehensive collection of art of the American West. This includes Native American art and artifacts and historical manuscripts, documents and maps. Oklahoma is sometimes described as being part of the "Great Southwest". Because of its geographic location, eastern Oklahoma is more connected to Southern culture.


Because of its size and unique history, particularly having once been a nation in its own right (i.e. the Republic of Texas), Texas' modern-day relationship to the rest of the South is often a subject of debate and discussion. It has been described as "a Southern state, certainly, yet not completely in or of the South." With a history of Southern settlement and cotton plantations, East Texas, North Texas and parts of Central Texas, are more associated with the South than the Southwest. On the other hand, in terms of geology, economy, and culture, parts of West Texas, Central Texas and South Texas share more similarities with the Southwest. Major cities like Austin and Houston have large numbers of Northern and West Coast transplants, and thus, less Southern-like culture.

The upper Texas Panhandle and the South Plains areas of West Texas do not easily fit into either category. The former has much in common both culturally and geographically with Midwestern states like Kansas and Nebraska. The South Plains, though originally settled primarily by Anglo Southerners, has become a blend of both Southern and Southwestern culture due to rapidly increasing Hispanic population.

The size and cultural distinctiveness of Texas prohibit easy categorization of the entire state in any recognized region. Geographic, economic and cultural diversity among regions of the state preclude treating Texas as a region in its own right. The larger cities of Texas with their burgeoning knowledge-based economies have attracted migrants from other regions of the United States and immigrants from Latin America and Asia. However, partly due to its membership in the Confederacy, and the fact much of the state is in the Bible Belt, it is usually considered more of a Southern state rather than a Western one. Also, linguistic maps of Texas place most of the state within the spheres of upper, mid- and Gulf- Southern dialects, helping to further identify the state as being Southern (use of Southern colloquialisms such as y'all and ain't are still very much widespread in Texas).


Northern Virginia has attracted many internal migrants coming for job opportunities with the federal government and related businesses during and after World War II, due to the emergence and expansion of the Northeast Megalopolis. More expansion resulted from the dot-com bubble around the turn of the 21st century. Economically linked to Washington, D.C., residents of the northern part of the state tend to consider its culture more Mid-Atlantic than Southern. Some in Virginia refer to the area as "Occupied Virginia." The rest of the state is considered more southern in culture, with its capital, Richmond, also having served as the capital of the Confederacy.[46] Overall, however, based on a study from the late 1990s, 82% of Virginians believe they live in the south and most identify more with the South than with any other region.

West Virginia

The formation of West Virginia in 1863 underlined the old divide between the highlands and the rest of the South. While West Virginia is classified by the Census Bureau as a southern state, its peculiar geographic shape means that the northernmost tip is at about the same latitude as central New Jersey. The northernmost part of the state, as well as a number of northern non-panhandle cities, such as Morgantown, about an hour's drive from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, have become exurbs of the former industrial city, resulting in a less "Southern" culture.

The easternmost tip of the state is close enough to Washington, D.C. that it is becoming an exurb of that area with a unique North-South "hybrid" culture. The Census Bureau classifies the two easternmost counties, Berkeley and Jefferson, as part of the larger Washington Metropolitan Area.

Huntington, near the state's boundary with Ohio and Kentucky, is sometimes identified with the Rust Belt. It has more of a Southern climate and environment compared to the state's Northern Panhandle and North-Central regions.

Lastly, Bluefield and other towns on the southern border of West Virginia are less than a 3-hour drive (170 miles) to Charlotte, North Carolina.[47] They are only an hour and a half (70 miles) to the North Carolina border.[47] For residents of such areas, Charlotte is their closest major city.

West Virginia was created from 50 western counties of Virginia during the Civil War. Although two-thirds of the territory of the proposed state consisted of secessionist counties,[48] the Wheeling Unionists were successful in guiding their statehood bill through Congress. It was signed by President Lincoln. Because of the confusing circumstances of the state's creation, some do not consider West Virginia to be part of the South. People in West Virginia have typically shared ancestry and heritage with the Appalachian culture that extends down the spine of a large swath of the backcountry South.

Beyond the Census-classified South


Missouri is classified as a Midwestern state by the Census Bureau and many of its residents. St. Louis was known as the "Gateway to the West" when settlement was expanding. Some observers include the Missouri Ozarks with the Highland South and its predominantly Scots-Irish culture. The northern edge of the Ozark Plateau was settled chiefly by mid- to late 19th century German immigrants, however, who founded numerous vineyards and wineries. Due to this, Missouri was the second-largest wine-producing state before Prohibition, which destroyed the industry. Wineries have been rebuilt since the later decades of the 20th century, and Missouri wineries are competing well in national festivals. Part of the Missouri River valley, from beyond St. Louis suburbs in St. Charles County to east of Jefferson City, is known as the Missouri Rhineland because of the extensive vineyards and wineries based on German immigrant tradition and descendants.

In the antebellum years, many settlers from Upper South states such as Virginia and Kentucky migrated to the counties of central and western Missouri along the Missouri River, where they could cultivate tobacco and hemp. Because these southerners brought their culture and slaveholding with them, Missouri was admitted to the Union as a slaveholding state. In modern times, this area became known as Little Dixie. Before the Civil War, six of the counties included in this area had populations in which more than 25% were enslaved African Americans, the highest concentrations in the state outside the cotton plantations in the Mississippi Delta.[49] Antebellum houses typical of the South still stand in some of Little Dixie, although for the most part all of Little Dixie is considered to be Midwestern by modern standards. All the crops grown there today are corn, soybeans and wheat, of which the area was far more suited than for Southern crops like cotton, hemp or tobacco, the latter three of which essentially ceased their presence there after the Civil War along with the dominance of Southern culture. However, the Missouri bootheel is still very much culturally southern.

The Midwest, Southwest and West

Many areas of New Mexico, Arizona and California were predominantly settled by European American southerners as they moved west in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For instance, pro-Confederate governments were established in what is now Arizona and New Mexico during the Civil War and, at one point, southern California was on the cusp of breaking away from northern California and joining the Confederacy.

Southerners migrated to industrial cities in the Midwest for work before and after World War II. They went to Michigan, Indiana and Ohio, as well as Missouri and Illinois. During the Great Depression and Dust Bowl crisis, a large influx of migrants from areas such as Oklahoma, Arkansas and the Texas Panhandle settled in California. These "Okie" and "Arkie" migrants and their descendants remain a strong influence on the culture of the Central Valley of California, especially around the cities of Bakersfield and Fresno.

More than 6.5 million African Americans left the segregated South for the industrial cities of the Midwest and West Coast during the Great Migration, beginning in World War I and extending to 1970. Many migrants from Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas moved to California during and after World War II because of jobs in the defense industry. As a result, many African Americans as well as European Americans have "Northern" and "Southern" branches of their families. Significant parts of African-American culture, such as music, literary forms and cuisine, have been rooted in the South but have changed with urban northern and western influences, too.


As an important feature of Southern culture, the cuisine of the South is often described as one of its most distinctive traits. Popular sayings include "Food is Love" and "If it ain't fried it ain't cooked". Southern culinary culture has readily adopted Native American influences. Corn meal cereal known as "grits", cornfritters, cornbread and brunswick stew are a few of the more common examples of foods adopted directly from southeastern Indians. Nevertheless, a great many regional varieties have also developed. The variety of cuisines range from Tex-Mex cuisine, Cajun and Creole, traditional antebellum fare, all types of seafood, and Texas, Carolina, Virginia (which shares strong similarities with North Carolina) and Memphis styles of Barbecue.

Traditional African American Southern food is often called soul food. While not typically as spicy as is cajun food, it does tend to use lots of herbs, flour, and can also be called stick-to your ribs food. Of course, most Southern cities and even some smaller towns now offer a wide variety of cuisines of other origins such as Chinese, Italian, French, Middle Eastern, as well as restaurants still serving primarily Southern specialties, so-called "home cooking" establishments. Some notable "home cooking" meals include: fried chicken, corn on the cob, greens with pot liquor, vegetable stew, chicken and dumplings, and chicken fried steak.


Many of the most popular American soft drinks today originated in the South (Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, Mountain Dew, Royal Crown Cola and its related Nehi products and Dr Pepper). In many parts of Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Texas and other parts of the South, the term "soft drink" or "soda" is discarded in favor of "Coke" (see Genericized trademark). Some people use the term "co-cola" when ordering a soft drink. In most restaurants, when someone orders "coke" or "co-cola", it is understood to bring whatever brand of cola the establishment offers. Traditionally, the term "soft drink" was seldom used in the South. Many older southerners call soft drinks "soda water" or "sodi-water" or "sodi-pop"." In addition, there are some soft drinks available only in the South, such as Sun Drop, Cheerwine, and Ale-8-One in Kentucky. Buffalo Rock gingerale a strong, dark gingerale is available and popular in parts of Alabama and Georgia. Blenheim, another southern ginger ale, originated from Northeastern SC (Blenheim) and is also only found in the South. Grapico is another Southern creation. A supersaturated sweetened iced tea, typically called sweet tea, is also associated with Southern cuisine. Lemonade is also a popular summer beverage. In parts of Texas and Kentucky, Big Red is popularly consumed.

The South has long had a somewhat paradoxically ambivalent attitude toward alcoholic beverages leading to the saying that "The South votes dry and drinks wet". Although the Bible Belt region was in strong support of early 20th-century Prohibition, in the antebellum years, plantation society routinely enjoyed drinks as part of its famous hospitality. Elite classes imported wine from Europe to enjoy, and drinking was often a major part of local festivals and court days. Today, Texas is the center of a burgeoning wine boom, due to its climate and well drained limestone based soils, particularly in the Texas Hill Country.

New Orleans, Louisiana is known throughout the world as "the city that care forgot", epitomized by the phrase "laissez les bons temps rouler", and where its famous Bourbon Street celebrations usually involve copious amounts of food and alcoholic drink. Hurricanes are a drink widely associated with the French Quarter party scene, as well as absinthe, sazerac cocktails and almost every other form of alcohol available.

Official support for Prohibition existed in the Southern states before and after the 18th Amendment was in force in the USA. Many southern states are control states that monopolize and highly regulate the distribution and sale of alcoholic drinks. Many counties in the South, particularly outside of larger metropolitan areas, are dry counties that do not allow for alcohol sales in retail outlets. However, many dry counties still allow for "private clubs" (often with low daily fees) to serve alcohol on the premises. Beer is still widely popular in the South, though its consumption is often frowned upon in some religious circles. Lagers and Pilsners are generally preferred to heavier/darker beers due to the predominantly hot, humid climate. The most popular beers in the south are those produced by Anheuser Busch, particularly Budweiser and Busch. Cartersville, a suburb of Atlanta, has a massive production facility for Anheuser Busch. Regional brands such as "Dixie" and "Jax" beers of New Orleans, as well as "Pearl" beer of San Antonio, were long-associated with particular parts of the South.

The upper South, specifically Kentucky, is known for its production of bourbon whiskey, which is also a popular base for cocktails. Kentucky is attributed with producing 95% of the world's bourbon,[50] which is sometime's referred to as America's only native spirit. Congress has established bourbon as such and there are standards of law that the spirit titled 'bourbon' sold in The United States can only be produced in The United States. The Mint julep is traditionally depicted as a popular beverage among more affluent Southerners. Many other bourbons are produced in Kentucky including: Evan Williams, Wild Turkey and Bulleit Bourbon. Another form of spirit produced in the South is Tennessee Whiskey, most notably Jack Daniel's, the number one selling whisky in the world, which is made in Lynchburg, Tennessee. Another modern brand, George Dickel, is produced in nearby Tullahoma, Tennessee. Southern Comfort is flavored distilled spirit modeled after bourbon, and made in New Orleans, Louisiana. Due to widespread restrictions on alcohol production, illegally distilled liquor or moonshine has long been associated (often rather stereotypically) with working class and poor people in much of the region, especially (though by no means exclusively) in southern Appalachia,[51] and this tradition has been represented frequently in popular culture.


Born in the Little Dixie region of Missouri to parents who had recently emigrated from Tennessee, Mark Twain is often placed within the pantheon of great Southern writers. Many of his works demonstrate his extensive knowledge of the Mississippi River and the South; also included in his works as a frequent theme were the injustice of slavery and the culture of Protestant public morality.

Perhaps the most famous southern writer of all is William Faulkner, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1949. Faulkner brought new techniques such as stream of consciousness and complex techniques to American writing (such as in his novel As I Lay Dying).

Other well-known Southern writers include Edgar Allan Poe, Joel Chandler Harris, Sidney Lanier, Cleanth Brooks, Pat Conroy, Zora Neale Hurston, Eudora Welty, Thomas Wolfe, William Styron, Flannery O'Connor, Carson McCullers, James Dickey, Willie Morris, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Walker Percy, Barry Hannah, Alice Walker, Robert Penn Warren, Cormac McCarthy, Katherine Anne Porter, John Grisham, James Agee, Hunter S. Thompson, Wendell Berry, Bobbie Ann Mason, Harry Crews and the authors known as the Southern Agrarians.

Possibly the most famous southern novel of the 20th-century is Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, published in 1937. Another famous southern novel, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, won the Pulitzer Prize after it was published in 1960.


The musical heritage of the South was developed by both whites and blacks, both influencing each other directly and indirectly.

The South's musical history actually starts before the Civil War, with the songs of the African slaves and the traditional folk music brought from Britain and Ireland. Blues was developed in the rural South by African Americans at the beginning of the 20th century. In addition, gospel music, spirituals, country music, rhythm and blues, soul music, funk, rock and roll, beach music, bluegrass, jazz (including ragtime, popularized by Southerner Scott Joplin), zydeco, and Appalachian folk music were either born in the South or developed in the region.

In general, country music is based on the folk music of white Southerners, and blues and rhythm and blues is based on African American southern forms. However, whites and blacks alike have contributed to each of these genres, and there is a considerable overlap between the traditional music of blacks and whites in the South, particularly in gospel music forms. A stylish variant of country music (predominantly produced in Nashville) has been a consistent, widespread fixture of American pop since the 1950s, while insurgent forms (i.e. bluegrass) have traditionally appealed to more discerning sub-cultural and rural audiences. Blues dominated the African American music charts from the advent of modern recording until the mid-1950s, when it was supplanted by the less guttural and forlorn sounds of rock and R&B. Nevertheless, unadulterated blues (along with early rock and roll) is still the subject of reverential adoration throughout much of Europe and cult popularity in isolated pockets of the United States.

Zydeco, Cajun and swamp pop, despite having never enjoyed greater regional or mainstream popularity, still thrive throughout French Louisiana and its peripheries, such as Southeastern Texas. These unique Louisianan styles of folk music are celebrated as part of the traditional heritage of the people of Louisiana. Conversely, bluegrass music has acquired a sophisticated cachet and distinct identity from mainstream country music through the fusion recordings of artists like Bela Fleck, David Grisman, and the New Grass Revival; traditional bluegrass and Appalachian mountain music experienced a strong resurgence after the release of 2001's O Brother, Where Art Thou?.

Rock n' roll largely began in the South in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Early rock n' roll musicians from the South include Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Bo Diddley, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, James Brown, Otis Redding, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis, among many others. Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash, while generally regarded as "country" singers, also had a significant role in the development of rock music, giving rise to the original "crossover" genre of rockabilly. In the 1960s, Stax Records emerged as a leading competitor of Motown Records, laying thegroundwork for later stylistic innovations in the process.

The South has continued to produce rock music in later decades. In the 1970s, a wave of Southern rock and blues rock groups, led by The Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top, and 38 Special, became popular. Macon, Georgia-based Capricorn Records helped to spearhead the Southern rock movement, and was the original home to many of the genre's most famous groups. At the other end of the spectrum, along with the aforementioned Brown and Stax, New Orleans' Allen Toussaint and The Meters helped to define the funk subgenre of rhythm and blues in the 1970s.

Many who got their start in the regional show business in the South eventually banked on mainstream national and international success as well: Elvis Presley and Dolly Parton are two such examples of artists that have transcended genres.

Many of the roots of alternative rock are often considered to come from the South as well, with bands such as R.E.M., Pylon and The B-52's forever associated with the musically fertile college town of Athens, Georgia. Cities such as Austin, Knoxville, Chapel Hill, Nashville and Atlanta also have thriving indie rock and live music scenes. Austin is home to the long-running South by Southwest music and arts festival, while several influential independent music labels (Sugar Hill, Merge, Yep Rock and the now-defunct Mammoth Records) were founded in the Chapel Hill area. Several influential death metal bands have recorded albums at Morrisound Recording in Temple Terrace, Florida and the studio is considered an important touchstone in the genre's development.

There is a large underground heavy metal scene in the Southern United States. Death metal can trace some of its origins to Tampa, Florida. Bands such as Deicide, Morbid Angel, Six Feet Under, Cannibal Corpse, among others, have come out of this scene. The Southern United States are also the place where sludge metal was born and it's where its pioneering acts, Eyehategod [52] and Crowbar,[53] come from;[54] as well as other notable bands of the style such as Down[55] and Corrosion of Conformity.[56] Other well known metal bands from the South include Pantera, Hellyeah, Lamb of God, and Mastodon. This has helped coin the term southern metal which is well received by the vast majority in metal circles around the world.

Recently, the spread of rap music has led to the rise of the musical sub-genre of the Dirty South. Atlanta, Houston, Memphis, Miami, and New Orleans have long been major centers of hip-hop culture.


While the South has had a number of Super Bowl winning National Football League teams (such as the Dallas Cowboys, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Miami Dolphins, and the New Orleans Saints) the region is noted for the intensity with which people follow high school and college football teams, especially the Southeastern Conference and in Texas where high school football, especially in smaller communities, is a dominating activity.

Baseball became popular in the South, with spring training in Florida from the 1920s, and Major League Baseball teams like the Atlanta Braves and Florida Marlins being recent World Series victors. Minor league baseball is also closely followed in the South (with the South being home to more minor league teams than any other region of the United States).

The South is also the birthplace of NASCAR auto racing. Other popular sports in the South include golf (which can be played almost year-round because of the South's mild climate), fishing, soccer (which is the fastest growing sport in the South), and the hunting of wild game such as deer, birds, and raccoons. The hot-weather Dallas Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes were the 1998–1999, 2003–04 and 2005–06 National Hockey League champions. Atlanta was the host of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games.[57]

Lately, other sports such as soccer, tennis, lacrosse (which was developed by southeastern native Americans), have grown considerably in the area.

The masters golf tournament is held in Augusta, Georgia.


Many critically acclaimed movies have been set in the cultural background of the South. A partial list of these films follows – for a more complete listing of Southern cinema, see list of films set in the Southern United States.


Network television shows set in the Southern United States:


Following the boom of television in the 1950s, many shows were set in the South and/or became very popular with Southerners. They included:


By 1971 sponsors had grown weary of this formula, and CBS consequently cancelled all of its Southern shows.[58] (Only Hee Haw survived, in syndication.) However, in 1976 Jimmy Carter was elected as the first President of the United States from the Deep South (or arguably only the first since the Civil War.) The election resulted in reporters swarming into Carter's small southern town of Plains, Georgia, speculation about his lifestyle and Southern Baptist faith, and renewed interest in Southern culture.[59]

A new crop of television shows followed within the next decade, such as:

In addition, network television shows set in the South since 1990 include:

However, critics point out that most of these shows, and most films in general, stereotype Southerners as "hapless hicks" [60] or "a universally simple and often silly group of inhabitants",[58] especially in contrast to the far more complex literary portrayals, and argue that they do not fairly represent Southerners' culture.

Attitudes & Stereotypes of Southerners

Stereotypes, insults, name calling, discrimination and even defamation of Southerners is prevalent in American pop culture, as well as in the media and in historical depictions of Southerners. The frequency of Southerners being portrayed as "persona non grata" in the upper economic classes or as "the other" (as opposed to Americans from other U.S. regions) has decreased somewhat in the last half of the 20th-century, despite Southerners conforming no less to type than they have in previous times. Some stereotypical views often held by non-Southerners typically depict Southerners as laid-back, hospitable, jolly and carefree, but most other Southerner stereotypes are not nearly as positive, including the erroneous conception of the vast majority of Southerners being of lower social class and residing in trailer parks or in (rural) poverty.

A great number of TV shows, movies and comedic representations often portray Southerners as rednecks, hillbillies, white trash, or simply trash. Other negative treatments depict Southerners as uniformly backward, uneducated, uncouth, wretched, dirty or unhygienic, poor or impoverished, inbred (from family incest and thus genetically inferior byproducts of the same), fanatically religious (as Fundamentalist Christians and Protestant Evangelicals who "hate" Catholics, Jews and members of non-Christian religions), hyper-realistic, racist and xenophobic, sexist and homophobic, ultraconservative and/or extremely patriotic, self confident, constantly romanticizing slavery/the antebellum era and the Civil War, rude/impolite, speaking with heavy drawls/accents, disrespectful, over-authorizing and even tyranus to minors, loud and obnoxious, obese and/or overweight, rabid country music and/or NASCAR fans, and as simpleton "hicks" in "remote" and "isolated" small towns.

Southerners who have traveled and lived in the "North" (Northeastern and Midwestern U.S. states) and the Western U.S. often encounter verbal attacks, teasing and mockery. Some Southerners have openly discussed encountering negative Southern stereotypes in the media. Nancy Grace, Georgia-born prosecutor turned talk show host on the CNN network, spoke of her experiences of being viewed as "less intelligent" due to her Southern accent while she lived in New York City. Some popular nicknames for the South in the media are "red states" or "flyover states", which indicate an assumption of less-importance or that they are on the American political fringe.[citation needed]

Pronounced regionalisms and cultural differences are often cited as the cause of stereotypes about Southerners. A very popular negative image of white Southerners is that many are secret members of the Ku Klux Klan or other fringe movements such as the Council of Conservative Citizens and the John Birch Society. Another is they are all radical right-wingers or "neo-cons" (conservatives) registered in the Republican Party or "gun-nuts" and Tea Party movement protestors. White Southerners are often displayed as being parochial and intolerant of anything different from their own homogeneous provincial culture, despite the fact that Southern culture is not monolithic, as it varies greatly by state, church and ethnic origin (for example, the Cajuns of Louisiana and the "hillbilly" culture of southern Appalachia).


Collections of Southern art can be found at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans and the Morris Museum of Art in Augusta. Southern expressionism and folk art are types of art generally considered to be part of Southern art. The Southern Arts Federation maintains a registry of contemporary Southern artists (including visual artists, performing artists, media artists and writers) who have been recognized by their state arts councils based on the outstanding quality of their work.

Some famous folk artists from the American South include Clementine Hunter (Natchitoches, Louisiana) and Howard Finster (Summerville, Georgia) who mixed southern spirituality and traditional religious motifs with surrealism and dream-like post-modernism. Finster's work was featured on album covers by bands such as Talking Heads (Little Creatures, 1985) and R.E.M. (Reckoning, 1984). He has a permanent display at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and his Paradise Gardens is still open to the public almost ten years after his passing.

Chris Flesher (Tennessee) has sold folk art as pieces and as concepts all over the world and has a collection at the American Folk Art Museum in New York City as well as in Carmel, California. The influence of his art is mainly centered around the enchanting and beautiful landscape of the Great Smoky Mountains of Eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina.

Walter Inglis Anderson and his art is forever associated with the natural beauty of the Mississippi Gulf Coast and many of his family members continue as artists there still today.

Pop artist Jasper Johns and African-American modernist Romare Bearden are two other prominent artists from the South: Johns was a native of Augusta, Georgia, while Bearden was born in Charlotte, North Carolina.

A major center of American modernism was located at the Black Mountain College in the town of Black Mountain, North Carolina. The history of the college – which attracted John Cage, Walter Gropius, Buckminster Fuller, Merce Cunningham, Willem de Kooning and other pioneers of varied mid-20th century arts – has been extensively detailed in several books and studies (notably, Mary Emma Harris' Arts At Black Mountain College and Vincent Katz' Black Mountain College: Experiment In Art). The school, which operated as an interdisciplinary, progressive institution for 23 years, was a key incubator for the American artistic avant-garde of the 1960s and beyond.

See also


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  • Mary Emma Harris The Arts at Black Mountain College The MIT Press (1987)
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