The Remaking of Rural Society in the Twentieth-Century South: Communities and the Environment in the Lower Mississippi River Valley

Lecture Description

The South has undergone profound changes since the American Civil War, but as historian Morton Sosna suggested in his 1982 presidential address to the Southern Historical Association, “World War II rather than the Civil War is the crucial event of southern history.” Sosna argued that given the survival of the plantation system and the return of freed people to another kind of slavery, the post-war South looked little different from its pre-war counterpart. Pursuit of profit though monoculture and the utilization of sharecropping, a relatively unfree labor system, contributed to the persistence of the inequalities that had so profoundly shaped the old South. Sosna emphasized the marginal growth metropolitan areas and the emergence of a relatively anemic industrial development. World War II, on the other hand, ushered in more significant changes on the landscape of the South. The Civil Rights Movement and the emergence of the Sunbelt South suggested greater possibilities on the horizon. A close perusal of rural communities, however, reveal the persistence of inequality and economic stagnation. This is nowhere more apparent than in the lower Mississippi River Valley where poverty and inequality can still be found in the late twentieth century plantation counties. This talk examines the evolution of rural society in the post-World War II period and probes the intersection of racism and poverty in the region.

CATEGORIES

Race Rural

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