If a newcomer to Southern religious history/historiography asked me for a short bibliography on the post-Civil War era, Joe Coker’s Liquor in the Land of the Lost Cause would make my list. Here is the book’s description, courtesy of the University Press of Kentucky’s website…You may be wondering why a history on prohibition would appear on my list. (OK, you’re really wondering, “Why in the hell would anyone ask this guy for a bibliography”?). To be sure, Coker’s principal objective is revealing how Southern evangelicals brought prohibition from the margins of acceptability to the center. But in laying out his evidence, Coker shows how the movement infused with broader discussions of race, gender, politics, and honor. Also, (and this cannot be understated) Coker’s detailing of the historiography is nothing short of outstanding. This is particularly evident in his chapter on race, which alone makes the book worth purchasing.
The temperance movement first appeared in America in the 1820s as an outgrowth of the same evangelical fervor that fostered a wide range of reform campaigns and benevolence societies. Like many of these movements, temperance was confined primarily to the northeastern United States during the antebellum period. Viewed with suspicion by Southerners because of its close connection to the antislavery movement, prohibition sentiment remained relatively weak in the antebellum South.
In the decades following the Civil War, however, southern evangelicals embraced the movement with unprecedented fervor, and by 1915, liquor had been officially banned from the region as a result of their efforts. Liquor in the Land of the Lost Cause examines how southern evangelical men and women transformed a Yankee moral reform movement into an ideology that was compatible with southern culture and values.
So Liquor in the Land of the Lost Cause makes my list because Coker's lively and compelling history of prohibition is also a lively and compelling history of Southern religion. But you need not take my word for it. As one sagacious historian/professor/cat owner/blogger wrote…
As thorough, careful, searching, and well-researched an examination of the rise and eventual triumph of the temperance and Prohibition movement in the South as exists in the scholarly literature. Coker shows how a social reform movement of distinctly Yankee origins became part of southern cultural and religious life, to the extent that southern states led the way toward national Prohibition in the early twentieth century.