Faith in Bikinis
Politics and Leisure in the Coastal South since the Civil War

Anthony J. Stanonis

How the prospects for tourism dollars complicated racial and regional divisions in the coastal South


“In Faith in Bikinis, Anthony Stanonis argues for a more nuanced understanding of the New South through the lens of coastal tourism. This book will broaden significantly our understanding of topics often ignored in studies of the region, particularly in southern coastal communities where Jim Crow functioned much differently and where an industry like moonshining was just as robust as the one to be found in southern Appalachia.”
—Karen L. Cox, author of Dreaming in Dixie: How the South Was Created in American Popular Culture

Faith in Bikinis is a fascinating—and untold—history that has been carefully and eloquently told by an accomplished scholar.”
—Andrew W. Kahrl, author of The Land Was Ours: African American Beaches from Jim Crow to the Sunbelt South

"Faith in Bikinis is an engaging study of the role of coastal tourism in the rise of the New South . . . Anthony Stanonis convincingly argues that the tourism industry rivals the importance of such sectors as manufacturing and technology in the South’s transition from an agricultural to a service economy and plays an important role in its transformation into a more diverse, and even progressive, region on social and cultural matters."
—Emilie Raymond, Virginia Magazine

"Faith in Bikinis is a story told in the context of the three major developments that helped shape what the coast became – the environmental movement, the civil rights movement, and the sexual revolution. . . . The result is a well-organized, well-written account that entertains as well as educates."
—Harvey H. Jackson III, North Carolina Historical Review

"Stanonis carefully lays out his argument and punctuates it with examples as colorful as they are pertinent. Just as critically, Faith in Bikinis gives scholars a much-needed framework for understanding the seemingly bizarre contradictions of southern coastal culture, a place where a large pavilion in Myrtle Beach can host a female wrestling match on Saturday night and follow it up with a church service on Sunday morning."
—Rebecca Cawood McIntyre, Journal of American History

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While traditional industries like textile or lumber mills have received a majority of the scholarly attention devoted to southern economic development, Faith in Bikinis presents an untold story of the New South, one that explores how tourism played a central role in revitalizing the southern economy and transforming southern culture after the Civil War. Along the coast of the American South, a culture emerged that negotiated the more rigid religious, social, and racial practices of the inland cotton country and the more indulgent consumerism of vacationers, many from the North, who sought greater freedom to enjoy sex, gambling, alcohol, and other pleasures. On the shoreline, the Sunbelt South—the modern South—first emerged.

This book examines those tensions and how coastal southerners managed to placate both. White supremacy was supported, but the resorts’ dependence on positive publicity gave African Americans leverage to pursue racial equality, including access to beaches often restored through the expenditure of federal tax dollars. Displays of women clad in scanty swimwear served to market resorts via pamphlets, newspaper promotions, and film. Yet such marketing of sexuality was couched in the form of carefully managed beauty contests and the language of Christian wholesomeness widely celebrated by resort boosters. Prohibition laws were openly flaunted in Galveston, Biloxi, Myrtle Beach, Virginia Beach, and elsewhere. Yet revenue from sales taxes made states reluctant to rein in resort activities. This revenue bridged the divide between the coastal resorts and agricultural interests, creating a space for the New South to come into being.


Politics and Culture in the Twentieth-Century South

Page count: 288
14 b&w photos, 1 map
Trim size: 6 x 9


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Anthony J. Stanonis is a lecturer in modern U.S. history at Queens University, Belfast. He is the editor of Dixie Emporium: Tourism, Foodways, and Consumer Culture in the American South and author of Creating the Big Easy: New Orleans and the Emergence of Modern Tourism, 1918–1945 (both Georgia).