William R. (William Rathbone) Greg.

Studies in southern history and politics online

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sults thus far accomphshed by this plan and its possibihties for
the future are shown in the report of the coimty superintendent
of Tallapoosa County, Alabama.

"After mapping out his line of work, Edwards (the industrial super-
visor) commenced visiting the colored schools in the county, making
weekly reports to me, and getting further directions for each ensuing week.
He commenced at once to organize in each colored school, a school im-
provement association, cooperative corn and cotton clubs, where the
school children and patrons cultivated the grounds, taking lessons in
agriculture at the same time. It was agreed that the proceeds arising
from this work should inure to the benefit of the school, in adding equip-
ment, extending the length of the school term, and introducing manual
labor, both for girls and boys.

"Edwards has kept me posted as to his work, and it is simply wonder-
ful how much he has accomplished in so short a time. I have visited
several of these schools in person, and the improvement is most striking.
The school yards have been cleared off and planted in trees and flowers,
com and cotton clubs organized, and work done on the little farms, and
manual art and domestic science introduced into most of the schools,
etc. . .

"This general interest, brought about by special contact and com-
munity cooperation, has resulted in lengthening school terms from two
to three months and the organization of the Tallapoosa County Pair . . .
at which premiums are offered to encourage manual art in schools and to
increase agricultural production by colored farmers." i

In stich work as that here described the Jeanes Fund employed
119 supervisors and 5 special teachers in 121 counties of the South
in 1912. Many statistics are burdensome, but the following, which
show results in one state, are truly eloquent :

' J. p. Oliver, quoted in Annual Report, U. S. Comi. of Ed., 1912, Vol. I, p. 247.



EDUCATIONAL HISTORY IN THE SOUTH SINCE 1865 287

"For the session 1912, 23 supervising industrial teachers worked in the
colored schools of 25 counties. Of the 591 Negro schools in these counties,
417 were visited regularly, and a total of 2853 visits were made by the
23 supervising industrial teachers. One hundred and eighty-nine schools
extended the term an average of one month. Twenty new buildings were
erected, costing $23,008 and 15 buildings were enlarged at a cost of
$2213.09. Forty-six buildings were painted and 81 whitewashed and
102 sanitary outhouses were buUt. Three hundred and seventeen schools
used individual drinking cups. The 428 improvement leagues raised in
cash for new buildings, extending terms, equipment, and improvements,
$22,655.80. This does not include labor or materials given. The whole
cost of salaries and expenses of the supervising teachers was less than
$10,000 so that as a result of their efforts they have brought into the
school funds of the state more than twice the amount expended. It is
impossible to estimate the value of this supervision as expressed in the
practical nature of the school work and the spirit of cooperation among
aU classes, which has been brought about in these counties." i

Such cooperative efforts on the part of the negroes, state by-
state, county by county, will quicken Ufa. It will also awaken
in the Southern white man the duty of a more equitable apportion-
ment of the pubUc school fund.

> Jackson Davis, "Practical Training in Negro Rural Schools" (Southern Work-
man, Dec, 1913). The quotation refers to Virginia.



XII

THE NEW SOUTH, ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL

By HOLLAND THOMPSON

ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OP HISTORY IN THE COLLEGE OP THE CITY
OP NEW YORK



XII

THE NEW SOUTH, ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL

Much nonsense has been written of the new South, perhaps
because so much that is foolish has been written of the old South.
When the student of history strives to reconstruct the ante-
bellum scene, he finds among the great though undigested mass
of material little that he can trust, for if the Southern habit of
mind was oratorical, that of the Northern observer was likely
to be provincial or pharisaical. Few writers were accurate, and
fewer placed facts in their proper relations.

Men wrote, and continue to write, of the South as if it were
one country. They have written, and do write, of "Southern
opinion," of the "Southern position," and of "Southern economic
conditions" as if they were discussing a family or even an individ-
ual. Their generalizations have been almost invariably untrue,
for the South, whether considered as the states which held slaves
in 1861 or as the seceding states, is a large territory including a
great variety of soil, elevation, and climate. Natural barriers
shut off section from section, and state lines cross as often as
they follow these barriers. Different parts of the same state
differ widely physically.

The South was settled by men widely different in social status,
religious behef, standards, ideas, and capacities. English gentle-
men, yeomen, vagrants and criminals. North of Ireland Presby-
terians (the so-called Scotch-Irish), Irish CathoHcs, Scotch High-
landers, French Huguenots, French Cathohcs of all ranks, Swiss,
Swedes, Germans, Austrians (Moravians), and Spaniards. Then
there were negroes from the Guinea coast belonging to many
tribes, negroes from Senegal with a strong infusion of Arab blood,
and negroes ftom the interior of Africa .^

I The African ancestry of the American negroes has not yet been carefully
studied. See, however, Sir H. H. Johnston, "The Negro in the New World";
J. A. Tillinghast, "The Negro in Africa and America" ; and Jerome Dowd, "The
Negro Races."

291



292 STUDIES IN SOUTHERN HISTORY AND POLITICS

Generally, the whites, drawn together by ties of blood and
religion, settled in communities which were, in some cases, close
corporations into which an outsider was not welcome, and this
isolation endured for a long time. During the Civil War whole
companies of "Macs" were enlisted in the Scotch counties of
North Carolina; within the past twenty-five years the use of
the German language as a means of ordinary communication
has died out in some of the Piedmont counties of the same state ;
descendants of the French and Spanish settlers in the Gulf states
are yet a "peculiar people." The Scotch-Irish and the Germans
followed parallel lines on their journey from Pennsylvania to
the Piedmont, and in some sections a sensitive observer will
discover real differences in idiom, diet, and attitude of mind, on
different sides of a stream or a range of hills.

There were also differences in economic status. Some men
owned many slaves ; some, none. There were nearly a half million
free negroes in 1861. The great majority of the population,
except free negroes, lived in the country though many of the
great landowners had houses in town also. There were a few
cities which were centers of culture, and where ordered elegance
prevailed. There was a great stretch of raw frontier which has
not yet disappeared, a fact that has never been sufficiently
emphasized.

All of this means that there were in 1861 many "Souths" and
many "Southerners," who were with great difficulty brought
into cooperation. What was true sixty years ago is true to-day.
There is no single "South," there is no typical "Southerner."
The divisions are not the same, and new elements have entered
to complicate the problems. Only one section has remained un-
changed. Except where the lumberman or the miner has pushed
his way into the Appalachian South, two and a half million moun-
taineers are living much the same lives their fathers lived sixty
years ago, and many as their ancestors did in the eighteenth
century .1

'See Horace Kephart, "Our Southern Highlanders," and the writings of John
Fox, Jr.



THE NEW SOUTH, ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL 293

From an economic standpoint the new South began with the
fall of the Confederacy. Many who had been rich or well-to-do
found themselves penniless; those who had been poor were
poorer than ever ; those who had been chattels found themselves
freemen. The whole economic organization was destroyed, and
with the introduction of negro suffrage political power shifted.
While in the long run the attitude of mind is profoundly influenced,
if not governed, by economic considerations, a sudden change
imposed from without is likely to emphasize conservatism of
spirit. Men cling to the old, because it is old. It was so in
the South. Men could not immediately adjust themselves to
new conditions, and the only apparent change in attitude was
increased bitterness. That acute, though often unfair, critic
of Southern life, Albion W. Tourg^e, speaking of the war, per-
fectly described the situation in a phrase. "It modified the
form of society in the South, but not its essential attributes." *
The indignities and hardships of Reconstruction intensified old
prejudices, and created new ones. As a result many men of the
older generation were unable to adjust themselves to the changed
conditions, which were to create the new South.

While keeping in mind the difficulty of speaking for the whole
South, we can still say that there is a new South, different in
attitude, standards, and ideals. It is, however, an outgrowth of
the old South and not a new and different civilization imposed
from without. The changes have come gradually by the pro-
cesses of time and the interaction of educational, social, and
economic forces. These have done what bayonets could not
do. Patronizing advice or denunciation from without has had
on a proud people the effect which might naturally be expected.
It has been resented, and we have heard much of "Southern
sensitiveness and intolerance," but in matters she considered
vital the South has never wavered, though at times it has seemed
as if the world were against her. One of the most convincing,
indications of the new attitude is the fact that the South has
begun to criticize herself and even to ridicule her own shortcomings.
' A. W. Tourgfe, "An Appeal to Caesar."



294 STUDIES IN SOUTHERN HISTORY AND POLITICS

Now let us trace some of the important changes. With the
close of the war and the return of the armies the struggle for a
livelihood began. The chief interest of the old South was agri-
cultural and the population naturally turned to the land. In
spite of all the difficulties growing out of the destruction of the
old economic system somehow people lived, though hundreds
of thousands of acres were thrown out of cultivation, and the
valuation of the land fell from $2,879,492,615 in 1860 to
$1,647,810,604 in 1870. Not until 1890, twenty-five years after
the war closed, did the valuations of land reach those of 1860,
and the total value of all property did not reach the valuations
of 1860 until 1900.

In the old South there were three great divisions or groups in
the white population; the large slaveholders, whose plantations
were generally under the charge of overseers; the small slave-
holders, who supervised their own laborers and in many cases
worked in the fields with their slaves ; and the non-slaveholders.
Many of the third group were men of respectability and standing
in their communities. Some had conscientious scruples against
holding slaves, some did not own sufficient land to justify their
employment, and some preferred not to lock up so much capital,
but to hire their labor as needed. There were always slaves,
the property of estates, in charge of the clerk of the court,
who could be hired; in some communities there were also free
negroes who could be employed. To such men as these the term
" poor white" did not apply, and they formed the major part of
many communities.

After the war few owners of large plantations could obtain capital
to pay wages, even if conditions had permitted. The same was
true, in less degree, of the second group. As a result, either the
plantation was sold or a system of tenancy established which
still exists. Tracts of convenient size are rented to tenants,
white or colored, occasionally for a fixed money payment, but
more often for a share of the crop. Some of these tenancies call
for a fixed quantity of produce, more for a given proportion.
Sometimes the tenant owns his live stock and tools, but often



THE NEW SOUTH, ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL 295

they must be furnished by the employer, who also furnishes
the tenant a cabin in which to live. Since few of the tenants
can sustain themselves until the crop is sold, some one, either
the landlord or a country merchant, must furnish them with
food and other necessary supplies upon which to hve. Naturally,
since the landlord's stake is so great and the financial responsibility
of the tenant so small, close supervision of the details of the work
of the tenant must follow.

This is the tenant system, so characteristic of Southern agri-
culture. With it has developed the crop lien and the chattel
mortgage, by which the tenant is able to mortgage his live stock
and tools (if he owns any) and his growing or even his unplanted
crops to guarantee his creditor against loss for the food and other
supplies advanced.

Legal provisions which make leaving the land and abandoning
the crop before it is gathered misdemeanors are attempts to en-
force specific performance of the contracts. They are designed
to prevent a tenant whose crop does not promise well, or who
feels that he has secured advances equal to or greater than his
share of the future crop from abandoning the land at a critical
time, thereby causing the loss of the whole crop. Efforts on the
part of the landlord to recover damages by civil process would
be fruitless. Many small landowners must likewise obtain ad-
vances, and their condition is sometimes little superior to that of
the tenant.

This system has been severely criticized and from many stand-
points deservedly, but it is difiicult . to see, under conditions
existing just after the war, what other system could have been
substituted. The owner of the land had no money with which
to pay wages, and could rarely get it on the security of his land.
When he did obtain it, he often saw his crops go to ruin because
at a critical time, the negro preferred to do something else, or to
do nothing at all.

The great majority of negroes and some whites had neither
stock, tools, nor money with which to pay rent, and could not,
therefore, maintain themselves until a crop was gathered. Few



296 STUDIES IN SOUTHERN HISTORY AND POLITICS

negroes cared to buy land, and where they did attempt to buy,
sometimes made little effort to complete the purchase. Even
, 'in 1910, the negro owned less than 5 per cent of the land in the
South.

The tenant is, to a great extent, in the power of the landlord,
and unscrupulous individuals do take advantage of his ignorance
to keep him in debt, by charging exorbitant prices for supplies,
and by crediting him for the crop at lower prices than could be
obtained in a free market. On the other hand, in a year of short
crops, or when low prices prevail, the landlord may lose, even
■ if the tenant has worked well, while the latter has at least had
food and shelter. Where the tenant is lazy, careless, or unfor-
tunate, the landlord is also likely to lose. So serious are the
objections on both sides that there have been strong efforts to
repeal the law in several states, but the obstacle has been the
absence of a satisfactory substitute. Under the present system,
the land is worked under some sort of supervision. The landlord
gets some return for his land, the laborers hve and the best of
them make money.' Perhaps some form of rural credits may
help to solve the problem.

The number of farms in the South has greatly increased since
1860. The census definition refers to operation rather than to
ownership, and a tract of a thousand acres rented to a dozen
tenants is reported as twelve farms. If the owner reserves a
part which he works by his own labor or by hired labor, the tract
is reported as thirteen farms. Nevertheless, the average acreage
owned is lower. In 1860 there were in North Carolina 75,203
farms averaging 316.8 acres. In 1910 there were nearly twice
this number operated by owners, and in addition more than a
hundred thousand tracts operated by tenants or managers. The
average size of all farms reported was 88 acres. The Louisiana
farm of 536 acres in 1860 had shrunk to less than 87 acres in 1910.

1 See M. B. Hammond, "The Cotton Industry,'' for a, careful study of the
tenant system in its relation to the production of cotton. Burkett and Poe's
"Cotton " is also valuable and is newer. Some of the papers in Alfred Holt Stone's
"American Race Problem" contain interesting material on the negro tenant, and
some comparisons with Italians in the Yazoo Delta.



THE NEW SOUTH, ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL 297

In this year the average size of farms in the South was 114.4
acres, compared with 143 acres in the North, 296.9 in the West,
and an average of 138.1 for the United States as a whole.'

Evidently a striking change is indicated. While the number
of very large plantations has not diminished, the number of
large plantations is smaller. The South has become a land of
small farms. In all three of the divisions classed as Southern,
i.e. South Atlantic, East South Central, and West South Central,
the largest number of farms is between twenty and forty-nine
acres, and more than half are less than one hundred acres.

Of all the land 65 per cent is operated by owners and 7 per cent
more by hired managers. Twenty-eight per cent, nearly all
owned by whites, is operated by tenants.^ Of this 28 per cent
part is owned by retired farmers, part by business and professional
men who have bought it as an investment, and a considerable
part is made up of ante-bellum plantations to which the original
families have managed to chng. Still other men, once small
farmers, have added to their holdings.

Farming in the old South was, as a rule, wasteful and unscien-
tific and continues so, but the improvement has been marked.
The cotton crop has been tripled in spite of the boll weevil, though
the yield per acre is small ; the largest yields of corn ever reported
have been made by the boys' corn cltibs, a form of competition
organized by the Knapps, father and son ; apples from the South
have won the highest prizes in pomological exhibitions; and
Southern alfalfa and Southern cattle have won prizes in com-
petition with the middle Western states. The agricultural
colleges, the experimental farms supported by the state, the

'■ For the sake of convenience the census classification of states is here used
though it is open to objection. The South means the old slaveholding territory
with the omission of Missouri. The West is composed of the mountain and the
Pacific states, while the North comprises the remainder. As a matter of fact,
Maryland and Delaware, for our purposes, might be classed as middle Atlantic,
while West Virginia is hardly Southern. Oklahoma and Missouri are difiicult to
classify.

2 Owned and operated by whites 60.6 per cent ; by colored persons 4.4 per cent.
Managed by whites, 6.9 per cent; by. colored, .1 per cent. Operated by white
tenants, 20.5 per cent ; by negro tenants, 7.5 per cent.



298 STUDIES IN SOUTHERN HISTORY AND POLITICS

"farmers' institutes," the agricultural papers, all have had a
part in producing better farming. The value of the legumes in
improving the land has been vigorously preached by all these
agencies and the cowpea is planted more and more.

( New crops are being planted. Small fruits and early vege-
tables for the Northern markets are raised in increasing quan-
tities, and land which was supposed to be almost worthless has
been found to be admirably adapted to this purpose. Georgia
is second only to California in the production of peaches, and
Florida, undaunted by "freezes," continues the production of
early vegetables and tropical fruits. Nut trees of various kinds
are being cultivated, and the production of these special crops
is increasing. The value of all crops in 1909 had increased 112
per cent in the South Atlantic states over 1899, and in the South
as a whole 94.2 per cent over 1899 compared with an increase of
72 per cent in the North.

(Farming has improved, but much of it is still unintelligent.
The cotton yield could be greatly increased by more careful
selection of seed, and the same is true of corn. The South does
not produce enough corn and wheat for its needs. In 1909 the
wheat acreage was more than one and one-third million acres
less than in 1879, thirty years before, and but for the large pro-
duction of Oklahoma the yield would have fallen far short instead
of remaining nearly the same. In 1879 Georgia raised over
3,000,000 bushels, thirty years later hardly one-fourth as much.
The crop in Alabama was less than one-thirteenth as large as
in 1879. Millions of pounds of Western hay, corn, and wheat
are brought into regions admirably suited to grass and grains,
where the chief energy of the farmer is devoted to the raising of
cotton or tobacco.

A recent bulletin of the United States Department of Agriculture
says: "The Southern states at one time years ago produced
large numbers of hogs and cured practically all the bacon neces-
sary to feed the people. At the present time the same cannot be
said of a single Southern state and of but few counties in any of
these states." The department also declares that the Piedmont



THE NEW SOUTH, ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL 299

South is the section best suited to the production of live stock
and yet the value of live stock per acre is less in the South Atlantic
states than in any other section. To be sure, the value doubled
in the census decade, but the figures are still low. Therefore
millions of pounds of pork are shipped into the South and if the
rural population ate any considerable quantity of beef, the amount
of that commodity imported would be largely increased. As
it is, Western beef and butter are sold in every large town in the
South.

For the production of cotton or tobacco rather than grain, the
landlord and the country merchant are largely responsible. Where
they have advanced supplies to the tenant or small farmer they
often require the production of these crops which combine con-
siderable value in small bulk, ready marketability, with improb-
abihty of total failure. Further, neither is of value until it is
ripe. In some sections corn fields might be raided and half the
crop eaten by the tenant or his neighbors or by cattle while the
ears were still green. Wheat is not a tenant's crop. Only winter
wheat is grown in the South and too many tenants move the first
of January to make it a favorite crop. Then, too, with cotton
and tobacco there is always a gambler's chance of large profits.
The high prices of cotton during recent years have freed many
farmers from debt, but there is no conservatism like that of the
cultivator.

The prevalent idea that the old South was destitute of me-
chanical ability and that the only mechanics were slaves is erro-
neous. The Scotch-Irish, German, Swiss, and French Huguenot
settlements contained many skilled workmen who handed down
their crafts. Workers in wood and iron were scattered all through
the South. They worked singly or in small groups for the most
part, to satisfy a neighborhood demand, though an occasional
manufacturer of vehicles, for example, had more than a local
reputation. It is only within the last thirty years that the cheap-
ness of the factory-made product has driven these workers out of
business.

There were tanneries in every county and nearly all the foot-



300 STUDIES IN SOUTHERN HISTORY AND POLITICS

wear was made by local cobblers or by the poorer white farmers
themselves, for such a farmer in a sparsely settled district was
necessarily a jack-of -all-trades just as in New England. In
some sections considerable iron ore was smelted, and there were
many potteries to supply the local demand. Cotton and wool
were spun and woven on almost every farm. In 1810 Tench
Coxe's semi-official estimate placed North Carolina ahead of
Massachusetts in textile production,^ and shortly afterwards
small cotton and woolen mills were established here and there.
There were twenty-five small mills in North Carolina in 1840
and thirty-nine in 1860, though this year only 11,000 bales of
cotton were consumed. These mills and similar ones in other
states manufactured, generally, coarse yarn which was woven
on hand looms in the neighborhood, though some of the mills
wove coarse cloth. Facilities for distributing the product were



Online LibraryWilliam R. (William Rathbone) GregStudies in southern history and politics → online text (page 25 of 34)