Cotton Fields No More

Cotton Fields No More: Southern Agriculture, 1865-1980

Copyright Date: 1984
Edition: 1
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Cotton Fields No More
    Book Description:

    No general history of southern farming since the end of slavery has been published until now. For the first time, Gilbert C. Fite has drawn together the many threads that make up commercial agricultural development in the eleven states of the old Confederacy, to explain why agricultural change was so slow in the South, and then to show how the agents of change worked after 1933 to destroy the old and produce a new agriculture.

    Fite traces the decline and departure of King Cotton as the hard taskmaster of the region, and the replacement of cotton by a somewhat more democratically rewarding group of farm products: poultry, cattle, swine; soybeans; citrus and other fruits; vegetables; rice; dairy products; and forest products. He shows how such crop changes were related to other developments, such as the rise of a capital base in the South, mainly after World War II; technological innovation in farming equipment; and urbanization and regional population shifts.

    Based largely upon primary sources,Cotton Fields No Morewill become the standard work on post-Civil War agriculture in the South. It will be welcomed by students of the American South and of United States agriculture, economic, and social history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5048-2
    Subjects: History, Business, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Editor’s Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
    Charles P. Roland
  5. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  6. 1 Descent into Poverty, 1865-1900
    (pp. 1-29)

    When southern soldiers trudged back to their farms and plantations in the spring of 1865, they found agriculture in serious disarray. In many areas of the defeated Confederacy houses and farm buildings had been burned, fences torn down, and livestock stolen or killed, while fields were overgrown with weeds. One planter wrote: “I had the misfortune to be in the line of Sherman’s march, and lost everything-Devon cows, Merino sheep, Chester hogs, Shanghai chickens, and in fact everything but my land, my wife and children and the clothing we had at that time.” In some areas land prices had dropped...

  7. 2 Down on the Farm before World War I
    (pp. 30-47)

    Most southern farm families in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries experienced a narrow, isolated, and restricted existence. Millions of men, women, and children were born, lived, and died without ever being exposed to the influences of growing urbanization. The South was a region made up predominantly of farms and small towns. Many families never traveled out of their home county or beyond the nearby village. In most communities roads were poor or nonexistent, and when farmers did venture from home they generally traveled by foot, horseback, or wagon. In an urban age it is difficult to realize how...

  8. 3 Salvation through Organization and Politics
    (pp. 48-67)

    Southern farmers knew well enough that something was wrong with the system that kept them in such a state of poverty. For most of them the American dream of “getting ahead” economically and of perhaps being able to leave some inheritance to their children remained just that—a dream. At an interstate convention of farmers in Atlanta in August 1887, the delegates concluded that “the agricultural interests of the South are languishing and depressed to a distressing degree.” They insisted that farmers were currently hurting, “have been suffering for twenty years,” and concluded that “the outlook is not favorable.”¹ Indeed,...

  9. 4 The Gospel of Diversification, Science, and Efficiency, 1870-1914
    (pp. 68-90)

    If southern commercial farmers could have cashed in the advice they received on the merits of diversified agriculture, the virtues of scientific farming, and the benefits of farm efficiency, they would all have been rich. As cotton production expanded and as farmers were drawn increasingly into the market economy, the call for diversification intensified. By the early twentieth century it had become little short of a religion. Proponents preached the doctrines of diversification, science, and efficiency with all the fervor of evangelists appealing to fallen sinners. If there was any southern farmer outside of southern Appalachia and other self-sufficient subregions...

  10. 5 Southern Farmers from War to Depression
    (pp. 91-119)

    If any proof was needed to show the slight impact of diversification and the continued importance of cotton on southern farms, one need look only at the 1914 crop year. Southern farmers planted nearly 37 million acres of cotton, about 10 million more than in the 1901-1903 period. Even the ravages of the boll weevil could not curb the expansion of cotton growing in the South as a whole, although, as mentioned earlier, in some areas acreage had leveled off or declined slightly. The Carolinas, Georgia, and Alabama had about 3 million more acres in cotton in 1914 than in...

  11. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  12. 6 The Great Depression Strikes
    (pp. 120-138)

    In 1930 hundreds of thousands of southern farmers began to skid from normal hard times to disastrous depression. If observers believed that life could not get worse than it already was for millions of rural residents in the South, they were badly mistaken. A decade of depression was beginning which forced living standards down well below the poverty levels experienced for years by many southern farm families.

    In 1929 farmers planted more than 45 million acres of cotton, produced a crop of 14.8 million bales, and received an average price of more than 16 cents a pound. Tobacco plantings reached...

  13. 7 Crisis, Frustration, and Change in the Late 1930s
    (pp. 139-162)

    It soon became evident that farmers who had larger land holdings and substantial production would be the principal beneficiaries of the New Deal agricultural legislation. Any program that tied benefits to acres of land taken out of cultivation and price supports on production would inevitably be most helpful to those who possessed property. Payments for acreage reduction could mean little to those farmers with 15 to 30 acres who produced only a few bales of cotton. If a producer had 20 acres of cotton and plowed up 5 acres in 1933, he would receive as little as $35 or as...

  14. 8 Southern Farmers and World War II
    (pp. 163-179)

    WhenFortunemagazine wanted to picture a progressive southern farmer for its urban audience in October 1941, only a few weeks before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the editor sent a reporter to visit with H.L. Wingate in southern Georgia. Wingate, head of the Georgia Farm Bureau, was portrayed as an agricultural “revolutionary.” His farm covered 600 acres in Mitchell County and his labor force consisted of an overseer who farmed 90 acres on his own and supervised five black sharecropper families and two black tenants. Despite his portrayal as a highly progressive farmer, Wingate did not yet own...

  15. 9 Modernization Comes to Southern Farms
    (pp. 180-206)

    By the middle and late 1940s the changes occurring on some southern farms were attracting national attention. Writers for the popular press toured the South and wrote glowing reports on what they saw. The words “revolution” and “New South” appeared in almost every article. “Revolution in Cotton” was the identical title used for an article in Collier’s in July 1945 and for one in theNew Republicabout a year later. In order to record the changes in 1949, the editor ofLifesent Margaret Bourke-White, who had pictured the plight of sharecroppers twelve years earlier, to photograph the new...

  16. 10 Farmers Left Behind
    (pp. 207-225)

    Within a generation after World War II, commercial agriculture in the South had been modernized and restructured. The rural South of the 1970s little resembled the same region in the 1930s or 1940s. The modern commercial farmer in Georgia, Alabama, or Mississippi could not be distinguished from the progressive operator in Illinois, Iowa, or Nebraska, except in some of the crops he raised. Like the rest of American agriculture, southern commercial farms had become highly capitalized, mechanized, and labor efficient.

    From the vantage point of the 1970s, statistics clearly showed the changes that had occurred. Between 1950 and 1975 the...

  17. 11 Problems and Prospects in the Agricultural South
    (pp. 226-232)

    In 1909 two agriculturalists in the USDA wrote that “at best the taking up of a new line of farming requires a readjustment of the usual ways of thinking and doing, a thing difficult in itself and requiring considerable time to accomplish.”¹ This observation seemed prophetic. It took more than half a century after 1909 before modernized agriculture became prevalent throughout the South.

    Modernization, however, did not free farmers from serious problems. While the fewer and larger operators had a modern standard of living, even the most efficient farmers confronted periodic difficulties. Some of the problems were related to production...

  18. Appendix: Statistical Data on Southern Agriculture, 1880-1980
    (pp. 233-238)
  19. Notes
    (pp. 239-263)
  20. Comment on Sources
    (pp. 264-267)
  21. Index
    (pp. 268-273)