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Trouble in Goshen

Trouble in Goshen: Plain Folk, Roosevelt, Jesus, and Marx in the Great Depression South

Fred C. Smith
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 213
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  • Book Info
    Trouble in Goshen
    Book Description:

    The Great Depression emboldened Americans to tolerate radical experimentation in search of solutions to seemingly overwhelming economic problems. Amongst the thorniest of those was rural southern poverty. InTrouble in Goshen, Fred C. Smith focuses on three communities designed and implemented to meet that challenge. This book examines the economic and social theories--and their histories--that resulted in the creation and operation of the most aggressive and radical experiments in the United States.

    Trouble in Goshenchronicles three communitarian experiments, both the administrative details and the struggles and reactions of the clients. Smith covers the Tupelo Homesteads in Mississippi, the Dyess Colony in Arkansas, and the Delta Cooperative Farm, also in Mississippi. The Tupelo Homesteads were created under the aegis of the tiny Division of Subsistence Homesteads, a short-lived, "first New Deal" agency. Dyess Colony was the largest of the Resettlement Administration's efforts to transform failed farmers into Jeffersonian yeoman farmers. The third community, the Delta Cooperative Farm, a product of the active cooperation between the Socialist Party of America and a cadre of liberal churchmen led by Reinhold Niebuhr, attempted to meld the pieties, passions, propaganda, and theories of Jesus and Marx.

    The equipment, facilities, and management styles of the projects reveal a clearly delineated class order among the poor.Trouble in Goshendemonstrates the class conscious angst that enveloped three distinct levels of poverty and the struggles of plain folk to preserve their tenuous status and avoid overt peasantry.

    eISBN: 978-1-62674-009-9
    Subjects: History, Sociology, Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-16)

    I began the research on which this book is based with questions about southern “plain folk.” The historian I. A. Newby complained that the “poorer half” of the population of the New South “had never evoked much sympathy and that its history has been more often overlooked or caricatured than studied systematically and evenhandedly.” I happened to read Erskine Caldwell’sTobacco RoadandGod’s Little Acreat about the same time that I ran across H. L. Mencken’sAmerican Mercuryessay in which he lambasted, among other southern things, southern people. Mencken saved his most wicked critique for the people...

  5. 1. Prevenience
    (pp. 17-26)

    By Inauguration Day 1933, the American agricultural depression was at least twelve years old. The continuing decline of agricultural prices and the concentration of land into ever-larger units of production, the absence of a robust foreign market, the tariff-enhanced high prices of manufactured goods, the diluted political power of about half the southern rural white populace, and the practical absence of it among southern blacks posed singular difficulties for the New Deal. Added to the fundamental economic problems was that of psychological malaise. The Americanmentalitéof the 1920s had embraced the euphoria induced by prosperity. Flappers, corporate welfare, roaring...

  6. 2. Tupelo Homesteads: A Shelter in the Storm
    (pp. 27-47)

    The Natchez Trace Parkway meanders for more than four hundred miles from near Natchez to near Nashville.¹ Along the way, travelers may stop and read about events of the prehistoric and frontier history of the area. Interpretive signs point out locations of a treaty signing by Native diplomats and immigrant warlords, a clash between Native American nations and European empires, or just a popular “stand.” Brochures and books inform visitors about the age of warfare, banditry, whiskey, and murder. The dark history of the Trace adds an intriguing stain to the romance and adventure. It is good that the public...

  7. 3. Dyess Colony
    (pp. 48-77)

    Mrs. Joe Alexander was not satisfied that the application blank she had just completed was sufficient.¹ The blanks asked only for the stark facts relative to her family’s shame; there was no provision for explaining the exceptional circumstances that had caused the family to fall from respectability to poverty. In her mind, at least, poverty and respectability were, with some exceptions, mutually exclusive. Her letter of October 8, 1934, endeavored to give Mr. Dyess “a few facts” and to demonstrate, in a way that facts derived from blanks could not, that her family deserved a place at Arkansas Colonization Project...

  8. 4. Life and Times at Dyess
    (pp. 78-113)

    Between June 21 and October 6, 1934, Mrs. Emery Hall wrote four letters to W. R. Dyess, Arkansas ERA administrator and founder of what would become Dyess Colony.¹ The thirty-six pages of neat handwriting on steno-size school-tablet paper is a commentary on the struggle of plain folk. Mr. Hall “doesn’t write well,” she explained, no doubt uncomfortable (or pretending to be) with speaking on behalf of the family. Her letters continually asked Dyess for advice: should she enroll her children in school in Lake City, or should she wait until they moved? They were going to get to move, weren’t...

  9. 5. Delta Cooperative Farm and the Death of a Vision
    (pp. 114-142)

    The agricultural depression in the cotton South was in its thirteenth year by the time the federal government thought it necessary to intervene.¹ The gap between the onset of the agricultural depression in 1919 and the belated governmental action in 1933 occurred because the bulk of the Depression burden fell on people who did not matter. As long as degradation and poverty predominantly affected southern rural blacks, there was no political necessity and little moral urgency to apply corrective measures. However, the general depression of 1929 rapidly created a class of dispossessed whites who found themselves bound by the same...

  10. 6. Leaving Goshen
    (pp. 143-146)

    The children of Israel left Goshen with the treasures of Egypt in their baggage; they used the loot to build infrastructure for a people who had become a nation during their tenancy and long exodus. It is more than a bit of a stretch to suggest that the clients of the American Goshens escaped with a scintilla of the treasure the Egyptians surrendered to their former share-croppers and serfs. However, I think a closer examination of the foregoing narrative and an assessment of the major thesis of this book warrant a more liberal view of the value gained in leaving...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 147-180)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 181-208)
  13. Index
    (pp. 209-213)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 214-214)