Race and the remaking of the rural South: Delta Cooperative Farm and Providence Farm in Jim Crow-era Mississippi Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Ferguson, Robert Hunt
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of History
  • Delta Cooperative Farm (1936-1942) and Providence Farm (1938-1956) were intentional communities in rural Mississippi that drew on Christian socialism, cooperative communalism, and social egalitarianism to enact progressive and leftist challenges to the South's racial hierarchy and labor practices. This dissertation demonstrates that even in the closed society that Mississippi represented, the rural poor and their leftist allies could challenge hegemonic social structures by employing a cooperative economy, operating a desegregated health clinic, holding interracial church and union meetings, and successfully managing a cooperative credit union. For twenty years, the farms were a beacon of hope and safe haven for southerners engaged in racial amelioration, labor reform, and black self-help. By the mid 1950s, however, the armies of massive resistance forced the closing of the remaining farm while internal racial tension bubbled to the surface among farm residents. The story of Delta and Providence is a measure of the possibilities for and obstacles to transformative change in the rural South during the mid-twentieth century. Race and the Rural South also places Delta and Providence within the context of the major social and economic changes taking place in the rural South from the Great Depression, through World War II, and into the early years of the classic phase of the civil rights movement. Dynamic labor activism in the 1930s rural South abated during the war years when agriculture further mechanized and many dirt farmers moved off the land and into factories. Civil rights activism, intimately entwined with labor unionism in the 1930s, was grounded in interracialism--black and white activists tackling their problems together--but World War II also changed this dynamic as whites left the farms. After World War II, African Americans living at Providence deliberately engaged in black self-help endeavors, using the farm as a sort of free space to carry out their visions for a democratic society. In these ways, Delta and Providence farms were representative of a rapidly changing region.
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  • ... in partial fulfillment of the requirements for a degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of History.
  • Brundage, W. Fitzhugh
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  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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