Over the past fifty years, historians reinterpreted Civil War Reconstruction. Shortly before the Centennial it was generally agreed the chief aim of the Republican-dominated congress was to ensure lasting party control of the federal government by creating a reliable voting bloc in the South for which improved racial status among blacks was a coupled, but secondary, objective. However, by the Sesquicentennial it had become the accepted view that Republicans were primarily driven by an enlightened drive for racial equality untainted by anything more than negligible self interest. Consequently the presently dominant race-centric focus on Reconstruction minimizes political and economic aspects.
Contrary to popular belief Southern poverty has been a longer-lasting Civil War legacy than has Jim Crow or segregation. Prior to the war the South had a bimodal wealth distribution with concentrations at the poles. The classic planters with fifty or more slaves had prosperous estates but they represented less than 1% of Southern families. Partly because 1860 slave property values represented 48% of Southern wealth, seven of the ten states with the highest per capita wealth soon joined the Confederacy.
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However, since two thirds of Southern families did not own slaves the 1860, per capita income of the region was only slightly ahead of the north central states and well behind the average northeastern state. A century later eight of the bottom ten states in per capita income were former members of the Confederacy. Even 151 years later only one Southern state, Virginia, ranked within the top ten in per capita income. Moreover, five (half) of the bottom ten in 2011 were former Confederate states. The classic example is Mississippi, which ranked number one in 1860 per capita wealth, but was dead last at fiftieth in 2011 per capita income. The depths of post Civil War Southern poverty and its duration were far greater, longer, and more multiracial than is commonly understood. It took eighty-five years for the South’s per capita income to regain the below average percentile ranking it held in 1860.