Southern Farmers and Their Stories: Memory and Meaning in Oral History

By Melissa Walker | Go to book overview

Chapter Four
Memory and the Meaning
of Change

Rural southerners’ narratives of change are peopled with villains and victims as well as heroes. Some stories are rich and complex; others are flat and one-dimensional. While their descriptions of change reveal the forces that they believed were driving transformation, their analytical and interpretive comments reveal the meanings that they gave that transformation. For the transformation of the rural South did not mean the same things to all members of the rural community of memory. The prewar generation of white landless and landowning farmers frequently saw rural transformation as the source of new choices and new opportunities for better lives often found off the farm. Although a few who abandoned farming admitted that they would have preferred to stay on the land, most depicted leaving the land as a positive choice that materially improved their lives. African American farmers saw agricultural transformation as yet another example of a process that disadvantaged black farmers—as yet another chapter in the long book that chronicles the disempowerment of America’s black citizens. Many African American narrators had abandoned farming by the 1950s, but a stubborn few persisted on the land. Their stories emphasized the persistent impact of racial oppression on black farmers. Some African Americans hated farming, some loved it, but nearly all expressed the belief that racial discrimination, including discrimination by the federal government, worked to make farming untenable. Nonetheless, large numbers of black farmers worked the land long past the time that other doors opened to them. The postwar generation of white farmers, mostly landowners, described agricultural transformation as a convoluted, multifaceted, and protracted process that left farmers at the mercy of impersonal

-139-

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Southern Farmers and Their Stories: Memory and Meaning in Oral History
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • New Directions in Southern History ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter One - Three Southern Farmers Tell Their Stories 37
  • Chapter Two - Rural Southerners and the Community of Memory 77
  • Chapter Three - Memory and the Nature of Transformation 117
  • Chapter Four - Memory and the Meaning of Change 139
  • Chapter Five - The Present Shapes Stories about the Past 177
  • Conclusion 223
  • Appendix One - Demographic Data 231
  • Appendix Two - List of Interviewees 237
  • Appendix Three - Interviews 255
  • Notes 281
  • Bibliographic Essay 305
  • Index 319
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