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In the early 19th century, the states of the Deep South most heavily depended on slave labor to maintain large crop plantations for their economy and, as a result, most severely suffered after the Civil War. Today, this region reflects a rich cultural mix of people and their cuisine. Each state reckons with its history while embracing its own unique heritage, craftsmanship, and agricultural products.
Geographically, Louisiana sits along the Gulf Coast bordered by Texas to the west, once a French colony along with Mississippi to its east across the Mississippi River. Continuing east along the Gulf is Alabama. Then along the Atlantic Ocean are Georgia and South Carolina, originally two of the British colonies.
Baton Rouge (state capital), New Orleans
Jackson (state capital), Oxford and Ole Miss (University of MS), Natchez
Montgomery (state capital), Huntsville, Birmingham, Mobile, Tuscaloosa
Atlanta (state capital), Savannah, Athens, Augusta
♦ South Carolina
Columbia (state capital), Charleston, Beaufort, Hilton Head, Myrtle Beach
City Park, New Orleans
Photo by Susan Q Yin on Unsplash
Baton Rouge is the state capital and the second-most populous city after New Orleans. Originally colonized by France and named for King Louis XIV, Louisiana is known for the Bayou, the marshy low-lying areas around the Mississippi Delta, Creole (mixed African-European descent), and Cajun (descendants of 18th-c. French-Acadian exiles, now Nova Scotia)—the people with their languages, music, crafts, and cuisine: crawfish étouffée, jambalaya, gumbo, and beignets.
The Pelican State’s prosperity was built on slave labor, which had the largest slave population by 1840, but by 1860, Louisiana had the largest number of free blacks in the US. One hundred years later, the Civil Rights movement brought an air of needed equality, though many parishes still faced racial tension. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated 80% of New Orleans, although its historic center has largely been rebuilt.
Today, a blend of influences from its Spanish, French, African, and Native American heritage are evident in the regional languages, music, and cuisine of Louisiana. Heritage craftsmanship includes quilting, boat and furniture building, textile weaving, wood carving, musical instrument crafting, and basketry. Marti Gras, the pre-lent carnival, is religiously celebrated; during this festival, New Orleans becomes particularly alluring, especially around the 300-year-old French Quarter, which bolsters its essential tourism economy.
See the official Louisiana Tourism pages.
While Jackson is the state capital, Oxford is home to Ole Miss, the University of Mississippi, which was established in 1848. A state known for Catfish, the Bayou, Magnolia trees, and the Delta Blues, Mississippi was named for the great river along its western border and the large native civilization, which flourished through the 16th century. Natchez, founded by the French in 1716, is a National Historic Park where the property provides a historic montage of the effects of colonialism, slavery, cotton plantations, and civil rights struggles.
Although cotton brought great wealth to landowners in the early 19th century, these plantations heavily depended on slave labor for upkeep. After the Civil War, the state faced heavy decline and racial tension that increased through the Civil Rights Movement. The state continues its often evident struggle with a racial divide, poverty, and underdevelopment; however, historic antebellum towns provide educational opportunities and inject necessary tourism dollars into the economy, along with the Gulf Coast beaches. Heritage folk art includes woodcarving, basketry, ceramics, and quilting.
See the official Mississippi Tourism pages.
University of Alabama’s Gorgas House, TUSCALOOSA
Photo by Ali Giaudrone
With among the most waterways of any state, the Yellowhammer State capital of Montgomery, which once served as the Confederacy’s capital during the Civil War, was at the center of the civil rights movement. The northern industrial city of Birmingham, founded after the Civil War, was once strong in steel production and is the second-largest city in the state. Alabama’s largest city of Huntsville in the lower Appalachia is a hub for space exploration and solar energy research.
Along the Gulf Coast (just 32 miles long), the port city of Mobile is the third most populous with Mardi Gras traditions dating back to 1703. The University of Alabama opened to students in 1831 as the state’s oldest and largest university. Today, the Crimson Tide culture dominates the city of Tuscaloosa (Alabama capital city from 1826-46) with its top-rated athletics programs and stately Greek fraternity and sorority houses.
Alabama celebrates its divisive past as a reminder of the importance of equality and its diverse geography and cultural influences. Gumbo is said to have originated in Mobile during French colonization. Today’s local flavors include barbequed pulled pork and ribs, Gulf shrimp and oysters, mayonnaise-based white sauce BBQ chicken, fried chicken, fried okra, fried green tomatoes, banana pudding, and pecan pie. Bluegrass music has Appalachian roots in Alabama, while its heritage arts include stained glass, quilting, ceramics, metalworks, and woodturning.
See the official Alabama Tourism pages.
Georgia state capitol, ATLANTA
Photo by Ali Giaudrone
Founded as a British colony and named after Britain’s King George II, Georgia became one of the original thirteen states. The coastal lowlands prospered through slave labor used by wealthy landowners on rice, cotton, tobacco, and indigo plantations. Poor farmers without slaves moved into the hills of the southern Appalachians, who became known as the “Upcountry Folk.”
The grand old port city of Savannah, founded as the capital of British Georgia in 1733, sits in the Low Country, known for moss-covered trees and magnolias, along the Atlantic shore next to South Carolina. With much of the state planted in its Deep South plantation roots, Georgia works to evolve into the 21st century through innovation and entrepreneurial enterprise.
This growth is evident in Atlanta, Georgia’s state capital, largest city, and international hub with one of the world’s largest airports. Centennial Olympic Park celebrates the Olympics, which were held here in 1996 center, surrounded by museums such as the Georgia Aquarium and the National Center of Civil and Human Rights, and large media and entertainment networks, such as CNN.
Founded in Athens in 1785 as one of the oldest public colleges, the University of Georgia is home to the proud Bulldogs with a strong athletics program. The town has churned out alternative music artists like the B52s and REM. Forestry supports today’s economy in the Peach State, most famous for peaches, of course, used in cobblers, pies, jams, and ice cream. Georgia is also especially known for boiled peanuts, grits, cornbread, fried chicken, pecan pie, and sweet Vidalia onion from its namesake town.
See the official Georgia Tourism pages.
Palmetto palms and Antebellum Charm, Charleston
Photo by Ali Giaudrone
In the uniquely triangular Palmetto State, Columbia is the state’s capital, second-largest city, and home to the University of South Carolina‘s Gamecocks. The largest city, Charleston, which was once the largest slave port and was named after England’s King Charles II, celebrates its antebellum history and haunted reputation. Carriage rides educated visitors during various historic and ghost tours—where you go is decided by lottery.
Entrenched in the Deep South’s antebellum identity during the Civil War, the war’s first shots were fired in the Charleston Harbor at Fort Sumter. Today, historic Beaufort preserves Old South charm. Hilton Head Island and Myrtle Beach are popular coastal resort towns along the Atlantic Ocean known for their beachy laid-back golf vibe.
The Atlantic coastal Gullah people, also called Geechee, celebrate their Central and West African roots, their Creole language, heritage crafts, farming and fishing traditions, folk beliefs, music, rice-based cuisine, and story-telling traditions—all preserved due to relative isolation from whites during enslavement. South Carolina’s heritage crafts include basketweaving, ceramics, and jewelry making.
See the official South Carolina Tourism pages.