BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - In a new book Migration and the Transformation of the Southern Workplace Since 1945 (University of Florida Press), University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Professor of History Colin Davis, Ph.D., along with his co-editor, Robert Cassanello, present a collection of seven essays that examine the impact that migration and globalization are having on labor in the American South.
Davis, a labor and social historian, teaches in the UAB Department of History and Anthropology. Cassanello is an assistant professor in the University of Central Florida Department of History.
Since World War II, traditionalism in the South has lived side by side with a South embodying internationalism, diversity and movement. New businesses and job opportunities in the region have driven this growth, brought an influx of capital and attracted residents from other parts of the country and the world.
In the book, historians, anthropologists and others examine the intersection of labor history and migration studies to explain the South's recent dynamism in both urban and rural settings. The essays are selected papers that were presented at the Southern Labor Studies Conference held at UAB in 2004.
The book raises fundamental questions about development, globalization and economic and demographic trends that are reshaping the region. One essay looks at Ashville, N.C., and the city's positive response to the arrival of Mexican workers seeking employment in Ashville's poultry, construction and tourists industries.
"In Ashville, you had an expanding urban setting, a large demand for labor and a local labor market that could not provide all of the needed workers," says Davis. "So, there has not been a lot of competition for jobs there."
In contrast, UAB history professor Ray Mohl's essay, "Blacks and Hispanics in the Modern South," discusses the tensions that have occurred between African-Americans and Hispanic immigrants in Miami over jobs and opportunities that have been in short supply.
"The stereotype about the South has been that the South is a static regional area with little movement going on," Davis says. "Although there has been little movement out of the South, people have always migrated to the South. The South, in fact has had a long history of migration, but it comes in fits and starts rather than as a continual movement as in other parts of the country."
As an example, Davis points to the surge of Southern and Eastern European immigrants that came to the South in the early 20th century. Many came from Italy, Yugoslavia, Greece and Lebanon.
"The immigrants often experienced discrimination," Davis says. "The Slavic community in Brookside, Ala., during this period, for example, was frequently harassed by the Ku Klux Klan.
"The hostilities against Mexicans today are there as well, but it's not as evident as it was for immigrants in the early 20th century," he says. "Mexicans today are confronted with arguments over access to housing and health care and the notion by some that they should not be provided with such services if they are undocumented. But at the same time, the migration of Mexicans to the South has been a boon for people who can afford to hire them for cheap labor."
Davis says that although the "Latinization" of the South has caused friction between the races over the years, most of the conference participants conclude that migration overall has been good for the South..
"It moved the South beyond the black and white races, and that is perceived economically to be a good thing," he says. "As the ethnic and racial identity of Southerners has changed shape, so have people's perceptions of race.
"First-generation laborers are often very committed to the idea of working hard and making money, and they are putting down roots."
About the UAB Department of History and Anthropology
The UAB Department of History and Anthropology offers bachelor's and master's degree programs that prepare students for careers in law, public service, historical research, international affairs, journalism, business and anthropology.