This study had its genesis in the coincidence of two news items in the win-
ter of 1983. A magazine article applauded the South's new high-technol-
ogy centers-research parks that received billions of dollars in defense
contracts and attracted scientists and engineers from across the nation.
Meanwhile, a friend read to me the Labor Department's latest figures on
black teenage unemployment. The appalling statistics made me wonder if
black youths had always faced such circumstances. Juxtaposed, the two sto-
ries suggested some connection between the South's sunbelt boom and the
economic distress of the unemployed teenagers, many of whose parents
had migrated from the South to the industrial North in the 1940s and
Pursuing these questions reignited my longstanding interest in the role
of the federal government in American life. It also suggested the need for
understanding the neglected history of federal economic policy between
1940 and 1962. The transformation of the southern economy did not pro-
ceed from unguided market forces alone. My preliminary investigations
revealed that the federal government often sponsored those developments
and always channeled them. Government policy not only regulated private
economic decision-making, but also shaped the local political environ-
ments in which those decisions were taken. State action, as the British his-
torian John Brewer has noted with regard to another time and place,
formed "the hidden sinews" that animated the body politic and often
restrained the invisible hand of the market.
What follows, then, is an analysis of the South's remarkable odyssey
from the economic catastrophe of the 1930s to the Sunbelt of the 1970s,
and of the excruciating limits of that emerging prosperity.
is also a study
of federal action-of its successes and its failures. By linking the history of
the southern people with the history of national public policy, this study
seeks to unite two issues which dominate the domestic political economy
of postwar America-the emergence of the Sunbelt and the expansion of
federal power over the nation's economic life.