Seeking a better life, millions of farmers in the rural south pulled
up stakes and headed to the region's cities in the late 19th and
20th centuries. With this mass migration came enormous economic,
social and cultural changes, both in their new surroundings and
the ones they left behind.
In his new
book, The Social Origins of the Urban South, Dr. Louis M. Kyriakoudes,
assistant history professor at The University of Southern Mississippi,
examines the causes for this migration and its effect on regional
process from the perspective of real migrants, Kyriakoudes focuses
on Nashville and the Middle Tennessee hinterland, where mounting
agricultural pressures forced many poor families off their farm
and into the cities. The cities of the region, particularly Nashville,
also enticed single men seeking fortune and adventure, single women
seeking independence, and African-Americans seeking equality.
book is about what these changes meant to the South and how everyday
people navigated those changes," said Kyriakoudes, who received
his doctorate from Vanderbilt University.
The book, published
this month by the University of North Carolina Press, begins with
the study of the Grand Ole Opry and how the development of this
rural radio minstrel eased the transition to urban life.
people think of the Grand Ole Opry as a cornpone, hillbilly show
- and it does have some of those elements - it tried to explain
to Southerners what modern urban life was about, giving them the
elements of a fading world culture. It helped them to remember what
was rapidly disappearing," Kyriakoudes said.
modern program, the Grand Ole Opry was created by an insurance company
that used the new technology of radio to advertise products. The
stars of the show had come out of the old vaudevillian acts popular
before radio. "The Opry had one leg in the past and one in
the future," Kyriakoudes said.
details the exploits of two young men who both benefited from Nashville's
urbanization - Robert Penn Warren and Sidney Harkreader. Both came
from rural backgrounds to the city in 1923. There, Warren - who'd
later go on to fame as an author and poet - joined the Southern
Agrarian movement, a group of social critics who lambasted the changes
in southern rural culture due to industrialization and economic
development. Kyriakoudes said the Southern Agrarians looked at the
small farmer as the epitome of "what was best about the South."
idealizing rural life, Harkreader took advantage of new technologies
like radio and the phonograph to build his career as a performing
fiddle player. An unlearned man from the upcountry white yeoman
culture the Agrarians romanticized, Harkreader helped define the
emerging forms of what would eventually become bluegrass and country
The final chapter
in the The Social Origins of the Urban South studies the flood of
female migrants into Nashville in the '20s as they sought a world
free of the hardships of rural life. "For women, migration
had a special significance because in the country side their career
options were limited. They could get married and that's about it.
But in the city, they could gain independence by getting wage jobs
of their own," Kyriakoudes said.
left the countryside with the same motives as their white counterparts,
but their struggles were compounded by institutionalized racism,
Kyriakoudes said. When black farmers moved to places like Nashville,
they were usually denied high-paying jobs. Therefore, many kept
migrating north to other industrial Midwestern cities such as Chicago
and Detroit, where they found greater equality.
this book would be of interest to anyone who wants an example of
how Southern life has changed in the 20th century," Kyriakoudes