The Etiquette of Race Relations in the South: A Study in Social Control

By Bertram Wilbur Doyle | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
MANNERS ON PLANTATION AND FARM

THE more intimate association, and the more numerous contacts between white and colored persons, in the period of slavery, occurred on the plantations and the farms. 1 There were, of course, both slaves and free Negroes in the towns and cities who came into association with white people; but, considering the slave primarily as a laborer and as the chief factor in the production of staples--cotton, tobacco, sugar cane, and rice--it is clear that his life was bound up with the agricultural setting and development of the South.

The industrial units of which the slave formed so important a part varied in organization with the number of acres contained in a given unit, as well as with the size and character of the personnel. The plantation or farm, however large or small it might be, tended to be a kind of kingdom, with a sovereignty all its own. It had its own rules, regulations, and customs; and the laws and institutions of the state touched it seldom, except as plantation customs had been incorporated into those institutions or enacted into its laws.

In general, the organization was bound together, as well as produced, by long family association, by common traditions, by common memories, and certainly by common interests. 2 Contact between the racial groups, intimate or formal, might at one time be cast harmoniously, at another discordantly. But the elementary conditions under which association did proceed tended to be those where forms of behavior, expected and accepted by both races, had been established. These forms tended to define, as well as to support, the distances and reserves that were necessary for effective social action.

Within the "big house"--as the owner's home on the larger

-18-

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