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Report on the Economic Conditions of the South


In the spring of 1938, Franklin D. Roosevelt commissioned a report on the economic conditions of the South as part of his effort to defeat leading southern opponents of his reform agenda. A small group of southern policymakers who worked for the Roosevelt administration, most notably Clark Foreman, Clifford J. Durr, and Arthur Goldschmidt, compiled the report. They drew on the work of the region's leading social scientists and prepared the final report in consultation with an advisory commission of prominent southern educators, businessmen, and elected officials. The report, which covered fifteen topics, contrasted the rich natural resources of the South with its chronic underdevelopment and poverty. Citing the report, Roosevelt declared that the South was "the nation's number one economic problem," and he underscored the critical importance of federal aid to advancing economic development in the South and the economic recovery of the nation.

While Roosevelt's efforts to "purge" southern conservatives failed, the report, along with the president's aggressive participation in the 1938 primary elections in the South, succeeded in focusing national attention on the economic and political significance of the region. The report was widely noted and excerpted in the nation's major newspapers, and was reprinted in full in the New York Times. Most importantly, the report helped to mobilize southern supporters of the New Deal at a time when conservative southerners were emerging as its most vocal opponents in Congress. In response to the report, white and black southerners representing a broad cross section of southern life met in Birmingham, Alabama, in November 1938 to voice their support for the Roosevelt administration, and to establish the Southern Conference for Human Welfare.



Carlton, David L., and Peter A. Coclanis, eds. Confronting Southern Poverty in the Great Depression: The Report on Economic Conditions of the South with Related Documents. 1996

Sullivan, Patricia. Days of Hope: Race and Democracy in the New Deal Era. 1996.

Patricia Sullivan

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