Cotton Pickin’ and Black Geography

Two recent articles are worth a look, one on the changing geography of Black America and another on how mechanization took over cotton farming.

Mona Chalabi maps black populations in the US for the last 118 years, but unfortunately does not go back to the 1850s. However, the distribution in 1900 was probably not that different. The animated gif will give you an idea of what happened i.e. the gradual outmigration from the South, accelerating in the 1940s and 50s as African-Americans went North and West in search of jobs and opportunities. With the conquest of tropical maladies like Yellow Fever and hookworm, and the widespread introduction of air conditioning in the 50s, there was a substantial white migration to what had become “The Sun Belt.”

Chalabi has a more detailed look at the numbers here.

Virginia Postrel takes a look at one of those unheralded things that changed the South, mechanized cotton picking. Most of us have heard how the cotton gin changed the game in the 1850s by allowing the mechanized extraction of seeds from the cotton boll, vastly increasing cotton production. The actual picking, however, still had to be done by hand and required a large labor force.

Hoeing weeds and picking cotton is brutally hard work, and in the American South an oppressive racial caste system kept many black laborers tied to the land. Mechanized cotton harvesting played a major role in breaking that system.

The most adaptable farmworkers moved on to better lives, as exemplified by Dorothy Ngongang, the retired Charlotte schoolteacher whose extended family recently bought the land on which her parents were sharecroppers. As children, she and her nine siblings had to leave school for months at a time to work in the fields. “They are on the land where they used to pick cotton,” her son Decker, whose tweets about the purchase went viral, told the Washington Post. “I recognize the significance of that, they recognize the significance of that.”

Share cropping was oppressive to both black and white, and kept many people bound in a system of debt peonage that went on for generations. Mechanization in this case played a large part in ending that system.

Update: The city of Elk Grove, California, has in effect banned a Revolutionary War re-enactment because of their gun laws.

The reenactment was to include firing black powder muskets as a part of the history lesson, but the group was told that’s against the rules.

According to a city law which says you cannot “Use, maintain, possess, fire, or discharge any firearm.”

“There’s no firing guns in a park, but there’s exceptions for each one of the ordinances,” which he adds the exceptions have been made in the past and can’t understand why no now.

“They actually asked us if we can use wooden sticks, and can you see 12 men in full regalia and another 12 charging with wooden sticks saying ‘Bang bang!’ It just doesn’t have the same effect,” he said.

Under Federal law black powder muzzle loaders are not considered firearms, but apparently this is no the case in Elk Grove. Silly.







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