Modernization, industrialization, and urbanization transformed the geographic and cultural landscape of America. One of the most visible changes to American society during the late 19th century came about in the form of race relations. Whereas slavery itself represented the antithesis of modernity, modern industrial technology fueled the slave-based cotton industry and further entrenched slavery in the American South. Whereas the North capitalized on modern industrial technologies to diversify its economy and create a more competitive and highly skilled labor force the South focused on the cotton gin almost exclusively. The South did not embrace the social, political, or philosophical tenets of modernization and this was a fundamental reason for the Civil War. Ultimately, modernization helped to dismantle the slave-based economy in the South, allowed African-Americans to enter the labor force, and created a more socially diversified nation.
The initial phase of modernization was tough on African-Americans. The cotton gin made the need for slavery worse, not better. Furthermore, the paternalistic slave-based agrarian economy depended on an immobilized and disempowered workforce. Even after the Civil War, the South resisted the call to modernize its culture and economy. Their conservative system was based on paternalism, in which workers remained disenfranchised and immobilized (“Industrialization and Dominant-Minority Relations,” n.d.). Modernization, on the other hand, was based more on a free market system in which workers competed with each other for wages and status on a labor market. Whereas slaves were unable to leave their plantations and find jobs; free workers were.
The promise of freedom and empowerment caused a major social, political, and economic upheaval in the shape of the Great Migration of African-Americans from the South to the North. However, the industrialized economy depended not only on a mobile workforce but also a literate and semi-skilled one (“Industrialization and Dominant-Minority Relations,” n.d.). Many African-Americans moving to the North lacked the skills with which to compete fairly on the open market. This led to considerable economic disenfranchisement and the ghettoization of the African-American communities.
The Civil War had represented a growing pain of modernization, which led to tremendous political, economic, and social upheavals in the United States. After the Civil War, the growing pains continued in the form of Jim Crow laws and other forms of institutionalized racism. One of the reactions to the Northern victory was Black Codes and the form of indentured servitude known as sharecropping. Another was the systematic prevention of African-American education or voting rights. Racial tensions were sowed in the North as well as the South, because the class-based struggles that could have united poor whites and blacks together against oppressive labor systems instead divided the working class. The result was continued racial tensions and a fragmented, disenfranchised black community.
Modernization changed the demographics of American cities as well as rural regions across the country also because of increased immigration to the United States from other countries. New laborers competed with African-Americans for industry jobs. Still, African-Americans living in Northern cities had access to ideas and information that helped them to earn political power through the Civil Rights movements in the 20th century. Helping to raise nationwide awareness of the structural inequities that plagued American society, African-Americans also paved the way for greater gender equity and other forms of social justice.
“Industrialization and Dominant-Minority Relations.” Chapter 4. Retrieved online: http://www.sagepub.com/upm-data/13174_Chapter4.pdf
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