This is the story of how rural black people struggled against the oppressive sharecropping system of the Arkansas and Mississippi Delta during the first half of the twentieth century. Here, white planters forged a world of terror and poverty for black workers, one that resembled the horrific deprivations of the African Congo under Belgium's King Leopold II.Delta planters did not cut off the heads and hands of their African American workers but, aided by local law enforcement, they engaged in peonage, murder, theft, and disfranchisement. As individuals and through collective struggle, in conjunction with national organizations like the NAACP and local groups like the Southern Tenant Farmers' Union, black men and women fought back, demanding a just return for their crops and laying claim to a democratic vision of citizenship. Their efforts were amplified by the two world wars and the depression, which expanded the mobility and economic opportunities of black people and provoked federal involvement in the region. Nan Woodruff shows how the freedom fighters of the 1960s would draw on this half-century tradition of protest, thus expanding our standard notions of the civil rights movement and illuminating a neglected but significant slice of the American black experience.
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About the Author
Table of Contents
1. The Forging of the Alluvial Empire
2. Tensions of Empire
3. The Killing Fields
4. The Black People's Burden
5. Revolt against Mean Things
6. A War within a War
What People are Saying About This
In American Congo Nan Woodruff very rightly places the Mississippi Delta and its racialized political economy in international context. No longer does this heavily black, white supremacist plantation region float in American (and southern) exceptionalism. Her Delta belongs to the colonized world of the twentieth century, rising and failing in rhythm with the colonies of Asia and Africa as a result of the same world wars. In the Delta as in other colonies, struggle proves long, but also fruitful.
Nell Irvin Painter, author of
Southern History Across the Color Line
Nan Woodruff has brilliantly validated the NAACP's eighty-year old evocation of the gothic horror of Leopold II's Congo in the lower Mississippi Valley's cotton plantation complex. Her book is one harrowing read, leavened by the stunning heroism of indomitable resistance.
Jack Temple Kirby, author of
Rural Worlds Last: The American South, 1920-1960
Nan Woodruff has brilliantly validated the NAACP's eighty-year old evocation of the gothic horror of Leopold II's Congo in the lower Mississippi Valley's cotton plantation complex. Her book is one harrowing read, leavened by the stunning heroism of indomitable resistance.Jack Temple Kirby, author of Rural Worlds Lost: The American South, 1920-1960
Woodruff has vividly recreated the brutal local history of the Delta and persuasively situated that history in the context of national politics, global economics, and world wars. This book should be required reading for students of Southern, African American, and labor history.
David Montgomery, author of
Citizen Worker: The Experience of Workers in the United Stores with Democracy and the Free Market during the Nineteenth Century