Jeannie Whayne is a University Professor of history at the University of Arkansas and a past president of the Agricultural History Society. She is the author of two books including Delta Empire: Lee Wilson and the Transformation of Agriculture in the New South (2011), a social, economic, and environmental study of a plantation owned by a single family from 1846 to 2010 and the winner of the John G. Ragsdale Prize. She is the editor or a coauthor of nine other books, including The Ongoing Burden of Southern History: Politics and Identity in the Twenty-First-Century South (2012). Whayne has won numerous awards for her teaching and publications, including the Arkansas Historical Association's Lifetime Achievement Award. She is currently researching a book on Memphis, Tennessee, that examines the interaction between the city and its hinterlands in forging a regional cotton empire; she is also working on a National Endowment for the Humanities digitization proposal to map that connection. Her 2014 presidential address to the Agricultural History Society, "The Incidental Environmentalists: Dale Bumpers, George Templeton, and the Origins of the Rosen Alternative Pest Control Center at the University of Arkansas," examined a tradition of sustainable agriculture within the traditional agricultural bureaucracy of the late twentieth-century United States and the role of the center in promoting alternatives to agricultural chemicals. Also in 2014, she presented a paper at the World Congress on Environmental History that examined modern "portfolio plantations," or investor-owned agricultural land, placing this global development in the context of the new corporate colonialism and examining its environmental and cultural implications. She has also presented her work at the Southern Historical Association and the European Rural Studies Organization conferences.
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.