Researchers: White Southerner migration post-Civil War shaped politics, racial inequities throughout US

Crews prepare one of the country's largest remaining monuments to the Confederacy, a towering statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue, Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021, in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, Pool)

Two new research papers detail how white Southerners shaped policy and racial inequities as they migrated throughout the United States in the years following the Civil War and again in the early 20th century.

Co-author Sam Bazzi, an associate professor in the School of Global Policy and Strategy at the University of California, San Diego, joined “Closer Look” to share the main findings from his team’s research.

Using sources like historical Census Bureau data, the researchers were able to track where white Southerners – including former enslavers – moved across the country. As they settled into their new communities, southern-born whites sought influential jobs in areas like the legal system, religion and law enforcement.

“These are the people who are shaping the policies at a really local level. They’re determining what the criminal justice system looks like,” Bazzi said. “Kind of a broad set of ways in which the culture that these migrants brought from the South could percolate into these nascent institutions.”

Bazzi said migration of white Southerners had an even more profound effect in the early 1900s, ultimately leading to the “New Right” and taking a hold on national politics.