Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Standing Their Ground: Small Farmers in North Carolina since the Civil War

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Standing Their Ground: Small Farmers in North Carolina since the Civil War

Article excerpt

Standing Their Ground: Small Farmers in North Carolina since the Civil War. By Adrienne Monteith Petty. (New York and other cities: Oxford University Press, 2013. Pp. [xiv], 281. $74.00, ISBN 978-0-19-993852-0.)

In this bold and ambitious book Adrienne Monteith Petty seeks to clarify the history of agriculture in the South since the Civil War by making room for the high ideals and remarkable persistence of small-scale landholders. While Pete Daniel, Gilbert C. Fite, Jack Temple Kirby, and other historians have focused primarily on sharecroppers and tenant farmers, the two most exploited groups in southern agriculture, and other scholars have recently turned their attention to either white or African American small-farm owners, Petty "takes the novel approach of studying small farm owners--white, black, and Indian--as a single class" (p. 4). The economic disruptions of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries notwithstanding, small farm owners, Petty argues, maintained "their own discrete social group with its own ideology and aspirations"--a subsistence-oriented, cooperative mode of living (p. 10). Over time, however, market forces, technological developments, federal farm programs, and the often violent race relations that precluded solidarity between white and black farm owners undermined their aspirations as well as their hold on the land.

Petty takes a case study approach, focusing on the seven counties--Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, Duplin, Pender, Robeson, and Sampson--that cover the Cape Fear River watershed of southeastern North Carolina. In the immediate post-Civil War years, small landowning families were more likely to harvest turpentine from the region's dense pine forests than plant crops, but with the rising dominance of commercial agriculture between 1880 and 1920, they turned first to truck farming and then to tobacco and cotton. While some longed for the self-sufficiency of the antebellum yeomanry and others exhibited unabashedly capitalist values, both groups continued to reassert an ideology of individualism and self-reliance by devoting valuable acreage to food and feed crops. During the New Deal era, white small farmers, unlike tenants and sharecroppers, at first benefited from the payments they received under the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA), but by not embracing the black farmers who shared their economic class, they "weakened their position in pushing for an equitable distribution of government benefits" (p. …

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