Katharine and R. J. Reynolds: Partners of Fortune in the Making of the New South by Michele Gillespie (review)
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Reviewed by
Katharine and R. J. Reynolds: Partners of Fortune in the Making of the New South. By Michele Gillespie. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2012. Pp. 448. $32.95 cloth; $32.95 ebook)

The first monoculture of the Anglo-South was tobacco, a crop that has, arguably, affected global history more than the white fluffy fiber that claims more historical attention. Richard Joshua Reynolds (R.J.R.) may be a name familiar to anyone in the world where the products bearing his name are smoked or chewed. His wife Katharine is less well known, but Michele Gillespie shows that she maintained a space of her own in various efforts to uplift her corner of the upland South. Gillespie considers their partnership a demonstration of "the relative malleability of southern social and political constructions within economic transformation" (p. 12). In essence, they embodied the New South vision.

R.J.R. was a Virginia planter's son, and part of a generation that saw their ancien régime crumble after emancipation. Like many Old South scions, he turned to manufacture. His move to Winston (now Winston-Salem) made it the largest city in North Carolina by 1920. After establishing his ambeer fortune, and a rustic nineteenth-century image to accompany it, R.J.R. buttressed his reputation by standing up to James B. Duke's monopolistic American Tobacco Company (even as he and Duke privately established a mutually profitable arrangement) until the latter fell to federal trust-busting in 1911. Since he died relatively young five years later, R.J.R. did not live to see the ultimate global impact of his product spreading from Winston, a city with "tobacco on the brain" (p. 46).

Katharine was an independent, educated daughter of Piedmont gentry who took no time adjusting to a life of luxury. Like a lot of contemporaries in her stratum, she refused to remain idle, joining or founding every civic group imaginable, and organizing "Reynolda," a massive, self-sufficient country estate that Gillespie describes in painstaking detail. Reynolda, Gillespie argues, was a "quasi-utopic world" that "could be read as an implicit critique of the tobacco city [R.J.R.'s] ambitions had wrought" (p. 138). Katharine's second marriage, shortly after R.J.R.'s death, revealed a "modern pursuer of sensual experiences" who, like her husband, died young (p. 278).

The overarching theme of Katharine and R. J. Reynolds is paternalism, [End Page 466] and maternalism, most of it with a racial flavor, and it is in formidable company. Don H. Doyle's New Men, New Cities, New South (1990) and William Link's The Paradox of Southern Progressivism (1992) handle the subject in the urban and rural areas of the South respectively, so this book appropriately studies the transition of Winston from village to city through the labor of rural Southerners. Like a Family, by Jacquelyn Dowd Hall et al. (1987) and David L. Carlton's Mill and Town in South Carolina (1982) also come to mind. R.J.R. came to adulthood during a particularly mellow moment in Virginia political history. He made friends with white moderates (like Governor Robert Glenn) and unabashed Negrophobes (like newspaper editor Josephus Daniels) and left generous bequests for charities supporting both races. His business, which depended upon the low-waged labor of both whites and blacks, necessitated as much avoidance of issues as possible—there was no percentage in stirring up disorder among his employees.

Katharine was younger but was a product of a group who considered their black neighbors more useful than dangerous. Her massive estate, a Jeffersonian beau ideal, relied on labor from both black and white North Carolinians, and each was kept segregated and hemmed into their respective racial boundaries. It is apparent that the Reynoldses did not have any particular strong feelings about the "Negro Question," which may have made them unique in their time and place, or it may not. Did Southerners only criticize paternalism when its abuses became obvious? That is not the question Gillespie asks, but it is one her book still inspires.

R.J.R. and Katharine were clearly racial paternalists who believed that black Southerners...


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