South Carolina 4th District
A century ago, Northern investors seeking sites for textile mills looked at the Upstate of South Carolina and found what was described then as “mild climate, abundant water power, proximity to the cotton fields and plenty of native labor already accustomed to a low standard of living.” As mills fled New England, textile factories settled along the Southern Railway and Seaboard Coast Line tracks between Charlotte and Atlanta, especially in the Piedmont of South Carolina. The textile country might look bucolic, but Greenville, Spartanburg and the dozens of mill towns thick in the surrounding countryside became as industrial as Lancashire or the Ruhr, with mills rising up on what were once twisting woodland paths. In the days before child labor laws, factory work sometimes began at age 6, condemning workers to a life of illiteracy. Escapes to a brighter future, such as the brilliant but brief baseball career of West Greenville’s “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, were rare.
2008 Presidential Vote
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Today, this same stretch of land along Interstate 85, which parallels the Southern Railway, remains one of the largest textile-producing areas in the United States, even though most mills have shut down and the others are not likely to survive. The state had 35,000 textile and apparel workers in 2008, but has lost more than 30,000 textile jobs since 2000, with closings accelerated by the end of the Multifiber Agreement in 2005. But there is much more to the local economy than textiles. Many former textile workers have taken jobs with the new companies that have moved to the area. So many other jobs have been created that the South Carolina Textile Manufacturers Alliance dropped “Textiles” from its name. Financial sweeteners, tax incentives, the absence of unions and solid infrastructure—airports, interstate highways and the busy port of Charleston—attracted an enormous BMW plant, although it laid off 700 workers in 2008 during the recession and worldwide auto slowdown. The region has the American headquarters of Michelin and a big Fuji Photo factory, among others. Greenville’s revitalized downtown now boasts fancy hotels and restaurants, including Korean, Thai and Vietnamese cuisine—each catering to the new corporate manager class.
The 4th Congressional District of South Carolina includes all of Greenville and Spartanburg counties, plus much smaller Union County and a sliver of Laurens County. Greenville is the largest county in the state, and has grown 15% since 2000. Culturally, the 4th ranges from conservative to very conservative, with strong influence from Greenville’s many evangelical and fundamentalist churches. Bob Jones University is here as well; it has dropped its longtime ban on interracial dating but students are still prohibited from smoking, drinking, dancing and wearing jeans or shorts to class. Here, the real political divide is between religious and economic conservatives. But large new subdivisions have sprouted between Greenville and Spartanburg, and newcomers have brought religious diversity. Greenville has growing populations not only of Catholics and Jews, but also Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Baha’is, and the only gay-oriented church within 60 miles. When President George W. Bush in 2008 gave the commencement address at Furman University in Greenville, several dozen people protested and more than 30 professors got permission not to attend because they objected to his policies. Still, this is a heavily Republican district, with the smallest African-American percentage in the state. In 2008, GOP presidential candidate John McCain won 60% of the vote in the district.