From New South to Sunbelt: Greenville, South Carolina
Baker, Andrew Harrison
Type of DegreePhD Dissertation
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Greenville County, South Carolina is the Palmetto State's most populous county and exert's substantial influence on the state's politics and economy. Spaces such as Greenville have largely been omitted from the narrative of the Sunbelt South. This dissertation situates Greenville in the context of the Sunbelt South and analyzes political change and economic development in Greenville since 1945 with emphasis given to developments since 1966. During this period, Greenville County transitioned from a solidly Democratic space to an early bastion of the Republican Party in South Carolina. Businessmen and young professionals led the transition and provided important leadership for the development of a two-party system in the state. Bob Jones University’s 1947 relocation to Greenville placed the city in the currents of the national conservative movement. The institution grew into a powerful force in local and state politics augmenting the strength of the local Republican Party. After the mid-1970s, political divides between city residents, county residents, and fundamentalists associated with Bob Jones University structured area politics. Within the urban space of the city of Greenville, political leaders such as Max Moses Heller, an Austrian refugee, thrived but struggled to gain traction among the wider county electorate. Once considered a textile center, Greenville County moved away from the textile economy beginning in the 1950s. Strong local leadership and cost advantages related to low wages and a low rate of unionization helped attract corporations including General Electric, Michelin, Hitachi, and BMW to the area. These companies cushioned the loss of the textile industry. By the late 20th and early 21st centuries, population growth strained local resources and new residents offered the potential to disrupt the area’s dominant political conservatism. Clashes over issues such as a controversial “anti-gay” Greenville County Council resolution demonstrated that older political divides between development-oriented business leaders and county residents remained. In the early 21st century, however, some signs of change were present.
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