Wondering what states are considered the South?
The definition of the South varies depending on who you ask. The United States Census Bureau defines the Southern United States as Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Washington D.C., Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.
However, when actual American citizens are polled as to what they consider the South region, the results are typically narrower. By most definitions, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee are the heart of the US Southern region.
Moving beyond geography and these various definitions, what states culturally make up the Southern United States?
Read on to learn more about the South’s role in the Civil War and Civil Rights movement, which left lasting legacies in the region. You’ll also hear about the artistic and culinary accolades of the South and its creepy historical and literary traditions.
- 1 What States Make Up the South?
- 2 History of the South
- 3 Places to Visit in the South
- 4 Culture of the Southern Region
- 5 Legends and Lore of the Southern Region
- 6 FAQs About the Southern States
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What States Make Up the South?
While there are many definitions of the South, the following U.S. states are usually considered part of the South:
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
The Southern United States has a rich culture and history. When we think of the deep South, we often think of old south architecture, delicious soul food, and pitchers of sweet tea. Read on to learn more about what makes this region unique.
History of the South
Indigenous People of the American South
Before Europeans ever arrived in the South, the region was inhabited by various Native American tribes. These included the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, Cherokee, and Seminole tribes. Many Native Americans settled in villages of 500 people or fewer and grew corn, beans, squash, sunflowers, greens, and tobacco.
When Europeans colonized the United States, there was a desire to convert Native Americans to Christianity. These efforts were more successful in the deep South than in many other parts of the country.
During the American Revolution, some British strategists saw New England as a lost cause and turned their attention toward the southern colonies, identified as a Loyalist (pro-British) stronghold. The east coast areas of the South were home to many Anglicans. Some people in the South also had grudges against the Colonial government. In 1780, the British successfully captured Savannah, then Charleston, a major defeat for northern Patriots.
Americans turned the tide in their favor during the Battle of Cowpens in South Carolina. The victory was part of a chain of events that led to the crucial U.S. victory at Yorktown. Some believe that the Revolutionary War was won because of the Battle of Cowpens in the South.
Northern Versus Southern Divide
During the 19th century, the northern states were driven by industry and had a diverse immigrant population contributing to successful manufacturing. More citizens had careers in business, medicine, and education.
In contrast, the Southern economy was driven primarily by agriculture. 80% of its labor force worked on a farm or plantation and only 10% lived in urban areas. It had a strong cotton economy.
Politically, more northerners belonged to the Whig/Republican party, whereas Southerners were more likely to be part of the democratic party. Although only one-third of Southerners owned slaves, the region identified slavery as a key economic and cultural driver, and they vowed to keep the institution alive. The state of Virginia owned the most slaves (nearly 500,000).
In the antebellum south, enslaved people of African descent were considered property and forced to work on plantations from sunup to sundown. They were often brutally punished for “misbehavior.” Many people in the United States–particularly Northerners–viewed slavery as shameful and abhorrent, further dividing the country.
The American Civil War
The major differences between the North and the South led to the Civil War. The issue of slavery was fundamental, with the North opposing slavery and the South supporting it. The states in the South were generally slave states.
In 1860, Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln was elected as president. He opposed slavery. Thirty-nine days after his inauguration, the war officially began when shots were fired at Fort Sumter, South Carolina.
The war lasted for five years. It was devastating and bloody, and over 600,000 people died, averaging 500 per day. In 1865, the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution formally abolished slavery and the Civil War ended.
❓ Trivia Time: What are the Mid Atlantic States? (We bet you don’t know them all!)
Reconstruction and Jim Crow Era
Following the American Civil War, the United States entered a period known as the Reconstruction Era. Reconstruction lasted from 1865-1877 and was the nation’s attempt to modify the political, social, and economic inequalities brought about due to slavery.
In previous confederate states, however, legislation was passed to subtly maintain the social hierarchy instead of undoing it. Black Codes were laws passed in the south that limited the rights of newly-free black people. In 1877, Congress passed three amendments to the Constitution (13th, 14th, and 15th) that guaranteed equal rights regardless of race.
Despite these Constitutional amendments, racial struggles continued to play out in the South. Following Reconstruction came the Jim Crow era. Jim Crow laws were a set of statutes that legalized segregation. They existed for about one hundred years and were only abolished in 1968. During Jim Crow, establishments like movie theaters and restaurants were segregated.
In 1865, the ruthless organization Ku Klux Klan was born in Tennessee out of a Veteran’s club for former Confederate officers. They perpetrated extreme racial violence in the South and seeped into all levels of community and government as a secret society.
❓ Trivia Time: Did you know that ‘Jim Crow’ laws are named after an African American theater character portrayed in a racist manner in the 19th century?
The Civil Rights Movement
After World War II, the Civil Rights Movement began. It took place in the 1950s and 1960s, and the goal was equal rights for black and white Americans.
Some notable legal changes included the end of segregated schools in 1954 due to the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 guaranteed equal employment and allowed the federal government to enforce integration.
These major changes in favor of equality occurred due to courageous actions. For example, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders organized the 1963 March on Washington, where King gave his famous I Have a Dream speech. The Freedom Riders boarded a Greyhound bus and cruised around the South protesting segregated bus terminals.
❓ Trivia Time: Did you know that the Freedom Riders boarded a Greyhound bus and cruised around the South protesting segregated bus terminals?
Places to Visit in the South
Major Cities of Interest
- New Orleans, Louisiana: Delicious food, Cajun culture, funky music, Mardi Gras, Mississippi River port, Bourbon Street
- Memphis, Tennessee: Barbeque, Civil Rights history, Beale Street, Mississippi River
- Austin, Texas: Artists and hippies, festivals, Formula One racing
- San Antonio, Texas: River Walk, the Alamo, Spanish and Mission architecture
- Atlanta, Georgia: Coca-Cola headquarters, Civil Rights sites, Civil War sites
- Savannah, Georgia: Spooky history, Forsyth Park, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Moon River Brewing Company
- Biloxi, Mississippi: Mississippi Gulf Coast, casinos, Gulf Shores National Seashore
- Hot Springs, Arkansas: Hot Springs National Park, Bathhouse Row, gangster history
- Miami, Florida: Cuban food and culture, nightlife, Art Deco architecture
- Orlando, Florida: Disney theme park, Universal Studios theme park, resorts
- Asheville, North Carolina: Blue Ridge Mountains, artists and creatives, River Arts District, breweries
- Charleston, South Carolina: Eclectic architecture, Old South charm, Revolutionary War and Civil War history
- Lexington, Kentucky: Bluegrass music, thoroughbred horse racing
- Louisville, Kentucky: Kentucky Derby horse race, Churchill Downs, Victorian homes, baseball, big hats
❓ Trivia Time: Did you know that Mark Twain referred to New Orleans cemeteries as ‘Cities of the Dead?’
Civil War Sites
- Fort Sumter (Charleston, South Carolina): Where the war began
- Manassas National Battlefield (Manassas, Virginia): Site of two important battles won by the Confederacy
- Shiloh, Tennessee: Site of a bloody victory for the North that resulted in one in four soldiers becoming a casualty
- Richmond National Battlefield Park (Richmond, Virginia): The capital of the Confederacy and manufacturing hub, site of Tredegar Iron Works
- Vicksburg National Military Park (Vicksburg, Mississippi): Site of a month-long battle and Union victory that served as a turning point for the Civil War
- Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park (Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia): The oldest Civil War park in the country
- Palmito Ranch, Texas: Regarded as the final engagement of the Civil War; rumors abound that the soldiers here did not realize the war had already ended
- Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park (near Jacksonville, Florida): Interactive exhibits and an annual reenactment
❓ Trivia Time: What States are Considered the Southwest? (Short answer: it depends!)
Civil Rights Sites
- Edmund Pettus Bridge (Selma, Alabama): Site of a violent stand-off (‘Bloody Sunday’) between police and members of an important Civil Rights march
- National Voting Rights Museum (Selma, Alabama): Located at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, this museum honors the participants of the Selma to Montgomery march and the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act
- National Civil Rights Museum (Memphis, Tennessee): Built around the historic Lorraine Motel, the site of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination
- Freedom Rides Museum (Montgomery, Alabama): Located in the historic Greyhound bus Station where integrated activists stopped on their way to New Orleans to protest segregation laws
- International Civil Rights Center and Museum (Greensboro, North Carolina): Located in the former Woolworth’s store where black students held anti-segregation sit-ins
- Little Rock High School National Historic Site (Little Rock, Arkansas): Site where the Little Rock Nine–nine African American high school students– attended a formerly all-white school
- Sixteenth Street Baptist Church (Birmingham, Alabama): Site of a 1963 Ku Klux Klan bombing that killed four young girls
Culture of the Southern Region
There is a strong and relatively distinct religious presence in the American South. Many of these states are collectively referred to as the Bible Belt. A variety of influences led to the development of this culture. By the 19th century, the deep South was a predominantly biracial society, leading to influences from both European and African religions. This led to unique religious practices such as Voodoo in New Orleans.
The South is strongly influenced by Evangelical Protestantism, a belief system that encourages proselytizing and public testimony, making its presence highly visible. The largest religious denomination in the deep South is Baptist.
The strong fundamentalist roots of many Southern sects contribute to the social and political climate of the region.
Food and Drink
The South has a reputation for decadent and distinct cuisine. Southerners see food as a way to bring communities together, unite diverse people, and extend hospitality to visitors. Corn meal is a common ingredient due to Native American influence on the cuisine.
There are regional variations on southern food, including Tex-Mex in parts of Texas, Cajun and Creole food (i.e. Jambalaya, gumbo) in Louisiana, and different takes on barbecue in Texas, Kentucky, and Memphis, Tennessee. Traditional African American food is often referred to as “soul food,” and may include fried chicken and catfish, collard greens, cornbread, and fried okra.
Many cities or regions in the South are known for their distinct cocktails. These include the Sazerac, Hurricane, and absinthe in New Orleans, moonshine in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, and bourbon whiskey and Mint Juleps in Kentucky. The entire region is known for its love of sweet tea.
Music and Literature
The deep South is also known as the birthplace of many talented artists. Much of the music from the deep South was influenced by the spirituals sung by enslaved people while working and from folk songs from England and Ireland.
In the 19th century, African American artists in the deep south developed and popularized the genre blues, a direct descendant of work songs and spirituals. The call-and-response pattern in blues music can be traced to its African roots. Some early Southern blues singers include Leadbelly, Mississippi John Hurt, Elizabeth Cotten, and Blind Willie McTell.
Jazz is a genre of music that originated in New Orleans as an offshoot of the blues and ragtime. It was born from the music of African Americans who congregated at a market called Congo Square.
In the 1920s and 1930s, the deep South experienced an explosion of literature and creativity sometimes referred to as the Southern Renaissance. Authors from this period include William Faulkner (from Oxford, Mississippi) and Tennessee Williams (from Columbus, Mississippi). Flannery O’Connor (Savannah, Georgia) helped popularize a style known as Southern Gothic writing, which is defined by creepy and sinister characters, themes, and settings.
Legends and Lore of the Southern Region
The name ‘rougarou’ comes from the French ‘loup-garou,’ or a werewolf. The legend of the rougarou is common in French Louisiana. The creature is said to prowl around the swamps of South Louisiana. It has the body of a man and the head of a dog. Sometimes, legends of the rougarou have been used to scare children into obedience.
See our guide to what makes Louisiana famous for more.
The Carroll A. Deering
The Carroll A. Deering was a five-masted schooner built in 1919. It was one of the last wooden cargo ships ever built. In 1921, after delivering coal to Brazil and transiting to Barbados, the Deering passed by the North Carolina coast.
The ship traveled past the Cape Lookout Lightship and a crew member hailed it, saying they’d lost both anchors and chains during a storm off Cape Fear. Shortly after, the ship ran aground on the shallow Diamond Shoals, also off the North Carolina coast.
The Coast Guard had to wait several days before sending out rescue boats due to bad weather. By the time they arrived at the ship, the vessel was completely unsalvageable but also unoccupied. Despite the galley having pea soup and ribs on the stove, the crew’s personal effects were gone and so were the lifeboats. A ladder had been deployed over the side of the ship.
No one knows exactly why the ship ran aground, but some theories include bad weather, piracy, or mutiny. The Captain had reported difficulties with his crew leading up to the incident, and they may have decided to rebel.
No one ever found the crew of the Deering: alive or dead. Speculation about what happened to the ship continues today.
FAQs About the Southern States
Is Florida Considered Southern?
Florida is sometimes considered part of the South, depending on who you ask. The U.S. Census Bureau includes Florida in its definition of the South. Geographically, the state is undoubtedly in the southeastern United States, with Key West, Florida marking the southernmost point in the continental United States.
Culturally and politically, however, Florida is known for being more diverse, with distinct regions. The northern parts of Florida are culturally more similar to other states in the Deep South. Central and South Florida are more urban and liberal, unlike many parts of the South. This region has many northern transplants and immigrants from Latin America.
Is Texas Considered Southern?
According to the Census Bureau, Texas is part of the South. When Texans are surveyed, between 30% and 40% of Texas residents consider themselves Southerners. Culturally, the state shares many attributes with the American West. However, during the Civil War, Texas was part of the Confederacy and was a slave state. Many people define the Southern states based on whether they were confederate states during the Civil War and would consider Texas Southern.
Is Kentucky Considered The South?
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Kentucky is part of the South. Geographically, it falls below the Mason Dixon line–often used to define the South. Additionally, it checks many of the cultural boxes for the South: houses with long porches, fried chicken and sweet tea, and Southern Belles at the Kentucky Derby. However, if Civil War loyalties are used to define the region, Kentucky remained a border state and never seceded from the Union.
What Is The Most Southern State?
Geographically, Florida could be considered the most southern state, since it contains the southernmost point in the continental United States. This point is even marked with a buoy in Key West.
Culturally, Alabama and Mississippi could be considered the most classic Deep South states. Both contain elaborate antebellum mansions and have histories fraught with slavery and civil rights struggles. It is still common to see the confederate flag in these states. Alabama is often referred to as the “Heart of Dixie.”
In conclusion, “what states are considered the Southern region?”
Geographically, the region contains Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Washington D.C., Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Of these states, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee are the heart of the cultural region. While their histories are sometimes painful to reflect on, they also contribute a distinct and vibrant southern culture to the United States.