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South Carolina

The relatively small state of SOUTH CAROLINA remains, with Mississippi, one of the poorest and most rural in the US; there are no big cities to speak of and though the pockets of prime real estate along its coast have been developed into exclusive golf courses and tennis clubs, these are self-contained enclaves that make little impression on the rest of the state. Politics in the first state to secede from the Union in 1860, have traditionally been conservative. Reconstruction was mired in Klan violence, while demagogues openly espoused lynching and enforced “Jim Crow” laws with frightening zeal. Today, the state is home to a surprising number of universities, among them Christian Bob Jones University in Greenville, a training-ground for the fundamentalist right.

South Carolina’s main fascination lies in the subtropical coastline, also called the Low Country, and its sea islands. Wild beaches, swampy marshes and lush palmetto groves preserve traces of a virtually independent black culture (featuring the unique patois, “Gullah”), dating back to when enslaved Africans escaped here from the mainland plantations. There are no interstates along the coast, so journeys take longer than you might expect, the views are pretty and the pace of life definitely feels slower. Beyond the grand old peninsular port of Charleston – one of the most elegant towns in the nation with its pastel-coloured old buildings, appealing waterfront and Caribbean ambience – restored plantations stretch as far north as Georgetown, en route toward tacky Myrtle Beach. Inland, the rolling Piedmont and flat coastal plain hold little to see.

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