The Agrarian South


From Southern Culture: An Introduction

By John Beck Wendy Frandsen, Aaron Randall

Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2009; 2nd ed.



            For almost three hundred years, agriculture was the major livelihood of most residents of the American South, and the rural lifestyle was the shared experience that tied together a region that rivals most countries in size. The defining institutions of this agrarian tradition were the plantation and the small farm. The first plantations were established around Jamestown in the Virginia Colony in the early 1600s. The labor of choice was indentured servants imported from England, and the crop of choice was tobacco. Later, slaves would replace servants, and still later, in Virginia and across the South, sharecroppers would replace slaves. Rice, sugar, and "King Cotton" would join tobacco as major plantation crops in the region. While plantations eventually could be found from Virginia to Texas, they were numerous only in the areas with the richest, most fertile land, areas like the Tidewater of Virginia, the Low Country of South Carolina, the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta, and the Black Belt of Alabama. Even so, the plantation would dominate the Southern economy and dictate the course of Southern history until technology, migration, industrial development, and policies implemented by the federal government would finally bring to an end the plantation era in the decades after World War II.


            For all of the plantation's economic importance, the great majority of white Southerners before the Civil War were small farmers who owned farms of several hundred acres, worked their land with the help of kin, lived on what they grew and raised on their owns farms, and bartered or sold what was left for the little extras. Small farmers would survive the Civil War and actually grow in number, but, by the late twentieth century, the small farm was on the verge of extinction. In many ways, the plantation and the small farm were in different worlds, but there was also much in common between life and labor on the plantation and on the small farm, enough apparently to unite the farmer and the planter. In this chapter, we will explore the variations of this agrarian tradition, how it evolved over time, and what its influence is today in the contemporary South.


The Birth of the Agrarian Tradition

            In 1607 a band of English adventurers who had traveled across the ocean to the New World began building a settlement called Jamestown. The settlement was in a colony established by the Virginia Company as a profit-making venture. The colony (Virginia) and the company were named in honor of Elizabeth, the "Virgin Queen." The earliest settlers, shareholders in the company and their indentured servants, were a rather undisciplined, lazy lot who hoped to find great wealth, ideally lying on the ground somewhere. Virginia was not a place to make a home; the adventurers planned to return to England with their loot. These indolent fellows drove their leader, Captain John Smith, to despair, and the colony very nearly ended in failure.


            Back in England, Sir Edwin Sandys, one of the company's shareholders, was elected treasurer and he began to actively promote permanent settlement in the colony as a way of making the colony profitable. Sandys instituted the headright system that gave the settlers moving to Virginia fifty acres for every person ("head") they brought with them. He actively "recruited" poor men and boys to serve as the colony's workforce. Sandys encouraged the production of a variety of agricultural commodities, and one of these commodities was tobacco. Tobacco was a plant native to the New World and was attracting some interest in England and the continent of Europe, although no one was quite certain what to do with the plant initially. It began finding a use in the brothels and taverns of England as a recreational drug, and the demand for it began to grow. Sandys' settlers began establishing plantations to grow the "sotweed." These men were as infused with the profit-making spirit as the earlier treasure hunters had been and were not, for the most part, interested in operating small family farms. The poor migrants from England whom Sandys was recruiting labored in the fields for these planters as indentured servants or tenants. Servants signed contracts (indentures) to labor for the planters for set terms, usually seven years, in return for passage to Virginia, food, clothing, and a place to sleep. Tenants technically were free men who received half of what they earned; in practice, according to historian Edmund Morgan, their rights and privileges were little different from servants. Virginia became a booming plantation colony dedicated to growing and exporting tobacco.1


            Life on the tobacco plantations was harsh and short. In fact, in an investigation of the colony in the mid-1620s by disgruntled shareholders, it was discovered that the overwhelming majority of immigrants to Virginia since its founding in 1607 had died. Disease, malnutrition, skirmishes with local Native American tribes, and overwork made Virginia a living hell. And it was the indentured servants and tenants who suffered the most.2 The British government took over Virginia and made it a royal colony. Under the rule of the British government, plantations spread across the land, and thousands of new immigrants, most of them servants, arrived from England. Virginia's appetite for labor and the profit of transporting servants to Virginia led ship captains to scour England looking for people willing to take the voyage. Generally these were marginal people—prison inmates, people hoping to avoid prison time, desperately poor people, and no doubt, a fair number of men who had accepted free drinks from the wrong people. By the 1640s the horrible death rate in Virginia had declined, and some servants even began to live out their terms of servitude and become free men and women.


            Better living conditions and rising life spans had an unanticipated consequence: many of the young men—and the servant workforce of Virginia was overwhelmingly male and young—did not wish to sign up for a second tour of servitude. Without the finances to start their own plantations or to return to England, they lived by their wits. Some moved west and squatted on unoccupied land, while others lived in the more settled areas by hunting and fishing and occasionally shooting and butchering another man's hog (it was customary to allow one's hogs to roam in the woods). As their numbers rose, they became more of a problem, and the Virginia House of Burgesses (the colonial legislature) responded with increasingly heavy penalties for the sorts of crimes they were committing. For example, poaching—killing someone's hog in the woods—could result in a 2000-pound fine (quite a hefty sum in those days). In 1670 the Assembly decided to deny these landless men the vote; members of the Assembly apparently perceived them as too reckless and irresponsible to be entrusted with the franchise.3


            The situation reached the boiling point, and servants and former servants united under the leadership of a disgruntled planter by the name of Nathaniel Bacon, rose in revolt, marched to Jamestown, and burned it to the ground in 1676. Fortunately for the planters, Bacon became sick and died and the rebellion collapsed, but they still faced a dilemma. The planters needed a workforce, but the more servants they imported, the more shiftless, property-less young men would be floating around the colony when their terms of servitude were up. The solution was at hand: slavery. Slavery was an institution that was established in the colony as more and more Africans were brought in by enterprising merchants to feed the colony's insatiable appetite for workers. Africans in Virginia were neither free men and women, nor, technically, were they servants. Since the English had had no significant experience with slavery nor laws governing it, these African workers weren't chattel slaves either. But they were captives brought to the colony in chains, and it is not surprising that, by the 1670s, the legal and practical details of chattel slavery were being worked out to ensure that these new workers stayed put. A slave was a slave for life, and a slave was property or chattel, pure and simple. And importantly, slavery was only for people of another race; thus, a slave could be picked out in a crowd and the problem with runaway servants—who could blend into the free population—was solved. Slavery saved the plantation system in Virginia as slaves became the labor of choice for plantation owners.4


            But what of the servants? The ranks of the servants dwindled as the importation of African slaves grew. According to historian Edmund Morgan, the planters of Virginia now became very helpful to those whom they had recently exploited. By the early 1700s, freed servants were compensated for their servitude with land, money, and clothing by their masters, and the government provided them each with fifty acres of land. The poll tax, a tax one paid to vote, was significantly reduced. Why had the planters become so generous? According to Morgan, "fear of a servile insurrection" was one important factor.5 Former servants were needed as allies to keep black slaves under control. But the planters also apparently were coming to believe that since the laboring class now was black, whites, all whites, were members of a "superior race." In short, a sort of white solidarity resulted from slavery in part because the planters no longer needed to exploit other whites. Land was so plentiful and tobacco prices by the end of the seventeenth century high enough that slaveholding planters could afford to be generous. With a growing population of African slaves to control, they could not afford to be less than generous with their white brethren.


            A sizeable class of white yeomanry emerged by the early 1700s in Virginia. A yeoman farmer was one who owned a small farm—often of several hundred acres—used his family for labor and grew food crops and often a bit of tobacco just like his large planter neighbor. A commonality of interests had thus emerged between this new small farmer class and the slaveholding planters, and astute politicians, generally from the planter class, would thereafter carefully cultivate that commonality. Importantly, a pattern of plantations and small farms was established that was replicated throughout the region as new areas were settled. And this pattern, call it the Southern agrarian pattern, would persist until the Civil War and beyond.


The Spread of the Agrarian Tradition

            As new regions of the South were settled—the coastal region of South Carolina, for example, or the piedmont region of North Carolina—the land itself and the accessibility to markets would determine the mix of plantations and farms. Thus, the South Carolina coast in the early decades of the 1700s and the Mississippi Delta during the 1820s and 30s emerged as prime plantation districts with few small farms because these areas were perfectly suited to large-scale cash crop agriculture. The mountain areas of North Carolina and Virginia, on the other hand, became the domain of the small, slaveless farmer because the steep slopes of the Appalachians were no place to grow cotton or rice or tobacco in quantity. The piedmont region of the South, stretching from Virginia into Alabama, a region characterized by rolling hills and rather anemic clay soil, was primarily the domain of the small farmer, but a sizeable minority of slaveholding planters struggled to make a go of it in this region, too. Generally, these planters occupied the best land in the Piedmont, and wherever else they settled, too, while many of the small farmers were more likely to labor away on the less desirable land on the steeper slopes or land bordering swamps.


            This was a society that had little need or, it turns out, little use for cities and towns. Small farmers were largely self-sufficient; they produced most of what they and their families ate, wore, and used. They had little need for the products produced or sold in towns and cities. Planters were market-oriented and did need to market their crops and did, of course, have the cash to buy what cities and towns produced. But planters were always small in number and not, therefore, numerous enough to support much of a class of urban artisans or merchants. Furthermore, much of the South was richly endowed with navigable rivers, which served as major thoroughfares upon which to ship cash crops to distant metropolises in the North and Europe, and, of course, to import needed manufactured goods. Had this not been the case, the South would have had more towns and cities than it did. Finally, what we call the South was not completely "settled" until after the Civil War. There was, therefore, always fresh land to clear and settle, and this frontier land certainly kept the agrarian tradition viable. But geographic and economic factors were not the only reason the region was so profoundly rural and devoted to agriculture. Agrarianism had become a deeply embedded set of values in the regional culture, a set of values that might be termed the agrarian ideal.


The Agrarian Ideal

            The agrarian ideal was a set of values and attitudes that had become common currency in the South by the 1700s. In this value system farming was not merely a way to survive, it was the best way to live. Thomas Jefferson is no doubt the most famous son of the South to articulate the agrarian ideal. Jefferson was, of course, a planter, a slaveholder, a Virginian, and a prime example, albeit an exceptional example, of the unique world of the eighteenth century. He was both a supreme rationalist who argued for human rights and freedoms (for whites, anyway) and who experimented with new crops on his farm, and he was also the supreme romantic who built a plantation atop what can only be described as a small mountain. Monticello had a wonderful view, but building a plantation on a mountain was a foolhardy endeavor that may have contributed to the mountain of debt that he accrued over his long life. The rational and the romantic both influenced the agrarian ideal as articulated by Jefferson and others in the 1700s and 1800s. According to this ideal, farming was a supremely practical endeavor that was also inherently moral, even spiritual. In Notes on the State of Virginia, Jefferson observed:

Those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever He had a chosen people, whose breasts He has made His peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue. It is the focus in which he keeps alive the sacred fire, which otherwise might escape from the face of the earth. Corruption of morals in the mass of cultivators is a phenomenon of which no age or nation has furnished an example. It is the mark set on those, who, not looking up to heaven, to their own soil and industry, as does the husbandman, for their subsistence, depend for it on casualties and caprice of customers. Dependence begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition.6

So for Jefferson and other agrarian-minded Southerners, farming was the only virtuous occupation for men, and the only occupation that truly allowed men to be free. Crafts, industry, and the trades made men dependent on bosses, customers, and suppliers, and created in men greedy, self-serving personalities. Further, for Jefferson, rural living was healthy; city life corrupting. For him, farming and the countryside were necessary preconditions for the growth of democracy. Of cities and government he wrote: "The mobs of great cities add just so much to the support of pure government, as sores do to the strength of the human body."7 In short, greedy, dependent, ambitious men were not the stuff from which democracies were made. The Republic would only thrive if the nation were an agrarian nation of farmers.


            A devotion to, even worship of the land was also an aspect of both the spiritual and practical nature of agrarianism. On the practical side, land was necessary for a farmer, and rich, flat land was better than poor land on a hill or in a swamp. How much was enough? As Ben Robertson, writing in the 1930s, said of his kin in the piedmont region of South Carolina, " ... there is also a quality within our character that makes us dissatisfied until we have bought all the land that joins our land. We cannot resist buying land."8 But spending time on a particular piece of land that one's family owned had a more profound influence on the psyche than, say, owning a car or some other piece of property. Robertson noted that "I and all the families of my kinfolks lived for nearly two centuries in two old and fertile valleys at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountain," and though many of his people had "rambled," and left those valleys as he had done, "Someone is always keeping the homeplace, someone is always there...."9 This land had become a part of their lives. As he said, "It was disturbing country that rested us and somehow never let us rest."10


            When Robertson was writing his memoir, a group of young poets and scholars called the Nashville Agrarians (or Southern Agrarians) published a collection of essays entitled I'll Take My Stand, which attacked the industrial order in the United States and voiced what was probably the last major defense of agrarianism. Andrew Lytle's essay "The Hind Tit" sounds quite reminiscent of Jefferson. Lytle describes the dominance of an "industrial empire bent on the conquest of the earth's goods and ports to sell them in." This dominance has set in motion "a war to the death between technology and the ordinary functions of living." For Lytle, industrial capitalism and the cities it spawns have produced "a poison which penetrates to the spirit and rots the soul." The only salvation is "in a return to a society where agriculture is practiced by most of the people. It is in fact impossible for any culture to be sound and healthy without a proper respect and proper regard for the soil, no matter how many urban dwellers think their victuals come from groceries and delicatessens and their milk from tin cans. This ignorance does not release them from a final dependence upon the farm and that most incorrigible of beings, the farmer."11


            Today, agrarianism as a philosophy or ideology is but a whisper of its former self. How could it be otherwise? Most Southerners troop off to work each day in factories, offices, franchise restaurants, and schools, not the back 40. The region's agriculture is increasingly dominated by large-scale "agribusiness" (Lytle would have been horrified by the term), and the small farmer appears headed for extinction. While the Nashville Agrarians may have shouted the last hurrah for agrarianism as a creed in the 1930s, one can still hear the values of Jefferson and Lytle extolled in countless country music songs (listen, for example, to the lyrics of a tune popular in the 1970s, "Thank God I'm a Country Boy") and in the poetry and prose of Wendell Berry and the few other critics of modern society who still believe a life on the land is the best life.12 Implicit in this commitment to a life on the land is a commitment to a particular place; one should live one's life, like the Robertson clan, in a particular locale, a place that belongs to you and to which you belong even if you should leave. As James Everett Kibler has noted in his memoir about restoring his family homeplace:

Indeed, as Carolinians of the last century [he's referring here to the nineteenth century] knew so much better than those of our own day, to live a life of completeness, a mortal must fully concentrate his being upon one finite place on earth and know it both tactilely and spiritually in all the fullness of the seasons, know all the creatures of that place who move there in the night world as well as the day.13



The Agrarian Tradition before the Civil War

            By the decade before the Civil War, the South was a sprawling fifteen-state region stretching from Maryland on the East Coast over to border states Kentucky and Missouri and finally ending in Texas in the West. If one could have flown over the region in an airplane, it would have appeared as an almost uninterrupted vista of fields, forests, and swamps. With the exception of New Orleans and Charleston, its cities and towns were scattered crossroads settlements, state capitals of a few thousand souls, and small port or river towns of a few hundred or thousand. The plantation, not urban industry, was the engine of the Southern economy. Towns and cities were on the periphery and served primarily as collection points to gather the products of the plantations and send them on to points north and across the ocean.14 Indeed, the plantation economy was driven by world markets, and changes in world demand for a commodity could create great prosperity or throw planters who specialized in that commodity into a downward spiral. Rice, for example, made the South Carolina Low Country one of the wealthiest areas in the world in the 1700s, but when new sources of rice came into the European market in the early decades of the 1800s, the Low Country went into a serious decline which has only been reversed in recent decades.15 Towns did serve as centers of local markets where planters and small farmers could market their corn, wheat, swine, and produce, but local trade, while important, as a rule was a limited stimulus to town growth. Planter and small farmer alike strove to be as self-sufficient as possible, and for many the trip to town was a rare and special occasion.


            Plantations produced a variety of staple crops and products—tobacco, sugar, cotton, turpentine, and rice—to sell in markets in the North and across the Atlantic. Plantations were worked by slave labor, and a minimum of twenty slaves were required for a farm to be considered a plantation. Large plantations might have several hundred slaves, and some planters owned several plantations. The planter and his family and perhaps an overseer supervised the slave work force. The plantation system was expanding in the decades before the Civil War. Many of the older plantation regions in the eastern states were in decline, and some planters or their sons set out for the West, a contingent of slaves in tow, to establish new plantations that would save or bolster family fortunes. New plantations were hacked from the wilderness in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and East Texas. Other eastern planters kept afloat financially by selling their "extra" slaves, and these men, women, and children often ended up in the newly settled regions of the South.


            Plantations were risky investments, and more planters than not carried sizeable debt loads. Many planters strove to be self-sufficient, to produce on the plantation what was needed and to depend on the merchants for as little as possible. James Battle Avirett in his memoir describes in idyllic terms his family's plantation "The Rich Lands." This plantation, located on the New River in North Carolina midway between New Bern and Wilmington was, as Avirett describes it, a self-sufficient enterprise with vegetable gardens, flocks of sheep and herds of cows and hogs, fruit trees, a variety of fowl—chickens, ducks, guinea hens—and fields of black eyed peas, peas, and wheat for home consumption. The plantation had a loom house for the weaving of wool and cotton cloth. Plantation hands dug marl from beds along the New River to enrich the soil. The primary cash crop of the farm was rice.16 The Rich Lands would not have been unusual; on most plantations, a sizable amount of the acreage was devoted to food crops, particularly corn (for meal for the plantation's residents and for animal feed), and other grains, fruit trees, and vegetables were also cultivated. Slaves were often permitted to tend to their own private gardens. Poultry houses were commonly maintained, and a herd of hogs often roamed a plantation's woodlands and provided meat for the smokehouses. But the cash crop—cotton especially in the decades before the Civil War—was the primary focus of the plantation.17


            By the 1850s cotton was the king of plantation crops; it was the most profitable cash crop and was grown in a broad belt beginning in North Carolina and stretching to east Texas and up the Mississippi to an area north of Memphis. The Yazoo-Mississippi Delta was the heart of this cotton South and, James Cobb has argued convincingly, the heart of the South—The Most Southern Place on Earth. Most of the cotton crop was produced by slaveholding planters who owned sizeable tracts of farmland. A cotton plantation typically had from several hundred to as many as a thousand or more acres of land suitable for cultivation, not to mention hundreds of acres of woodlands and uncleared acres. Farms of this size required large slave work forces to get the cotton in. The historian Gavin Wright has found that the largest slaveowners in the cotton belt (the top 10%) owned over 60% of the slave workforce.18 A larger planter often had over a hundred slaves laboring away on his plantation. One authority opined that the ideal plantation in the Delta—one with 1000 acres under cultivation and a slave workforce of 75 field hands—should bring in a crop of a bale per acre and an average of eight bales per hand.19 Some delta planters did better than that; Wade Hampton II boasted in the fall of 1855 that his Walnut Ridge Plantation was getting two bales to the acre.20 Figures like this translated into big money in a year when cotton prices were high. But cotton prices often were not high, or the land flooded, or there was a drought, or an epidemic of cholera raged through the slave quarters. Thomas Chaplin, a young planter on St. Helena Island off the coast of South Carolina, struggled to make his plantation profitable growing sea island cotton, a highly prized long fiber cotton grown by island planters. His poor work habits and the loss of a portion of his slave work force—sold to pay his creditors—limited his success. Rarely did he produce more than 10 bales, a modest amount, and his last crop before the outbreak of the war was only 7 bales. He sold his cotton to a "factor" (cotton wholesaler) in Charleston, but he also sold small quantities of the other products of his plantation in local markets. Probably to compensate for his inability to bring in a good cotton crop, he struggled to make his plantation as self-sufficient as possible, but his taste for whiskey, wine, jewelry, and ice—the family used 125 pounds a week in the summer—still kept him in debt.21


            Plantations were money-making ventures, but they were also something more: they supported a particular lifestyle—the plantation lifestyle—that reflected one version of the agrarian ideal. As noted earlier, the agrarian ideal was built in part on romantic notions of farming and life in the country. The beauty of nature, the joys and bounties offered by the outdoor life, and the slow rhythms of agriculture were part and parcel of this romance for many planters. James Battle Avirett's description of the New River's bounty is nothing less than romantic and that cousin of the romantic, nostalgic:

One must take into consideration the fact that this beautiful body of salt water constituted the abundant storehouse of nature, from which were taken some of the most valued features of table comfort and luxury. Its waters teemed with the various varieties of fine fish found in this latitude, among which were the mullet, the sea trout, the sheepshead, the flounder, the croaker or pig ash, with others not a few. These fine fish were there in great abundance. In their season were to be had many varieties of water fowl, ducks, wild geese and swans. The ducks were very numerous and of the varieties found in that famous storehouse, the Chesapeake Bay. Never in this country has the writer tasted a more delicious breakfast dish than the blue winged teal of these waters, while the blackheads, mallards, and the variety which we call the canvasback were found in large numbers. Rich and abundant as were all these contributions to the planter's comfort, none surpassed the shellfish found so abundantly where this beautiful inland salt lake joined the sea. The oysters were larger and fatter than the celebrated "Blue Points" of the New York market, and in delicacy of flavor quite equaled the "Morris Cove" specimen of the Philadelphia Club House.22


            Avirett wrote this passage after the Civil War, and his memories of the plantation lifestyle were no doubt colored by nostalgia for his "lost" world. But a reverence for the old seems to have been a common sentiment in the South even before the "Lost Cause" (the Civil War) ended this world. Indeed, as William Faulkner famously observed about the South, "The past is not dead. It isn't even past." It was not uncommon for Southerners before the Civil War, for example, to describe the plantation system and the society that supported it as old or ancient and the nicknames for two Southern states—"the Old Dominion" (Virginia) and "the Old North State" (North Carolina)—reflects this habit. John Pendleton Kennedy, in his pre-Civil War novel Swallow Barn, describes the plantation of the protagonist of the novel thusly:

Swallow Barn is an aristocratical old edifice, that squats, like a brooding hen, on the southern bank of the James River. It is quietly seated, with its vassal out-buildings, in a kind of shady pocket or nook, formed by a sweep of the stream, on a gentle acclivity thinly sprinkled with oaks, whose magnificent branches afford habitation and defense to an antique colony of owls.23


            Why the fascination, indeed obsession with oldness in a society that was, relatively speaking, quite new? At bottom the outlook and attitudes of most Southern planters was conservative despite the prominence of some eighteenth-century planters (Jefferson especially) in formulating the basic tenets of American liberalism. Planters wished to maintain or conserve a certain way of life, and the belief that Southern traditions and customs were ancient gave gravitas and legitimacy to this way of life. The plantation was thus perceived to be as old as nature itself and just as "natural." To dislodge or disrupt it would thus be unnatural; to cherish its memory, mourn its demise or transformation, again, natural.


            However important the plantation and powerful the planter, the overwhelming majority of rural white people in the South were not planters and did not own plantations. Rather, they lived and worked on small farms, and small farms numbered in the hundreds of thousands. They could be found throughout the South but were most numerous in the piedmont and mountain areas of the South and less numerous in the rich plantation districts. Most of the small farmers did not own slaves; they used their own families for labor. Those who did own slaves usually owned at best a few, but some might own a dozen or so. Small farmers typically owned farms of 100–500 acres, although some owned 1000 or more acres. Some owned no land and worked the land of others.24 In Rowan County, North Carolina, a county with many small farms, the average size of the farm of a slaveless farmer was 143 acres and was valued at slightly more than $1000 in 1860. Small farmers with a small slave workforce (less than 10 slaves) worked farms averaging 274 acres and valued at $2650.25


            Small farmers ranged from commercially oriented farmers growing a cash crop to purely subsistence farmers growing and raising what they needed to survive. Most typically planted corn and grain crops like wheat, raised hogs, sheep and chickens, and grew a bit of cotton or tobacco. While the planter was a speculator and a risk-taker, the typical small farmer pursued a cautious "safety first" strategy of taking care of the family's needs first and then devoting "extra" time to a cash crop to bring in a little extra money. Thus, they might grow corn and wheat, oats, raise hogs and sheep (as much for the wool as for the mutton) and then plant a bit of tobacco or cotton. Most of what they ate and used they produced, but the cotton or tobacco crop or the extra acres planted in wheat would buy them a few extras. In Rowan County, for example, many small farmers produced several hundred extra bushels of corn and small grains which they could sell. Farmers also bartered with their neighbors and with merchants. On an August day in 1859, Salisbury (Rowan County) merchant McNeely and Young gave cash credit to local farmers for the following items: watermelon, tobacco, whiskey (34 gallons was bartered), and butter. Farmers typically constructed their own homes and outbuildings, and most of what could be found in the typical home—the furniture, beds, possibly even the nails holding things together—were either made on the farm or on a neighboring farm. Spinning wheels and looms were quite commonly part of the household goods on a small farm, and many farm women, despite the growing availability of store bought clothes, were probably still spinning thread (generally wool not cotton) on a spinning wheel, weaving cloth on the family loom, and making the family's dresses, shirts, and pants. A limited number of household items and provisions—a clock, perhaps some plates or a rocking chair, tools, coffee—were store bought.26


The Transformation of the Agrarian Tradition after the Civil War

            The Civil War produced wrenching changes in the nature of agrarianism in the South. The most obvious change was the destruction of slavery. No longer could the plantation system and planters depend on the coerced labor of black slaves. Not that the planters gave up their labor supply easily; while the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution ended slavery, legislatures in most Southern states attempted to delay if not defeat emancipation by passing a series of laws called the "Black Codes," which were intended to maintain a form of slavery through legal trickery. The ruling Republican majority in Congress would not stand for this and disbanded the state legislatures and reinstituted military rule in the South. And so a new labor system was devised that was part compromise between planters and the people they had once owned and part tragedy that would mire millions of Southerners, black and white, in poverty and hopelessness.


            This system was known as tenant farming, or more commonly, sharecropping. It was actually not new; landless whites before the war often farmed as tenants. As it evolved after the war, the tenant system was a simple proposition: plantations were carved up into small farms, and these farms would be worked by families of former slaves. The planter or landlord would provide tenants with land, seed, fertilizer, a mule, and plow; the tenant would provide the labor. The harvested crop—cotton, tobacco, or sugar cane—would be divided between the two, usually on a 50/50 split. If the tenant had his own equipment, he might garner a larger share; those with nothing but their own labor got less. Tenant farms were typically small—generally less, much less, than a hundred acres—because the landlord wanted as much land as possible planted in the cash crop on each of his tenant farms to increase what his "share" would bring in. Cotton was thus often planted "from the doorstep to the road."27 In Rowan County, North Carolina, for example, most tenant farmers tended farms with fewer than 50 cultivatable acres, and the average acreage of these small farms that was suitable for planting was less than 27.28 Tenancy saved the plantation; the Census Bureau, in a study of 325 cotton-producing counties in 1910, found nearly 40,000 plantations worked by five or more tenant families. The average size of a plantation worked by tenants was over 700 acres.29 Sharecropping grew by leaps and bounds; by 1930, the majority of farmers in the South were engaged in some form of tenant farming.30 Increasing numbers of whites who had lost their land or never had land to begin with became "croppers."  


            There was one important additional component of this new "system": the merchant. Prior to the Civil War, stores were few and far between. They were located in towns and, as we saw, the towns were small, widely scattered, and few in number. After the war, thanks to the work of the R.G. Dun credit-rating company and Northern supply houses that were willing to extend credit to good risks in the South, the number of merchants skyrocketed. Stores opened by the hundreds in the growing towns and small cities of the region and began popping up on rural crossroads and country lanes. These stores stocked a dizzying diversity of products from cotton seed to long underwear, and they became a central feature of both the economic and social life of the region. Merchants extended credit to their cash-strapped customers to buy corn meal, seed, fertilizer, clothing, coffee, and the host of other items that they stocked. Tenants generally didn't have property of value, but they did, assuming things went well, have a share of a crop come harvest time. Merchants would take a lien on this future crop, called a crop lien, and would charge high interest—often exceeding 50%—because of the risk. Merchants joined with landlords to encourage "croppers" to maximize the acreage of cash crop they planted and to tend it well. Sharecroppers thus ended up with two bosses, both of whom they were in debt to.31 Many have called sharecropping a new form of slavery. Certainly many sharecroppers could never seem to grow enough to get free of their debt to the merchant. Some would slip away at night with their families to start afresh in a neighboring county, but they would get the same "deal" wherever they went.


            An unhealthy cycle was established: because landlords' and merchants' livelihoods depended on sharecroppers growing a cash crop, when prices declined, the solution was to plant even more to make up the difference. The acreage devoted to cotton, the primary cash crop, skyrocketed after the Civil War from 7 1_2 million acres in 1866 to 25 million acres in 1900 to over 42 million acres in 1930, the peak year of acreage devoted to cotton.32 While more acreage and time and energy were devoted to cash crops, food production in the South plummeted and the region became a net importer of food. By the turn of the century, a large portion of the population of the rural South was terribly poor and even malnourished. Diseases such as pellagra (a nutritional deficiency), hookworm, and malaria were very common. The growing dependence on a single crop—cotton especially—kept the Southern economy from developing balance and more lucrative occupations. Malnourishment and grinding poverty were a terrible irony in a region of fertile land, bountiful water supplies, and moderate climate.33


            The number of farms in the South grew in the decades after the Civil War and would actually peak in the 1930s. More and more people started farming land that had been passed over earlier as unsuitable; today much of this poor land that people struggled to farm for so long is planted in pine, a crop that doesn't have to be coaxed to grow. The small farmer survived the Civil War and by 1900 there were between 750,000 and 1 million family farms in the South.34 In North Carolina and South Carolina, the number of farms in the 100- to 500-acre range more than tripled from 1860 to 1900.35 The food crop production of small farmers declined in parts of the South as they began to focus on the production of cash crops, but many small farmers and even some sharecroppers were able to continue the practices of pre-Civil War small farmers and live largely self-sufficient lives—they ate what they grew.36 Even today, as one drives down a rural road, it's not uncommon to see fairly sizeable gardens stretched out beside the farmhouses, so a limited degree of self-sufficiency persists even now. President Jimmy Carter recalls his family's farm outside Plains, Georgia (circa 1930s) grew a variety of crops—wheat, oats, and rye—for "food and feed," maintained a garden, and kept milk cows, chickens, and hogs. "Almost all our food was produced in our pasture, fields, garden, and yard," he writes.37 Self-sufficiency appeared to hang on longest in mountain areas. As late as the 1930s in some mountain counties in North Carolina and Virginia, over half of the farmers were described as self-sufficient by the U.S. Census.38


            Ultimately small farmers could not resist the lure of the market; the provisions now widely available in the country store often just a few miles away, the chance to make extra money or to buy that extra twenty acres a neighbor was offering for sale all drew farmers to cash crop agriculture. Farmers bought fertilizer, seed, and implements at the merchants; Jimmy Carter remembers that his family bought fish, canned goods, peanut butter, rice, and cheese from local merchants and that the white small farmer families in the Plains area mostly wore "store bought" clothing. A successful farmer might have a windmill like his father's—purchased from Sears Roebuck—to pump water and deliver it to "the kitchen and a bathroom with toilet."39 Merchants extended credit to small farmers and planters and took as collateral for these "loans" liens on the debtors' land to secure the debts. If a debt wasn't paid off, the merchant got the land. Indebtedness was another reason to focus on cash crops, and the "safety first" approach of the pre-war small farmer increasingly gave way to cash crop specialization. Even in the Piedmont, generally not the most suitable land for growing cotton, more and more farmers began growing the white lint. In Rowan County, North Carolina, for example, cotton production jumped from a few hundred bales before the war to over 7000 bales by 1900. By 1880, over half the farmers in the county were growing cotton, compared to less than 10% of the farmers before the war.40 Tobacco was another cash crop small farmers in South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Kentucky grew. Small farmers also grew corn, peanuts, wheat, and oats, and frequently would raise a herd of hogs and use part of their corn crop for feed. Jimmy Carter's father primarily grew peanuts (Jimmy would grow them too after completing his tour in the navy) and cotton for his cash crops.41      


            So small farmers were moving in the direction of becoming modern market-oriented farmers who grew a cash crop and little else. The final stage of this transition would have to wait for the advent of machinery, tractors especially. Beginning in the 1930s, tractors began making their appearance in the region on a significant scale, thanks in part to government programs that provided cash subsidies to farmers. The small Farmall was the tractor of choice for many small farmers, and worn out, rusting Farmalls, and a few working ones, can still be seen parked beside barns or sitting in sheds. Mules have now almost vanished. One vestige of the subsistence era would linger: farming folk were slow to accept the market ideal that their neighbors were their competitors, and the practice of neighbor helping neighbor with the work would persist well into the twentieth century. For example, group corn huskings—where neighbors would congregate at each other's farms to husk the harvested corn— were not unheard of as late as the 1930s, and even today rural people are probably more likely than others to help each other out when the weather or the economy turns ugly.


The Growth of Towns and Industry

            We saw earlier that the Nashville Agrarians, writing in the 1930s, warned of the impending destruction of the agrarian way of life by modern industry. The growth of industry in the South actually began on a significant scale fifty years before they wrote. After the Civil War, some Southerners such as Henry Grady, editor of the Atlanta Constitution, began urging the region to diversify its economy, quit its dependence on agriculture, and develop industry. Their arguments were purely practical: industry had helped the North win the Civil War, and industry was making the North rich. Grady and others argued that the reliance of the South on the outside world, particularly the North, left it dependent. One of Grady's most famous illustrations of this dependency took the form of a story about a funeral he attended:

It was a poor "one gallus" fellow, whose breeches struck him under the armpits and hit him at the other end about the knee—he didn't believe in decollete clothes. They buried him in the midst of a marble quarry: they cut through solid marble to make his grave; and yet a little tombstone they put above him was from Vermont. They buried him in the heart of a pine forest, and yet the pine coffin was imported from Cincinnati. They buried him within touch of an iron mine, and yet the nails in his coffin and the iron in the shovel that dug his grave were imported from Pittsburg. They buried him by the side of the best sheep-grazing country on the earth, and yet the wool in the coffin bands and the coffin bands themselves were brought from the North. The South didn't furnish a thing on earth for that funeral but the corpse and the hole in the ground. There they put him away and the clods rattled down on his coffin, and they buried him in a New York coat and a Boston pair of shoes and a pair of breeches from Chicago and a shirt from Cincinnati, leaving him nothing to carry into the next world with him to remind him of the country in which he lived, and for which he fought for four years, but the chill of blood in his veins and the marrow in his bones.42


            The limits of the cotton economy in the South and of agriculture in general were becoming painfully obvious as the nineteenth century waned. What we need, Grady and others said, is a "New South," a South of not only of agriculture but also industries and cities.43 Men like Grady were often very circumspect in their criticisms of the old regime and agrarianism, but reading between the lines of what they were writing and saying, one could see that they were also calling for a new Southern man who, unlike his agrarian predecessors, was hard driving, competitive, and eager to make a buck. The Old South man—a man who was oriented to the seasons, who spent his waking hours in a tight network of supportive kin folks, who was disdainful of money or at least cavalier about it, who viewed hard work as the province of the slave (this would have been more a planter value than a small farmer value), who was interested more in a pleasant lifestyle and leisure than in business success—this man was a dinosaur.


            Even before the growth of industry in the South, an important economic and social change was taking place, and this change would pave the way for industrial development. As we have seen, the expansion of cash crop farming after the Civil War had stimulated the growth of small towns across the South—towns like Macon, Georgia, Laurel, Mississippi, and Darlington, South Carolina—to service and supply the farmers. The number of rural stores skyrocketed to serve the sharecroppers and small farmers of each area, and these stores often became the nucleus of small crossroads settlements. The new and expanding towns became hotbeds of New South boosterism. In short, the merchants and lawyers and warehouse owners and even planters who lived in or near these towns became the sort of New South people that Grady dreamed of. They wanted to make their own towns bigger and better because that would mean their stores would sell more or they would have more clients and the land they owned would be worth more. They worked together to make their towns grow. The most important factor in assuring the continued growth of a town was luring the railroad to build a line (or a second line) to town. Meetings were held, speeches were given, tours for railroad executives were conducted, and money raised in town after town in a frenzied effort to win the favors of a railroad company. The advocates of development also worked to improve town services (roads, sewers, schools), they established banks and savings and loans and new town organizations such as the chamber of commerce. Much of this activity required political power, and so "progress" became (and still is) a key political issue in towns big and small.44 The Piedmont was the area of the South where notions of progress took the firmest root and for a simple reason. Given the limits of the anemic clay soil in the Piedmont, agriculture had less allure for men with money to invest than it did in the Mississippi Delta or the Low Country of South Carolina or the other plantation districts of the South. Too, where the plantation was weakest was also where planter power was less likely to be employed to block development that might attract workers from the countryside to the town or that might cause taxes to go up on land. Planters were famous for protecting their cheap supply of labor and opposing higher taxes.


            By the 1880s there was a critical mass of these "New South" men dedicated to making money, and these men were interested in making even more money. While stores had proven to be a good investment, the modern penchant for establishing chains of stores had not yet taken hold. So a successful merchant looking to invest his profit might expand his store, but rarely built other stores in neighboring towns. Here's where the Gradys of the South were important; their nonstop advocacy of industrial investment started to resonate with men with money in their pockets—the merchants, doctors, bankers, and warehousemen—who began to realize that they might be able to make even more money doing something new. The factory of choice in the South was the textile mill, and hundreds would be built in the South. But furniture factories were also established in western North Carolina, tobacco factories were established throughout the region but especially in Durham, North Carolina, Richmond, Virginia and Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and a steel industry arose in Birmingham, Alabama.


            Textiles mills were attractive for a number of reasons: for one, the cotton was already there, and many felt it made sense to make a product out of it. Further, it was a common perception that the production of yarn and cloth was relatively simple and did not require a highly skilled workforce, and textile mills had been built here and there in the South even before the war, so there was a degree of familiarity with mills in some areas. And the labor supply was there; hundreds of thousands of families were eking out a bare existence on the land, and it was becoming clearer and clearer to more and more people that life on the land led only to poverty and hopelessness. Also important were the Northern companies that increasingly sent representatives south with enticing "deals" on machinery. Mills were generally built by local people in the towns in which they lived and often, once the first one was built, a number of others followed. In Salisbury, North Carolina, for example, the first mill built after the war was started by three merchants, a banker, and a minister. By 1900, four additional mills had been constructed. The workforce in the mills of Salisbury was overwhelmingly white. In fact, the first mill was promoted in Salisbury not only as a moneymaking venture, but also as the salvation for rural poverty-stricken whites.45 Textile mills across the South fit the racial pattern found in Salisbury and would not hire significant numbers of African-Americans until the late 1960s and early 1970s.


            By the early decades of the twentieth century, the South was the number one textile region in the world, and hundreds of thousands would be employed in its mills. While a number of mills would remain locally owned enterprises, some mill men, such as the Cone brothers of Greensboro and James Cannon of Concord, North Carolina, built mill "empires," each with a multitude of mills that were spread across the region. The industrial heartland of the South circa 1900 was concentrated in the hilly Piedmont beginning in Richmond and stretching southward to Birmingham. Unlike the North, where industrialization spawned the growth of large towns and great cities, industrialization in the South was primarily a small town affair. Greensboro, North Carolina, one of the more prominent industrial towns, grew from 500 or so souls in 1870 to around 10,000 in 1900, but would not reach 100,000 until the mid-century mark. Even Atlanta, the most prominent city of the "New South," would only attain major city status in the last three decades of the twentieth century. Most of the mills were built in or near towns much smaller than Greensboro or Atlanta, towns of a few thousand (or less) like Clinton, South Carolina, or Henderson, North Carolina.


            If the Old South was rural, this growing New South was rural and small town. To an extent, town and country were more a continuum than two separate entities because the interplay between town and country was very strong, and towns had much about them that could be described as agrarian. Many of the residents of the growing towns were recent migrants from the countryside; over the course of the 1880s, 1890s, and early years of the 1900s, hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children migrated to these towns and mill villages to work in the mills.46 The ranks of merchants, clerks, lawyers, bankers, and mill superintendents was also fed by rural immigration. Georgia resident L. R. Allen grew up on the farm owned by his parents in the early 1900s. He told his interviewer in 1940:

All during my boyhood my ambition was to get grown and go to a city and become a merchant. Fame and fortune kept constantly calling me to the bright city lights. When I was 21 years old I launched out for Augusta and got me a job as clerk with a retail grocery store at a salary of $10 a month.

Wanting to be near me, my father and mother moved to Augusta and opened up a boarding house. Thus I was able to continue to live with them.47


            It was not unusual for town people to own a farm or least a bit of property in the countryside, nor was it unusual for farmers or planters, at least the more successful ones, to have business interests in town. A planter might sit on the board of the local bank or might be a co-owner of a local store. Merchants often acquired farms when people failed to pay off their loans. The many towns across the South without industry really existed primarily to service agriculture; in these towns farmers' concerns were the concerns of the merchants, bankers, and professionals who served them. Farmers' wagons clogged the streets of these towns on market day. When farmers had good years, the towns prospered; when farmers had bad years, the towns went into a depression. Even in towns with a mill, or two or three, farmers' business was important, and farmers' concerns were taken seriously. Small town life was slow-paced, and restaurants, tall buildings, museums, libraries, and parks were scarce. Vegetable gardens were common in town people's yards, most of the streets were typically packed dirt, and no place in a small town was more than a mile or two from a working farm.


            In towns with mills, people lived in two distinct parts of town. Town people lived "in town" while people who worked in the mills typically lived in villages (sometimes called mill towns or mill hills if on a hill) built on the outskirts of a town and outside the town limits. Sometimes, as in the case of Kannapolis, North Carolina, a complete town—streets, stores, houses, town hall—was built. These mill villages or towns were owned and operated by the factory owners and typically featured simple houses for the workers, more elaborate houses for supervisors, a commissary where workers could buy provisions, and one or more churches. They were self-sufficient worlds, although mill workers would go "to town" to shop for special items or perhaps attend the "picture show." Mill children might attend school in town, too. As we'll see in the next chapter, the division between town and the mill village people was quite distinct, and mill village residents sometimes felt the sting of prejudice when they went to town.


            While mill workers in the early decades (1880s–1920s) came for the most part from the countryside, as time went on, a good number of new hires were people who came from nearby towns looking for a better wage, or, increasingly, they were the children of mill workers. Some, unable to accustom themselves to life in the mill, would return to the farm; many others stayed but never fully adapted and longed to return to the countryside. Wesley Renn was one such man. Renn worked in a mill in Durham, North Carolina, and lived in a mill village. He was interviewed in the late 1930s, and the interviewer said of him:

Wesley Renn lives in the mill village in one of the better houses which has a comfortable stretch of lawn shaded by two or three trees. He likes to sit in his swing on the porch in the springtime and watch day by day as the tree buds grow into leaves and the grass shoots up into a newer, pleasanter green. His first twenty-one years were spent in the country and the sight of growing things still awakens in him an urge to live again on the farm. He says that he will probably die in a mill village but at heart he'll always be a farmer.48

Renn moved from mill to mill seeking better pay; at one point he went to barber school to learn a new trade. During World War I, he returned to the country and farmed on shares for a while and did well, but declining prices forced him back to the mill.


            For rural people such as Wesley Renn, factory work involved discomfiting adaptations: mill work was tiring, sometimes dangerous work, and the workday was 12 hours. The pace of work was dictated by the machines, and the work was monotonously the same day in and day out. Seasons, the weather, and even day and evening meant nothing; the clock dictated everything. Bosses supervised workers closely, and as the industry matured more sophisticated methods of monitoring workers—time-and-motion studies and mechanical devices that recorded the output of machine operators—were implemented. Life on the land had been different: even sharecroppers, comparatively speaking, had little daily supervision, and small farmers were their own bosses. People from rural areas such as Wesley Renn had to learn the "habits of industry" that would fit them to work in an industrial setting.49


            However, along with the new, remnants of the old persisted; in the early decades (late 1800s and early 1900s), entire families including young children worked in mills just like on the farm. It was not uncommon for workers to return to farming at least temporarily. Too, mill families often had a "family farm" somewhere in their extended family so the connection to the countryside was never entirely severed. Mill villages had a rural "air" about them, perhaps even more so than the small towns that they were frequently built near. People often had gardens and chickens, and sometimes even hogs.50 At Royal Cotton mill village in Wake Forest, North Carolina, a Works Progress Administration interviewer talked to a resident tending his hogs one September day in 1938:

"Pretty hogs you have there," the woman said.

"Ain't they fine," John said and looked up at the woman.

"Does this land belong to the mill company?" the woman asked.

"Yessum, and this road leads up to the houses. It used to be called Hogpen Lane because then all hogpens had to be built down here. That rule ain't followed now and you'll find plenty up there amongst the houses. I like to have my hogs down here though. They's more space and it's easier to keep clean. Thata way it don't make much of a stink." The woman looked up the avenue of old Spanish oaks green yet with the full ripeness of late summer. There were weeds all along, ragged and disorderly, and there were dilapidated hogpens up as far as the tenth big tree.51

Mill workers retained that part of the older agrarian value system that stressed cooperation over the materialism and competitive individualism that were becoming important town values. People helped each other out in times of need, and the village community functioned "like a family" in ways reminiscent of rural communities.52


            Was a new urban, industrial culture replacing agrarian culture? The answer is yes, but slowly and fitfully. As we have seen, much about the culture of these towns remained close to the agrarian roots of many of the towns' residents, and the prosperity of many towns rested on the health of the farming economy. Even in areas with industry, large numbers of people—farmers, tenants, and landlords—continued to till the land. For example, in Vance County, North Carolina, home of several sizable textile mills, farm employment exceeded employment in manufacturing until well into the 1950s. Outside the Piedmont—in the Alabama Black Belt or the Mississippi Delta or the eastern part of North Carolina—agrarianism held undisputed sway. Too, the urban industrial economy was not particularly dynamic. By the 1940s the region's industries were still primarily the ones begun in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and towns were often one-industry towns that grew slowly.


            But trends did not auger well for the persistence of the agrarian lifestyle. By the eve of World War II, small towns and cities blanketed much of the South and, particularly in the Piedmont, a growing proportion—although not yet a majority—of the population lived in towns and worked in stores, factories, banks, offices, and small shops. More and more of the children of these folks were born and raised in town and would work in town when they grew up. The locus of economic and political power had, by then, long since shifted from the countryside to the towns and cities, and that was where most of the more affluent people, even many of the larger landowners, resided. Rural areas were, by comparison, poorer and more isolated. Farming people realized their culture was in decline, and this realization fed a persistent discontent in rural areas and a resentment of city and town that was an important factor in Southern politics from the late 19th century well into the 20th and even today to a limited degree.53


The Decline of Agrarianism during the Modern Era

            Following World War II, massive changes swept the South. Farming as an occupation had reached its numerical peak in 1930; after that, a precipitous decline began during the Great Depression that continued unabated until the turn of the new century. For example, in Darlington County, South Carolina, one of the preeminent farming districts in that state, the number of farms declined from over 3,000 farms in the 1930s to almost 1,800 in the early 1960s to less than 350 farms by the late 1990s.54 Today, only a tiny number of Southerners farm for a living. Even people who live in the country are unlikely to be farming; by 2000, only 5% of earnings in rural areas came directly from agriculture.55 Farming is still very important in the region, but today it is heavily mechanized and capitalized and increasingly the domain of agribusiness. Farmers specialize in at most a few crops such as cotton, tobacco, soybeans, and peanuts, or they raise poultry or hogs in large volume operations. The old subsistence lifestyle has become a thing of the past. Most modern farmers purchase what they eat and wear and use in the store just like the rest of us. The rural lifestyle has also become less common; today the percentage of Southerners living in metropolitan areas—nearly 75%—is near the national average.56 The transformation of the agrarian lifestyle and economy that began in the decades after the Civil War seems to have been completed in the waning decades of the twentieth century. How and why did all of this happen?


            The Great Depression of the 1930s devastated the agricultural regions of the country including the South, and many people lost their land and their homes. Government programs, which were part of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, were established to help struggling farmers, but the rules and policies of the United States Department of Agriculture were designed to create "a rural America of businesslike, mechanized, and efficient farms," and government largess went primarily to the landowners, not the tenants.57 Farmers were paid to cut back on the acreage they planted, and floor prices were established for many commodities, such as cotton, tobacco, and wheat, that guaranteed farmers at least a minimum price for their harvested crop. Many farmers used this government money to invest in machinery—tractors, harvesters and the like. With land kept fallow, many Southern farmers sent some of their sharecroppers packing, and the new tractors enabled them to make do with even fewer "croppers" and laborers. Eventually, cotton picking machines were developed, and these came into widespread use by the 1960s. An early prototype, put to work on the Hopson plantation outside Clarksdale, Mississippi, in the mid-1940s, could do the work of fifty pickers. New herbicides cut down on the amount of hoeing needed to keep a field free of weeds, and better fertilizers and strains of seeds greatly increased yields, allowing farmers to get more and more production out of the land.58 By the late 1960s, sharecropping had virtually disappeared. More and more of the labor needs of farmers could be met by migrant workers who came through at harvest time and then left. 


            If the tenant farm died during this era, the small family farm fared little better. Those who remained in farming had to be highly capitalized to afford the increasingly expensive machinery, and that meant they had to be big farmers; small farmers simply couldn't make it. Tractors now often cost more than $100,000, and a successful family farm today might have well over a million dollars of equipment parked in its sheds and barns. Corporate farms are capitalized at an even higher level and have staffs of professionals to manage the different aspects of the enterprise from the actual planting and harvesting to the marketing of the crop. Wendell Murphy and Frank Perdue and others have mechanized pork and poultry production and have transformed the raising of farm animals for meat into an industrial enterprise. Science and technology rather than tradition guide the modern farmer.


            The transformation of agriculture pushed literally millions of people off the land and would reach its peak in the 1950s and 1960s. Migrants streamed into the cities and towns of the South or headed for the cities of the North, West, and Midwest. African Americans were a large part of this migration, particularly the part of it heading north and west.59 The impact of this "depopulation" of the rural South was devastating, and one can still see the impact of this out migration on the landscape and the built environment of rural areas. Drive east along Highway 158 in North Carolina from Henderson, to Roanoke Rapids through one of the major farming regions in the state. In the countryside, you see productive, well-tended farms, but you also see many abandoned farmhouses, sometimes fronted by rusted mobile homes perched precariously on cinder blocks, collapsing barns and boarded up country stores, and fields that are weed choked, disused. Substantial tracts of farmland are now planted in pine, a new cash crop to be sure, but one offering limited employment opportunities and one that, once harvested by clear cutting, adds to the ruined appearance of the countryside. Once thriving small towns that served area farmers are now more often filled with shuttered, unpainted empty shops, small video rental stores, "antique" shops selling used furniture, and the ubiquitous franchise fast food restaurants.


            The changes in farming and out migration are not the only reasons for the decline of rural economic life. Ironically, other developments most universally acclaimed as good and beneficial—better roads, the expansion of automobile ownership, the growth of national chain stores and franchise operations—have also dealt a serious blow to the economic viability of the small towns that served rural residents. In a good car on good roads, a drive of 20 or more miles to shop for food, cleaning supplies, and so forth is now no big deal. So the Eastern North Carolina town of Warsaw, with a population of around 3,000, saw its stores and shops dwindle as local residents increasingly drove to the nearby towns of Clinton, which had a small shopping mall anchored by a Belk's department store, or, thirty-five minutes away, Goldsboro, with an even larger enclosed shopping mall with several department stores. Who can resist lower prices, better selections, and the "pizzazz" of an enhanced shopping experience? Walmart has a special reputation with small town merchants for destroying a variety of stores when it moves into a new area. Meanwhile, metropolitan regions—the obvious big ones like Atlanta, but also countless smaller ones like Goldsboro and Florence, South Carolina, and Victoria, Texas—grew and flourished.60


            The massive migration out of the region by African Americans had a profound effect on them and on the region they left behind. Near the turn of the twentieth century, African Americans were overwhelmingly residents of the South. Over the next six decades, they moved out of the region in such numbers that by the 1970s they were evenly split between the South and the rest of the nation. In 1910 they were overwhelmingly rural, farming people; by the 1970s, over 80% of the African American population lived in urban areas, and black farmers were as rare as hen's teeth. By a cruel twist of fate, Southern African Americans escaped the poverty of the rural South only to settle in an urban America that had begun a downward spiral, losing jobs, middle class taxpayers, and resources to the burgeoning and largely white suburbs.61 Joblessness, high incarceration rates for young black males, and high rates of single parent families were the result. Given the huge out migration of blacks, it is not surprising that the South became whiter. The rural Pee Dee region of South Carolina, for example, was almost evenly divided between whites and blacks in 1950 (53% to 47% respectively); by 1970 the ratio was almost 61% white to 39% black. In the 1950s nearly two times as many blacks as whites left the Pee Dee region; in the 1960s, 380 whites left versus roughly 13,000 blacks.62


            While employment in agriculture steadily declined, employment in city jobs in the South—"public work," rural people called it—skyrocketed. Industry had experienced moderate growth throughout the early decades of the twentieth century, but after World War II, the growth rate took off. Much of the growth was fueled by Northeastern and Midwestern industries either relocating to the South or building expansion facilities in the region. A trickle of firms relocating to the South in the 1950s turned into a flood of firms by the 1970s. In the 1960s, for example, the small town of Darlington, South Carolina, attracted an electronics manufacturing plant (part of a large multinational corporation) and a gear company from the Chicago area that moved its plant lock stock and barrel to the outskirts of town. Oxford, North Carolina, attracted a dinnerware factory and a cosmetic factory in the 1970s. By the 1970s the region was experiencing a boom—it was now often called "the Sunbelt"—while the North and Midwest—now called "the Rustbelt"—went into an extended economic slump. Per capita income rose in the South an average of 3.7% a year between 1950 and 1980. The national average was 2.6.63 The region's growth in per capita income only slightly exceeded the national average in the 1980s and 1990s, and by 2002 the region's per capita income level still trailed the nation average (it was 90% of the national figure). 64 Still, in a region that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had referred to in 1938 as "the Nation's No. 1 economic problem," the growth was nothing less than amazing.65 The region's economy had evolved from a dependence on "agriculture and low-skilled manufacturing to a twenty-first century mix of services, and more people were employed in managerial occupations than in blue collar jobs." Between 1990 and 2002, jobs in managerial, financial and professional occupations grew the most in the region.66


            This growth was not solely the result of the mysterious workings of the market: state governments in the South actively courted Northern industry, extolling the virtues of the region's climate, its large supply of labor, its "competitive" (read low) wage rates, and its "favorable" labor climate, a euphemism that meant that unions were actively discouraged in the South. Industrial recruiters working for towns, counties, and states ranged far and wide searching for companies interested in building plants in the South. Inducements were offered—incentives, they were called—that ranged from road improvements to specialized job training for the company's new employees to reduced taxes.67 These incentives could be quite substantial; for example, in 1998, an incentives package said to be worth up to $142.3 million was offered by the state of North Carolina to Federal Express (FedEx) to build its mid-Atlantic hub airport terminal in the state, and another package worth over $100 million was offered to Nucor to build a new steel plant.68 (Nucor built its plant; although FedEx accepted the state's offer, as of 2003 it has yet to build the hub.) Southern states, particularly the Carolinas, built dozens and dozens of new community and technical colleges ostensibly to train people to work in the new factories. The recruiting campaign, fueled by the incentives program, has been termed "the great buffalo hunt," and its fruits—hundreds and hundreds of new factories and branch offices—would have made Henry Grady's heart proud.


            Some homegrown industries and businesses grew by leaps and bounds, and new ones developed and flourished. In Texas and Louisiana, major oil discoveries led to the development of a petrochemical industry, and in the Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, Atlanta, and Austin, Texas, cutting-edge research industries developed in the 1970s and 1980s with the support of government and area institutions of higher education. A thriving banking industry blossomed in the "Queen City," Charlotte, North Carolina. One of the largest banks in the world today, Bank of America, is headquartered in Charlotte and is the result of a merger between Charlotte-based Nations Bank and California-based BankAmerica. Atlanta's greatness is partly built on the success of its most famous corporate citizen, Coke, and discount king Sam Walton and eccentric millionaire H. Ross Perot, both of whom began their empires in the South. The region has become one of the leading vacation destinations in the country, and now promoters boast of the massive tourism industry. Resort areas such as Hilton Head, Disney World, Branson, Missouri, and Myrtle Beach are known throughout the nation and, indeed, the world. This industry employs hundreds of thousands in a wide range of occupations including impersonating Mickey Mouse (at Disney World), travel agent, restaurateur, and hotel maid. 


            The federal government itself was the source of a substantial number of the new jobs and a significant source of funding for state and local government and private business. During World War II, the federal government had established a number of military bases in the South that provided work not only to armed services personnel, but also to thousands of civilians. The Cold War kept these bases humming with activity. An expanding federal government showered government funds on the South for welfare programs, anti-poverty programs, aid to education, grants for sewer construction, expenditures for military contracts and dozens of other worthy causes. The South received a net inflow of federal tax monies—more money coming in for services than went out of the region in federal taxes—that buoyed the economy. In 1952, for example, the Southeast received 50% more in federal tax dollars for services than its residents and businesses paid in federal taxes.69 A massive aid program for the South was thus being funded by the rest of the country, although the size of the net inflow would decrease as the South's fortunes rose and the level of opposition in the Northeast and Midwest to this Southern "welfare program" increased. However, even today, the South enjoys an advantage over the other regions in the amount of federal funds coming to the region compared to what goes out in federal taxes.70 State and local governments began providing countless services, many required by federal legislation or partially funded by federal revenues. These services—welfare, industrial recruiting, parks, mental health centers, a more extensive educational system with expanding universities, new community colleges, and growing public schools—required scores of new, and generally higher paid, employees.


            While this booming economy fostered some great cities—Atlanta, Houston, and Dallas—and a number of smaller metropolises like Raleigh, Columbia, and Richmond, the big story was and is the growth of the suburbs. In many respects, even the larger cities like Atlanta are little more than vast expanses of suburban developments surrounding the old city and connected to it by a ring of traffic-choked highways. These suburban enclaves, places like Cary, North Carolina, Forsyth County, Georgia, and Plano, Texas, are home to predominantly middle-class white people. In effect, the South went from rural to suburban and leapfrogged urban. These suburban developments are carbon copies of similar developments across the country. Suburbanites, whether in Raleigh or New Rochelle, New York, reside in colonial style homes or stucco clad French inspired "manors" situated on cul de sacs and connected to shopping areas, schools, and places of work by an ever expanding highway system.


            Many of these suburban dwellers are not from the South. In the 1960s in a small way and in the 1970s in a big way, a massive migration to the South had begun. This was the first significant migration into the region since the 1700s. By the 1990s, in some booming counties like Wake County, North Carolina (home of Raleigh), a majority of the residents were out-of-staters, many of them the once-dreaded Yankees. These Yankee imports played a role (how large a role is hard to say) in promoting suburban development. Certainly many came from suburban places, they liked living in the suburbs, and they communicated these preferences to homebuilders. They liked cul de sacs, and enclosed garages, and restrictions designed to protect property values. But many native-born Southerners have also discovered the joys of "bonus" rooms and chemically maintained lawns. One sees evidence surfacing, on occasion, of a conflict between suburban values and rural values. Development dwellers don't like people hunting in the woods behind their yards and don't understand the argument from rural hunters that "we've always hunted here and if you don't like it, go back where you came from." They tend to be more supportive of restrictions on individual sovereignty when it comes to property. So in a suburban development, repairing a car propped on cinder blocks—the stereotypical image associated with less affluent rural residents—is simply not done. Of an even more intrusive nature, a suburbanite often must get permission to make changes to the exterior of his home; he may not be permitted to park his car on the street in front of his home, and when he takes the pooch out for a walk—on a leash, of course—he must remove the dog's business from the ground with a plastic baggy. The thought of carrying around a bag of dog excrement would have struck the old-time agrarian as absolutely hilarious.


            For suburban dwellers, place has little meaning. They are often temporary residents, and one of the more popular topics of conversation in the suburbs is the "resale value" of homes. The primary reason that suburbanites put down shallow roots is that the modern job market for professionals encourages rootlessness. A family may move to another state if the company is downsized, the primary breadwinner loses his job, and the best new job opportunity is elsewhere. A promotion likewise may result in moving to another town, state, or even country. Retirement also often occasions a move—to a retirement community in a resort, preferably near water or a golf course or both. Suburbanites establish their place in society primarily through what and how much they have—houses, cars, clothing, jewelry, barbecue grills, club memberships—and structure their private lives around particular forms of consumption—golf, dance and soccer for the kids, shopping, trips—and the traditional mediums of establishing one's place in society such as family connections and involvement in community institutions are less important. Neighbors often are less important, too; one may associate with folks at the club, but keep neighbors at arm's length. Attachment to place is weakened even more because for many suburbanites, there is no here, here. Suburbs are built outside of cities and large towns. Developments are separated from the street by fences or dirt berms topped by bushes. They are surrounded by strip malls that provide the shopping once provided by towns with actual identifiable features and centers. Suburbanites frequently go far afield to reprovision themselves, so where they shop and play is more a matter of convenience and time than the "this is where I'm from and this defines me" localism common in the agrarian past.


            Despite the massive changes that have cleared most of the people out of farming and many out of the countryside, a significant number of people still live "in the country." Indeed, the South has a large share of what is left of the U.S. rural population; 44% of the nation's non-metropolitan population lives in the region.71 Some of these rural dwellers live in comfortable suburban style houses and commute to work in nearby towns and cities. Here and there one can find a sort of hybrid—a suburban development not on the outskirts of a city or town but plopped down in the middle of the country. Where the soil is rich and the land is flat, agriculture is still preeminent, and there are expanses of well-tended fields planted in soybeans, corn, tobacco, and cotton, quiet rural roads where people drive 20 miles an hour and wave at every car they pass, forests, clean air, and old men gossiping at the surviving country stores scattered here and there. Here it's not unusual to find people who have lived in the same house or at least on the same road all their lives, and who count parents, uncles, aunts, and siblings among their neighbors. Here, place still matters and is part of who you are, and outsiders will always be outsiders. A "newcomer" who had lived most of his adult life in one such town in a rural area, was still asked if he was "going home for Christmas" to a place he had not lived in over forty years.


            The rural South can provoke nostalgic feelings in both Southerners and non-Southerners; an acquaintance of one of the authors used to refer to largely rural eastern North Carolina as "God's country." But, as noted earlier, for many of the inhabitants, it's anything but "God's country," and this is true of much of the rest of the rural South. The four poorest regions in the South—the Appalachian Mountains; the delta counties in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas; the old plantation districts of Southside Virginia, Eastern North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and portions of Eastern Mississippi; and the Rio Grande Valley—are all predominantly rural, have high unemployment rates, and are some distance from a metropolitan region. While each of these areas has some economic bright spots—coastal areas that are now thriving tourist destinations and mountain ski resorts, for example—in general, their continuing economic woes have led many to speak of two Souths—a thriving metropolitan South and this "left behind" rural South, the "other South."72 Because of the high unemployment rates, people of working age leave in large numbers. As one report noted: "Many communities count high school graduates as their biggest export." The population of these areas is thus heavily skewed toward the very young and the very old and is further skewed between a small number of comfortable if not affluent people and a large number of very poor people. Many young people, particularly poor African American young people, growing up in these areas aren't adequately prepared for a productive adulthood in the modern world. They drop out of high school at alarming rates, the girls have children in their teens, and some of the problems associated with poor inner cities—gangs, violence, and the drug trade—are now found in these rural areas. Many of the young people are only qualified to do low-skilled work, but there is little steady farm work and what industry has been in these areas is in decline. For example, employment in apparel manufacturing (cut and sew factories), a major employer in rural areas of the South, declined by nearly 200,000 jobs between 1986 and 2000. Whites still tend to own what's worth owning—farms, stores, small businesses—and hold most of the decent paying private sector jobs. So another "shadow" of the agrarian past—of the slavery and segregation eras—is still lingering.73


            The decline of industry in the "other South" has accelerated in the new millennium; in the phenomena known as globalization, cheap imports from Mexico, China, and other third world countries are leveling what's left of the textile industry. In Cameron County in south Texas, the list of plant closings sounds like a Who's Who of the American textile industry—Fruit of the Loom, Levi, Wrangler, Vanity Fair, Hagger—and nothing has replaced the closed factories. Unemployment in the county hovers at 12%; 40% of those working are underemployed, many of them engaged in the only form of employment that is growing by leaps and bounds—temporary work.74


            So with only a tiny fraction of the population farming and many rural areas in a state of decline if not despair, is the agrarian tradition dying in the South? In some places, if it is dying, it is dying a very slow death. Paradoxically, the poverty and isolation of the "other South" has to some degree maintained it as a rural time capsule. Farming is still important here and even if most people no longer farm, many older people once farmed, so a connection to farming, if only in memory, is still quite common. Here you are most likely to find the old style dialects and attitudes about work and life. Here old ways are still respected, and people who have lived on the same road their parents and even grandparents lived on are common. Here attachment to place is still strong and the suspicion of outsiders equally strong. For many, the past isn't even past. In Warsaw, North Carolina, people giving directions for a back road route to Goldsboro commonly included the instruction to "turn left at Mattie Grady's store." This store had been closed for years and while the building was still standing, it took a close inspection of it to make out the faint outline of Mattie Grady's name. To someone born and raised in Warsaw, it would always be Mattie Grady's store, even when the store fell down. But for rural areas like Warsaw, the growing number of people who have never farmed, the big city drug problem, the fleeing young people, and the ubiquitous television culture do not bode well for this time capsule to forever protect its cargo from decay.


            What is of more interest and cultural relevance is not where in the South one can still find someone plowing with a mule or sitting around a stove in a country store, but rather, how the agrarian tradition persists with folk who live in the suburbs, commute to their jobs, and work all day in front of a computer terminal. Culture by its nature evolves or dies, and the agrarian culture of the South seems to be both adaptive and persistent. The rural, mostly poor people who migrated to the towns and cities of the South and the North in the 1930s and 40s and 50s did not leave their culture at home; they brought it with them. As historian Pete Daniels notes, "The collision between rural and urban cultures generated creative tidal waves."75 These waves rolled over the growing modern South of city and suburb and across the rest of the nation. New music, new attitudes about race and class, new recreations and even new modes of speaking and dress have resulted. For example, the polished and stylized rhythm and blues music of the 1960s produced by Detroit's Motown record company and performed today by such entertainers as Whitney Houston had its roots in rural Southern churches and jook joints. The modern country music industry may have gone Hollywood and "pop," but the roots of the music are in the hills and hollows of the Appalachian Mountains. The sport started by rural Southern moonshiners and small town mechanics—stock car racing—now is the banner carrier for corporate America, and the uniforms of racers and their cars are covered with corporate emblems and logos.


            Many Americans have some familiarity with Southern cooking via "the Colonel's" chain of fried chicken restaurants (KFC) and Cracker Barrel, a national restaurant chain headquartered in Tennessee that serves country-style food in facilities designed to look like someone's idea of an old country store. In the past this cuisine kept hard-working farming people going; it is high in calories and fat—even vegetables are heavily seasoned with pork fat—and the liberal use of sweeteners (sugar and molasses, especially) on or in staples and treats like "sweet tea" (sweetened iced tea), pies (pecan is a regional favorite), cakes, and biscuits. For many Southerners, the home-cooked version (and the restaurant version) of "country cooking" is still a regular part of their diets. However tasty Southern cuisine is, we know today this diet is not particularly healthy, and we know it is not a good diet for people who are sedentary as most Southerners now are. As a result, many Southerners are now, well, fat and are prone to suffer from diseases related to being overweight and eating the wrong foods. Seven of the ten states leading the nation in the percentage of citizens who are overweight are Southern; eight Southern states are among the top ten states in the number of per capita heart disease related deaths.76


            Also persisting are rural pastimes—hunting, fishing, and gardening—although Southerners aren't hunting or fishing at a rate significantly higher than the rate in other regions of the country (this is probably true of gardening, too).77 The pickup truck—originally designed for use on the farm—is the vehicle of choice for many in the South, although its popularity has grown elsewhere in the country, too, and the SUV, the suburbanites' vehicle of choice, seems to be as popular in the South as elsewhere. The music of choice for much of the white population in the South is country music, and this music still celebrates the virtues of rural people and rural living even if some of the performers are no longer from the South (one popular female performer is from Canada) or grew up or lived in the country. More affluent Southerners sometimes live in suburban subdivisions with grand Old South names like Wakefield Plantation. Wakefield is a real estate development in Raleigh, North Carolina, with a golf course and a clubhouse with huge pillars and an expansive veranda that resembles a gigantic version of the traditional Southern plantation mansion. Wealthy Southerners, like the Charlie Croaker character in the Tom Wolfe novel, A Man in Full, will sometimes buy rural retreats.78 Croaker is a late twentieth century Atlanta real estate developer who is making a lot of money converting a once-rural region into a traffic snarled web of highways, malls, office centers, and suburbs. But Croaker repairs for relaxation and revitalization to a plantation in rural Georgia—Turp'mtine—where he takes visitors on hunts in mule drawn wagons driven by African American men and amazes his urban visitors with a cage full of rattlesnakes and a peek at his horses breeding.


            Some of these examples of agrarian persistence—Turp'mtine, Wakefield, driving a pickup—sound like mere nostalgia on a par with the restaurants crammed with old lanterns and Lucky Strike signs that seem to be so popular. Are deeper values persisting despite the changes in what people do for a living and where they live? Are the agrarian traits of independence and self-sufficiency extolled by Jefferson still imbedded in the characters of Southerners? The South has long been considered a conservative region, and people who call themselves conservatives certainly make much of the values of independence and individualism.79 Indeed, the white South today is becoming more and more Republican—the party of conservatism—in its politics, and it is white Southerners who seem to be the most conservative members of the Republican Party. Conservative politics often goes hand in hand with conservative religion, which is also a powerful presence in the region. What seems to animate these folks the most is their hatred of government programs and government regulations and the taxes that pay for them. Southern conservatives, particularly those active in churches and religious groups, often see contemporary American society as morally decadent and out of control. In talking to folks who call themselves conservatives, one hears again and again references to a time when doors could be left unlocked, when children could roam unsupervised on a summer evening without fear, when a sort of order prevailed that is contrasted with the lack of order and control today. Lurking in the minds of many white Southern conservatives is the idea that things began to go really wrong when segregation died. Many conservatives wish to restore what they believe was the moral system of the past, which was in the South an agrarian past. People should be responsible for themselves and should not be dependent on government handouts. The old family and community values of the countryside and the small town—people married for life, abortion was illegal, men's leadership was unchallenged, and schools reflected community values, not the values of outsiders or "experts"—are idealized by these folks.


            This conservatism reflects the persistence of values formed in the agrarian past, but it also reflects the collective uneasiness of a people who once farmed and lived in small communities filled with people they knew and who have not yet adjusted to the roar and confusion and pace of the modern economy and modern culture. In short, it's a defensive reaction to change that elevates some agrarian values, but it's important to note that it ignores or discards others. Interestingly, many of the ideas that inform this reaction, both in politics and religion, seem to be shaped by a well-funded national conservative movement employing modern technology. If anything, economic and social change seem to be escalating, and with this escalation comes more uneasiness. On the heels of the South's rapid industrialization has come a new round of economic change—globalization—that is affecting not just the "other South" but also the prosperous South. The region lost nearly half a million manufacturing jobs between 1998 and 2001 and job losses have continued. The textile industry has lost the most, but many of the "newer" industries that were established in the region in the 1960s, '70s, and '80s have also suffered. People who worked in factories for years, many of them the children of sharecroppers and farmers, now are trooping back to schools and training centers to learn new skills for what they hope are new jobs. Unfortunately, some observers believe the lost manufacturing jobs are being replaced by even lower paying jobs in retail and the service sector.80 The Southern Agrarians, were they all still alive, would nod glumly and say, "What did you expect"? They saw a restoration of true agrarianism as the answer to the economic dislocations and alienation of modern life. Wendell Berry, a native born Kentuckian who splits his time between writing and working a small subsistence farm in Henry County, Kentucky, has noted:

With the urbanization of the country so nearly complete, it may seem futile to the point of madness to pursue an ethic and way of life based upon devotion to a place and devotion to the land. And yet I do pursue such an ethic and such way of life, for I believe they hold the only possibility, not just for a decent life, but for survival."81


            It's hard to find many people, including self-professed conservatives, interested in a return to a life of manual labor on the land. Despite their uneasiness, most would probably agree with the older woman who had sharecropped most of her life and said in an interview in the early 1980s:

We had a lot of work to do and the children got a thrill out of it. They had so many things that children don't know and don't see today, that we had back then. Still, it's wonderful to know that the times have changed.82




1. Edmund Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom(New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1975), 44–99. Morgan's brilliant analysis of the evolution of the plantation and slavery in early Virginia is the primary source for this section of the text.

2. Ibid., 100–101.

3. Ibid., 235–249.

4. Ibid., 250–270.

5. Ibid., 344.

6. Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia in Adrienne Koch and William Peden, eds., The Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson (New York, 1972), 280.

7. Ibid.

8. Ben Robertson, Red Hills and Cotton: An Upcountry Memoir (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1973), 8–9.

9. Ibid., 5, 20.

10. Ibid., 6.

11. Andrew Lytle, The Hind Tit, in Twelve Southerners, I'll Take My Stand (Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press, 1977; first published, 1930), 201–245.

12. See for example, Wendell Berry, "The Regional Motive," in William L. Andrews et al, eds., The Literature of the American South: A Norton Anthology (New York and London: W.W. Norton, 1998), 934–937.

13. James Everett Kibler, Our Fathers' Fields: A Southern Story (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1998), 396.

14. Ulrich B. Phillips, Life and Labor in the Old South (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown and Co., 1963; reprint of 1929 edition), 140–159.

15. Peter A. Coclanis, The Shadow of a Dream: Economic Life and Death in the South Carolina Low Country, 1670–1920(New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), 131–137.

16. James Battle Avirett, The Old Plantation: How We Lived in Great House and Cabin Before the War (1901; Chapel Hill: Documenting the American South, 1998), 29–32,

17. Gavin Wright, The Political Economy of the Cotton South: Households, Markets, and Wealth in the Nineteenth Century (New York and London: W.W. Norton & Co., 1978), 55–62. See also Ulrich B. Phillips, Life and Labor in the Old South (1929; Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown and Co., 1963), 218–304.

18. Wright, The Political Economy of the Cotton South, p. 27.

19. James C. Cobb, The Most Southern Place on Earth: The Mississippi Delta and the Roots of Regional Identity (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 10.

20. Ibid., 14.

21. Theodore Rosengarten, Tombee: Portrait of a Cotton Planter with The Plantation Journal of Thomas B. Chaplin(1822–1890) (New York: William Morrow, 1986), 68–91.

22. Avirett, The Old Plantation: How We Lived in Great House and Cabin Before the War, 23.

23. John Pendleton Kennedy, excerpt from Swallow Barn; or A Sojourn in the Old Dominion (originally published in 1832) in William L. Andrews, general editor, The Literature of the American South (New York and London: W.W. Norton & Co., 1998), 60.

Figure 1.1  Tenant houses in the Mississippi Delta

24. Frank Lawrence Owsley, Plain Folk of the Old South (1949; Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press, 1982),156, 166, 168–169, 175, 180, 198–200, 204, 206, 207, 208, 221, 223, 225, 227; Steven Hahn, The Roots of Southern Populism: Yeoman Farmers and the Transformation of the Georgia Upcountry, 1850–1890 (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), 21–28; Paul Escott, Many Excellent People: Power and Privilege in North Carolina, 1850–1900 (Chapel Hill, NC and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1985), 7–8.

25. John J. Beck, "Development in the Piedmont South: Rowan County, North Carolina, 1850–1900" (Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 1984), Table 1.3, 260.

26. Wright, The Political Economy of the Cotton South, 62–74; Hahn, The Roots of Southern Populism, 29–30; Beck, "Development in the Piedmont South," Table 1.4, 261. On the barter trade at McNeely and Young, see McNeely and Young Daybook, August 1, 1859, 584, North Carolina Division of Archives and History, Raleigh. For evidence on how widespread the ownership of looms and spinning wheels in Rowan County was see "Inventories and Accounts (of Estates)," Rowan County, NC, 1850–1860, North Carolina Division of Archives and History, Raleigh.

27. Three good accounts of the evolution of the sharecropping system after the Civil War are: Roger Ransom and Richard Sutch, One Kind of Freedom: The Economic Consequences of Emancipation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), Harold D. Woodman, King Cotton and his Retainers (Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 1968), and Gavin Wright, Old South, New South: Revolutions in the Southern Economy Since the Civil War(New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1986), especially 84–115.

28. Beck, "Development in the Piedmont South," Table 2.3, 277.

29. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Thirteenth Census of the United States Taken in the Year 1910, Vol. V, Agriculture, 1909, 1910 (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1914), 880–881.

30. George B. Tindall, The Emergence of the New South, 1913–1945 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1967), 125.

31. Ransom and Sutch, One Kind of Freedom,160–168.

32. United States Department of Agriculture, All Cotton: Acreage, Yield, Production, Price, and Value of Production United States: 1866 to Date, Track Records: United States Crop Production. USDA-National Agricultural Statistics Service, April, 2003, http://ww.

33. Gilbert C. Fite, Cotton Fields No More: Southern Agriculture, 1865–1980 (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1984), 32–39.

Henderson [NC] Daily Dispatch

34. Ibid., 32, Table A2, 234.

35. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900, Vol. V, Agriculture, pt.1(Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1902), 108, 118; U.S. Bureau of the Census, Eighth Census of the United States, 1860, Vol. 2, Agriculture (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1864), 214.

36. On the decline of food production, see Hahn, The Roots of Southern Populism, 149–152.

37. Jimmy Carter, An Hour Before Daylight: Memories of a Rural Boyhood (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001), 29–37, 55.

38. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Fifteenth Census of the United States: 1930, Agriculture, Vol. III, pt. 2—Southern States (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1932), 109–111, 227–233.

39. Carter, An Hour Before Daylight, 28, 31, 34.

Figure 1.2  Plowing with a Mule

40. Wright, Old South, New South, 110–112; Beck, "Development in the Piedmont South," 93.

41. Carter, An Hour Before Daylight, 55

42. Joel Chandler Harris, ed., Life of Henry W. Grady, Including his Writings and Speeches(Cassell Publishing Company, 1890). The excerpt is from Grady's speech given to the Bay State Club. See 199–207.

43. Ibid., 90–91. The historian Paul Gaston has called this set of beliefs "the New South Creed." Gaston, The New South Creed: A Study in Southern Mythmaking(New York: Vintage Books, 1973).

44. David L. Carlton, Mill and Town in South Carolina, 1880–1920 (Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press, 1982), 17–39; Beck, Development in the Piedmont South," 98–100, 127–158; Douglas Flamming, Creating the Modern South: Millhands and Managers in Dalton, Georgia (Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1992), 19–24.

Figure 1.3  South Henderson mill village.

45. Carlton, Mill and Town in South Carolina, 40–81; Beck, "Development in the Piedmont South," 159–196; Paul D. Escott, Many Excellent People: Power and Privilege in North Carolina, 1850–1900 (Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1985), 198–219; Flamming, Creating the Modern South, 24–27.

46. Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, James Louloudis, et al., Like A Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World (Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1987), 34–43.

47. L.R. Allen, "I Wanted to Be a Merchant," Interview by Daisy Thompson, American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers Project, 1936–1940(Washington: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, 1998), wpahome.html.

48. The Renns interview, American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers Project, 1936–1940. (Washington: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, 1998),

49. Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, James Louloudis, et al., Like a Family, 44–56, 204–205. See interviews with Grover and Alice Hardin in Allen Tullos, Habits of Industry: White Culture and the Transformation of the Carolina Piedmont (Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1989), 253–276.

50. Kirby, Rural Worlds Lost, 298–299.

51. John Pierce interview, American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers Project, 1936–1940 (Washington: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, 1998), See also Jack Temple Kirby, Rural Worlds Lost: The American South, 1920–1960 (Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press, 1987), 298–299.

52. Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, James Leloudis, et al., Like a Family, 151–152.

53. Raymond Arsenault, The Wild Ass of the Ozarks: Jeff Davis and the Social Bases of Southern Politics (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1984), 10–13; V.O. Key, Jr., Southern Politics (New York: Vintage Books, 1949), 112–118; 510–513.

54. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Census of Agriculture: 1935, Report of States with Statistics for Counties and a Summary for the United States, Vol. 1 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1935), 479; U.S. Bureau of the Census, Census of Agriculture,1964, Volume 1, Statistics for the States and Counties, Pt. 27, South Carolina (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1967), p. 265; U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1997 Census of Agricultural Profiles, South Carolina State Profiles, http://www.

55. The State of the South 2002: Shadows in the Sunbelt Revisited (Chapel Hill, NC: MDC, Inc., 2002), p. 11.

56. Ibid., p. 16.

57. Pete Daniel, Lost Revolutions: The South in the 1950s (Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 2000), 42.

58. Gilbert Fite's Cotton Fields No More: Southern Agriculture, 1865–1980 is an excellent treatment of this transformation. See 120–225; Nicholas Lemann, The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How it Changed America (New York: Vintage Books, 1992), 7. See also: Kirby, Rural Worlds Lost: The American South, 1920–1960.

Henderson [NC] Daily Dispatch

Figure 1.4  Tractors replace mules

59. Lemann, The Promised Land; 3–107; James N. Gregory, The Southern Diaspora: How the Great Migrations of Black and White Southerners Transformed America(Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2005), 11–41; Kirby, Rural Worlds Lost, 276–287.

60. The State of the South 2002, see "Population and Job Growth by Size of Metro Area, 1980–2000," 33–35.

61. Stewart Tolnay, The Bottom Rung: African American Family Life on Southern Farms (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois, 1999), 23, 171–178.

62. Pee Dee Regional Planning and Development Council, Population and Economic Study: Pee Dee Region (SC: Pee Dee Regional Planning and Development Council, 1972), 11, 24.

63. Jim Clinton, Carol Conway et al., The Mercedes and the Magnolia: Preparing the Southern Workforce for the Next Economy (Research Triangle Park, NC: Southern Growth Policies Board, 2002), 5.

64. Ibid. Alison Greene, Ferrel Guillory, et al, The State of the South: Fifty Years After Brown v. Board of Education (Chapel Hill, NC: MDC Inc., 2004), 14.

Figure 1.5  Atlanta

65. Tindall, The Emergence of the New South, 599.

66. Greene, Guillory, et al, The State of the South, 14.

67. James C. Cobb, The Selling of the South: The Southern Crusade for Industrial Development, 1936–1980 (Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press, 1982). See especially 35–63.

68. "Incentives for Nucor could lure recycler too," [Raleigh, N.C.] The News and Observer, 30 May 1998.

69. Cobb, The Selling of the South, 206–208.

70. "Per Capita Tax Burden and Return on Federal tax Dollar: Fiscal 2002," Federal Spending, Northeast Midwest Institute (Washington, D.C.),

Figure 1.6  Hilton Head

71. The State of the South 2002: Shadows in the Sunbelt Revisited, 8.

72. Ibid., 8–9.

75. Daniels, Lost Revolutions, 1.

73. See for a good exploration of the economic and social problems of the rural South, Linda Flowers, Throwed Away: Failures of Progress in Eastern North Carolina (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1992), especially 179–205. See also The State of the South 2002, 10. Ronald Wimberley and Libby Morris's study, The Southern Black Belt: a National Perspective (Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky, 1997) documents the persistent poverty, especially for blacks, in a large swath of the rural South they refer to as the "Black Belt." See also the report, Dismantling Persistent Poverty in the Southeastern States (Athens, GA: Carl Vinson Institute of Government, University of Georgia, 2002).

74. Katherine Boo, "The Churn: Creative Destruction in a Border Town," The New Yorker, March 29, 2004: 62, 70.

79. Earl Black and Merle Black, Politics and Society in the South (Cambridge, Mass. and London: Harvard University Press, 1987), pp. 213–219.

76. "The Burden of Chronic Diseases and Their Risk Factors: National and State Perspectives, 2002." U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion,

77. "2001 National Survey of Fishing and Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation," U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2002, FHW01.pdf.

78. Tom Wolfe, A Man in Full (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1998).

80. Alison Greene, Ferrel Guillory, et al, The State of the South: Fifty Years After Brown v. Board of Education calls this the "conventional wisdom" but also argues that economic change is creating "both high- and low-end jobs." See p. 15. See also Amy Martinez, "Workers suffer in global economy," [Raleigh, NC] The News and Observer, 30 May 2004.

81. Berry, "The Regional Motive," in Andrews et al, eds., The Literature of the American South, p. 937.

82. Debbie Heath Best, "Farming is Hard Work," 1980, unpublished interview in the possession of the authors.