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The Dawn of the 20 th Century Chapter 7
Chapter Preview Segregation Credit Lynching Sharecropper Boll Weevil Gold Standard Populists Patronage Primary Progressive Movement Lobbyists
People to Know Frank Burkitt Anselm J. Mc. Laurin A. H. Longino James K. Vardaman Leroy Percy Theodore G. Bilbo
Post Civil War After the Civil War, the vast majority of African Americans became tenant farmers and sharecroppers in a system that perpetually indebted them to white landowners. After Reconstruction was halted, they were denied any hope of progress or equal participation in the government, the economy, or society. This system led to extraordinary poverty for both white and black alike. This system almost ensured that Mississippi would remain one of the poorest states in the country decade after decade. The system also created a reputation among the other states of the country that Mississippi was backward and hopeless.
Segregation After the adoption of the Constitution of 1890, the white ruling class in Ms used its power to protect its own interests. The state began to create laws that separated the races. Segregation - “Separation of the races” Legal segregation began in 1888 when a law was passed that segregated passengers on trains. Although there were laws passed, in Ms, laws were generally unnecessary because of age old customs already abided by the citizens of the state. Hotels, restaurants and other services were separate Store clerks helped white customers first African Americans could not knock on the door of a white home
Lynching Violations of the rigid caste system (social order) often sparked violent mob punishment Lynching - “Mob murder by hanging, shooting, or burning” Ms had more Lynchings than any other state Between 1889 and 1945, Ms lynched 476 people (24 white, 14 African American females)
Coping Mechanism African Americans did not meekly accept being disenfranchised and forced into second class citizenship However, the threat of violence forced them to cope with the reality of the situation in a unique way They developed a “Mask” to wear in the presence of white people. The true feelings and contempt for the system were hidden from whites while a secret reality existed in the African American community. Resentment ran deep, but between 1890 -1940 African Americans had a single public demonstration against the system.
Self Esteem Despite segregation, African Mississippians never doubted their self worth. Often, they turned their attention away from segregation and focused upon economic development and education In response to segregation, they built their own restaurants, barbershops, beauty salons, and funeral parlors African Americans became doctors and lawyers; serving their own people and despite mass poverty, some became professionals and prospered. They maintained their own churches, lodges, and private schools. Much of life revolved around churches, just as whites did African American churches represented a free venue where they could be themselves.
Education A weak economy and racism caused Ms to neglect the education of its children. There had been NO public education system in the state prior to Reconstruction After 1885, the Democrats were in control and reduced education funding to levels that threatened even basic teaching.
Education African American students outnumbered white students in the state Irrespective of this, the state had twice as many white teachers. On average, white teachers were paid $130 a year while African American teachers made $90 Few teachers had any training and 75% had only studied in the rural schools where they taught. Educational opportunities differed between predominantly “white” counties vs predominantly African American Counties The tax system was skewed so that white schools were funded and African American schools were neglected
Agriculture During this time period poor whites and freedmen turned to sharecropping.
Sharecropping After the Civil War, credit was tight and the economy of the southern states was in disarray. “Credit” is the ability to buy something now and pay for it later. Sharecroppers were farmers who did not own the land they farmed, the house they lived in, or often the tools they used. They worked the land paid rent in the form of a percentage of the crops they grew In 1890, over 60% of Ms farmers were sharecroppers The life of sharecroppers and their families was very hard.
Life of a Sharecropper Life was very hard for most sharecroppers They lived in board shacks Their diets were poor; most eating cornbread, salt pork, and molasses day after day. Personal vegetable gardens were discouraged by the landowner because it took up land that could be used for cash crops Children attended school for six weeks a year and worked the fields the rest of the year. Most landowners only allowed cotton to be grown Because cotton prices plummeted after the war most sharecroppers lost money growing it. Because the sharecroppers purchased what they needed from the county store on credit, a cycle of poverty persisted year after year
The General Store Sharecroppers bought everything from food to clothing to seeds and tools from a single General Store. Purchasing items on credit was more expensive, had high interest rates and all accounts were settled at harvest time Because most sharecroppers were illiterate and could not do math, the storeowner could cheat the farmers easily
Sharecropping Laws Sharecroppers were allowed to move to different areas or even states looking for better conditions and higher pay However, State Laws allowed a landowner to keep the sharecropper working their land until all debts had been settled. This created an incentive for landowners to keep their sharecroppers in perpetual debt. Other laws were passed preventing “agents” (headhunters) from luring tenants away The result was a system where, as reported by the US Department of Justice in 1907, that one-third of the larger plantations in Ms held African American workers in near slavery.
Delta Chinese During Reconstruction, Delta planters replaced slave labor with “Coolie Labor” (unskilled contract labor from Asia) in an experiment to see if Chinese laborers could replace African American laborers. The Chinese laborers outsmarted the landowners by completing their contract obligations and then immediately leaving the fields. They used the unique circumstances of race relations in the state to prosper by opening stores that catered to African Americans, whom they treated with respect, while enjoying autonomy from white racist rule. In some circumstances they even attended white schools Much like whites, they supported their own racial purity and superiority.
Delta Planters In the 1900’s, Delta Planters tried to develop a new labor source by recruiting Italian immigrant farm laborers. Italian families worked hard and grew their own vegetables in addition to cotton. They were educated enough to negotiate the sale of their own crops because they could get better prices and make more money. They also resisted buying items at the general stores at inflated prices and stayed away from credit. In response, planters charged higher ginning and transportation costs and increased prices on almost everything The experiment failed because harsh treatment led to Italians petitioning the government and led to investigations
Agricultural Problems The sharecropping system could only work if planters could use segregation to keep their African American tenants and this led to even harsher treatment. Topsoil erosion became a serious problem In 1907 the Boll Weevil invaded Ms. It is a small beetle that attacks the bolls where cotton fibers are grown. This devastated the crops for years. Many farms turned away
The Lumber Industry At the turn of the century, a giant forest of white pine trees covered much of the state. Many parts of the state were still frontier and were not good for cotton. Settlers supported themselves by herding
Give Him The Lumber Once the railroads made their way to the state the lumber industry followed. The new industry offered employment and cash in return for trees. Ms became a leading lumber supplier in the nation In a shortsighted frenzy, lumber companies clear-cut (cut down all trees) the entire state The companies failed to replant the trees they had cut; taking their profits and leaving the land barren Only later, when yellow pines became profitable did landowners replant. By the end of WWI the boom had ended. Some cities survived the bust (Hattiesburg, Laurel) some did not and shrank into obscurity (D’Lo, Electric Mills)
The Populist Revolt
The Non-Democratic State Mississippi had never really been a Democracy: Before the Civil War planters ran the government During Reconstruction Republicans ran the state while excluding former Confederates After 1875, the African American majority was denied the right to vote by force and fraud During this time, a small group of insiders ran the state and controlled the government Some White leaders wanted reform but were stuck in an impossible situation because they had to keep the Democratic Party strong to keep Segregation and reform necessarily meant dividing the party.
It’s the Economy, Stupid! Mississippi’s small farmers suffered from falling cotton prices, high tariffs (taxes on foreign imports), and “hard” money policies. Republicans dominated Washington after the Civil War and instituted policies that favored businessmen over farmers. The high tariffs manufactured false economic conditions which artificially raised prices on finished goods. Farmers also had a difficult time getting credit because of the “Gold Standard”. The dollar was backed by gold only. Because gold was scarce, money was scarce and credit was hard to get and interest rates were very high. Farmers wanted cheap credit and supported a monetary system based on gold AND silver. Farmers revolted over the issue
Farmer’s Revolt Frank Burkitt led the Mississippi Farmer’s Alliance, an organization created to help small farmers. Burkitt challenged the leading authorities in the state led by James Z. George In 1891, The Farmers’ Alliance endorsed Ethelbert Barksdale, editor of a Jackson newspaper, as candidate for US Senate Barksdale favored a sub-treasury that would extend cheap credit to farmers and help store excess crops. Small farmers supported Barksdale and he could have won a general election but US Senators were appointed by the state legislature, not popular vote. George convinced the state Democratic Party to denounce the plan and killed it.
The People’s Party Burkitt, feeling betrayed by the Democrats left to form his own party called the Mississippi People’s Party in 1891 as a voice for small farmers The “Populists” as they were known, demanded tariff reform, a graduated income tax, regulation of railroads, the use of silver, and the direct election of Senators. Populists courted the lower classes of society and in many states African Americans were included. In Mississippi, Burkitt did not outwardly court African Americans but did include education for all races in his platform. The Democrats accused the Populists of trying to restore African American rights and adopted some of their platform
Party Bosses and Corruption Anselm J. Mc. Laurin emerged as the leader of the Democratic Party in the late 1890’s, serving as governor and US Senator
Patronage Mc. Laurin based his career on “patronage” (appointing people to government positions as rewards for political support) and pardoning criminals. With no political philosophy, his only goal appeared to be to win elections and hold power. The political county bosses had massive influence over who was chosen to run for office and basically ruled as a cabal, controlling all aspects of the government Fraud was commonplace Political elections became theater in the state and used to entertain more than solve problems
Calls for Reform The widespread political corruption led to calls for reform and specifically for “Primary Elections” In a primary, all of the party’s members vote for candidates of that party to decide who will run as the official candidate of that party These reforms did not gain traction until the financial scandals became publicized in 1900. Counties began taking it upon themselves to institute reforms and primaries began to take place In 1902, a state primary law passed
Populist Democrats Take Control For the first time in Mississippi history, poor whites could control the executive branch of the state government In 1903, James Vardaman ran for governor with their support Vardaman supported Barksdale and Burkitt but had remained a Democrat. He distrusted “Big Money” and hated the corrupt system He complained about the treatment of small farmers He supported government control of the railroads Racism became the leading issue in the campaign He did not support spending money to educate African American children
A Progressive Movement
Government Is the Answer The Progressive Movement: Believed that government local, state and federal - was best equipped to solve all of society’s ills. Vardaman proposed laws to end the convict lease system, restrict child labor, assist the deaf, and care for the mentally ill but the legislature did not pass these laws. He was successful in getting increased funding for schools and for teachers He created a state textbook commission, ending the corrupt monopoly that forced students to pay inflated prices for books He favored breaking up the big plantations and redistributing the land among small farmers
The Secret Caucus When Senator Mc. Laurin died in 1909, the legislature had to choose someone to complete his term. Vardaman ran against Leroy Percy of Greenville. The legislature decided that the vote would be taken in a secret caucus of Democrats The voting process lasted for 6 weeks For their votes both sides reportedly offered legislators government jobs, money, and liquor Percy won and Vardaman cried faul Theodore Bilbo testified that he’d been bribed but the man he accused was acquitted. Bilbo was nearly expelled by the legislature
Mississippi in WWI
1914 WWI began in 1914 between the Central Powers led by Germany and Austria-Hungary and the Triple Entente made up of France, Great Britain and Russia The US entered the fray in 1917 Almost 6, 000 men; both white and African American enlisted The army built two camps in the state: Camp Shelby near Hattiesburg West Point area Camp for the air force Mississippi’s involvement was quite limited because the war officially ended in 1919 Vardaman voted against entering the war and he was branded unpatriotic which ended his political career
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