We know the story: In the early 20th century, there was a huge migration of people from the south looking for work in the mills, plants, and assembly lines of the north. The populations of the northern cities exploded. For example, in the case of Detroit, from 1900 to 1950, the population grew from under 285,000 to 1.8 million people. From 1950 to 2000, the population of Detroit receded to 951,000 people. This is a familiar story to many of the industrial and manufacturing towns of the north, in particular the Midwest. Planners know this story quite well.
However, while sitting in my office today, located in one of those empty downtowns common to rustbelt cities, I realized the disinvestment that my hometown has experienced over the past 30 years must have been quite common in the south between 1900 and 1950. Is this true? Or did the early 20th century migration affect just the farms and rural areas of the south? Any economic development or demography history buffs here at Cyburbia? I am very curious to learn more about the southern disinvestment of the early 20th century and to see what similarities and differences there are to the rusbelt cities of today. Did once-vibrant southern towns become dangerous ghost towns, or did all those abandoned farms turn into woodlots?