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The South at Work

Observations from 1904

William Garrott Brown

Publication Year: 2014

In 1904 William Garrott Brown traveled the American South, investigating the region’s political, economic, and social conditions. Using the pen name “Stanton,” Brown published twenty epistles in the Boston Evening Transcript detailing his observations. The South at Work is a compilation of these newspaper articles, providing a valuable snapshot of the South as it was simultaneously emerging from post–Civil War economic depression and imposing on African Americans the panoply of Jim Crow laws and customs that sought to exclude them from all but the lowest rungs of southern society. A Harvard-educated historian and journalist originally from Alabama, Brown had been commissioned by the Evening Transcript to visit a wide range of locations and to chronicle the region with a greater depth than that of typical travelers’ accounts. Some articles featured familiar topics such as a tobacco warehouse in Durham, North Carolina; a textile mill in Columbia, South Carolina; and the vast steel mills at Birmingham. However, Brown also covered atypical enterprises such as citrus farming in Florida, the King Ranch in Texas, and the New Orleans Cotton Exchange. To add perspective, he talked to businessmen and politicians, as well as everyday workers. In addition to describing the importance of diversifying the South’s agricultural economy beyond cotton, Brown addressed race relations and the role of politicians such as James K. Vardaman of Mississippi, the growth of African American communities such as Hayti in Durham, and the role universities played in changing the intellectual climate of the South. The editor, Bruce E. Baker, has written an introduction and provided thorough annotations for each of Brown’s letters. Baker demonstrates the value of the collection as it touches on racism, moderate progressivism, and accommodation with the political status quo in the South. Baker and Brown’s combined work makes The South at Work one of the most detailed and interesting portraits of the region at the beginning of the twentieth century. Publication in book form makes The South at Work conveniently available to students and scholars of modern southern and American history.

Published by: University of South Carolina Press

Series: Southern Classics

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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Series Editor’s Preface

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pp. vii-viii

In The South at Work: Observations from 1904, William Garrott Brown offered a travel account for a non-southern audience, initially written as a series of twenty letters for the Boston Transcript. A native southerner, graduate of Harvard University, and well-received author, Brown essentially “tells about the South.” As Bruce E. Baker explains in his helpful and insightful...

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pp. ix-x

This is a project that sat for some time in my filing cabinet, waiting for me to find the opportunity and motivation to tackle it. As I got more interested in it, a number of people provided assistance of various forms, large and small. Brian Kelly of Queen’s University Belfast kindly sent me photocopies of the original articles. Alex Barber, now at the University of Durham, but then...

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pp. 1-7

William Garrott Brown was one of many ambitious southerners in the late nineteenth century who left his home and made his way to the more prosperous and intellectually sophisticated North, where his talents would find greater outlets and rewards. Yet like many southerners, he retained his affection for the South and a desire to, as Shreve McCannon would urge...

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Evidences of Important Changes in Its Ideals

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pp. 8-15

Hundreds of wealthy Northern people have gone South this winter in search of warmth and amusement—more probably, than ever before. But they have seen very little of Southern life. Renewing at Palm Beach, Ormond and Asheville the old parade of Bar Harbor, Newport and New York, they have given to “the natives” about as much study as they did in Maine last...

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New Energy is Evident in Virginia: Factories and Settlers from the North

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pp. 16-21

One must be very keen indeed about the things of today if in Richmond and thereabouts one is going to be firm enough to neglect altogether that absorbing yesterday which everywhere rises up again to make even the best work and liveliest interests of today seem commonplace and vulgar.1 Governor Montague is a decidedly modern looking young...

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Durham and the Famous Duke Family: How the Great Tobacco Market Has Been Developed

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pp. 22-28

From Virginia to North Carolina may be a farther cry than the people who know only “the South” will easily understand. But the backyard of Virginia is very like the backyard of North Carolina. Coming from Richmond to Durham, I traversed both. Their visible contents were pine trees, whitish, tired looking fields, and sawmills.
If there’s anything that can contribute ugliness...

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Tolerance Shown in North Carolina: The Meaning of the Trinity College Incident

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pp. 29-35

The part which public opinion plays in the rehabilitation of the South is hard to explain. To speak at all on such a subject is to incur the temptation to generalize loosely. But it is impossible to visit Trinity College, at Durham, and leave unpondered that particular aspect of the situation. The college buildings are in full view from the trains on the old North Carolina Railroad—now a...

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In the Mill Region of South Carolina: Immigration Sought by Systematic Methods

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pp. 36-42

All South Carolina is divided into three parts. That is to say, there are two parts which are very distinctly different and dissimilar, while between them lies a region which cannot be assigned to either. Up country and low country, the hills and the tide-water—these are the two divisions that could never be confounded. But the middle ground, of which Columbia is the...

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Is the Southern Black Man “Making Good”? Respects in Which He Is Undoubtedly Advancing

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pp. 43-49

I am more and more persuaded that in all our talk about the Negro far too little account is taken of the actual industrial and economic conditions here in the South under which he must live, particularly of the changes in those conditions which are coming about so rapidly. There is a slang phrase which we shall have to employ to express that view of the situation which the present...

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Florida Recovering from Its Depression: The Orange Freeze of 1894–5 a Blessing

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pp. 50-54

Even to a Southerner, Florida still seems a trifle foreign. It is an effect to which both the tropical flora and the Yankee tourist contribute. The peninsula is a sort of any man’s land. In this little town, for example, I am told that about half the constant population is made up of native Southerners, and nearly all the other half of Northern people. There is no part of the country without...

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Progress as Noted in Rural Alabama: Many Changes Observed Where Few Were Expected

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pp. 55-60

Ipse sedes revisit laetas, sed eheu! eas conspicit tamquam paene peregrinus.1
This looking at familiar scenes with the eyes of a stranger is not a mild experience. There is always imminent danger of a shifting of one’s point of view. This little town was probably one of the last places in the South to accept new conditions and rise to new demands and opportunities. Since I..

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The Present and the Future of Birmingham: Its Pressing Problems Are Labor and Steel

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pp. 61-66

The precise date of my first visit to Birmingham I cannot recall. Neither can I be sure whether the railroad crossing in Jones’s Valley was then called Birmingham or not. What I do remember rather distinctly is that the inn where we stayed was uncomfortable and miserably dirty, and that the locomotives which passed during the night had a peculiarly wild, shrill whistle, and...

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Fiery Governor Vardaman of Mississippi: His Coarse Speeches and Anti-Negro Attitude

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pp. 67-72

Anticipation, observation, and then the backward view—this is travel, subjectively considered. Ever since I crossed the Potomac, a month ago today, two clouds, hovering on the southwestern horizon, have been growing bigger and bigger. The farther southwestward I have come, the more I have heard of Governor Vardaman of Mississippi, and the boll weevil of...

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Mississippi’s Land Awaiting Improvement: Vast Tracts That Need Only Diligent Labor

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pp. 73-78

Some time in the eighties the late Senator George came to this place to make a speech.1 On the way to the hall he asked his host what he had better talk about. “Well,” said the other, “there are only two subjects our people ever talk about themselves. One is levees, and the other is Negroes. Take either line, and you are sure to hold your audience.”
Greenville is in the Yazoo-Mississippi...

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What the Levees Are Worth to Mississippi: A Work in Which the Nation Has Been Niggardly

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pp. 79-85

The best place to see the lower Mississippi River is from the old fort below this city. Nowhere else from New Orleans to Memphis is there such a vantage ground as the high bluffs of Vicksburg. Nowhere else does the river itself wear a more impressive look of power. Though still considerably below the danger line, it is high enough already to make these people turn first to the reports of...

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New Orleans and Its Bright Future: Southern Immigration and the Panama Canal

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pp. 86-91

I was speaking the other day of the northern and the southern ends of the Mississippi basin. The temptation is strong to extend the comparison into an inquiry whether there will ever be in the southern end a city as big as Chicago.
New Orleans is a good place to point out why the world finds it so hard to understand the true condition of the South as compared with other parts...

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Texas, the Land of Mighty Contrasts: Its Bigness Is Its Most Striking Trait

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pp. 92-97

Texas is too big. It is too big for one State government: too big for its population; too big for a traveler with only one lifetime to make sure that he has found out anything about it; far too big for an observer in search of tendencies and characteristics and prejudiced in favor of accuracy. One trouble is that nothing you can say about it is true; another is, that everything you can...

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The Awakening of Texas in Agriculture: One Good Result of the Boll Weevil’s Advent

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pp. 98-103

It is a little surprising that this should be my first visit to an agricultural college. There are several in the older States which I have planned to visit, but until I got off the train here the other day it must be confessed that I never saw the outside of such an institution. It was a little past noon, and the shade of a clump of trees about the little station-house looked pleasant. A score or...

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On the Vast Plains of Southern Texas

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pp. 104-109

I am afraid that if I describe my immediate environment no one will believe that this is written from a real ranch at all. The old mesquites on the lawn in front of me are big enough to be mistaken for willows. The lawn itself is turfed like the tennis courts at Newport and Longwood. The walk, whose curves are in fact the brand of the ranch, is grabbled as cleanly as though it...

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Educational Endowments in Texas

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pp. 110-115

San Jacinto Day in Texas comes but three days later than Patriots’ Day in Massachusetts. In San Antonio yesterday gilded booths and other preparations for Thursday’s celebration of the anniversary of Houston’s victory over Santa Anna gave the curious little city a holiday look.1 Yesterday was Sunday, but in San Antonio, as in New Orleans, the bars and beer gardens are open...

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Texas as a Grain-Growing State

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pp. 116-120

There is no sharp line between the cotton belt and the grain country of northern Texas, but if one were compelled to separate the two divisions on a map the line of division would run, perhaps, through this county. Cotton is grown to the northward all the way into Indian Territory and Oklahoma, and grain to the southward; but the best cotton lands are between here and the...

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Unreliable Labor Responsible for Its Backwardness

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pp. 121-126

Where is the South? This journey has brought me through it—the longest way—but I should not like to undertake to “bound it,” as they used to say at school. Tennessee and Arkansas excepted, I have visited every one of the States which must indisputably be assigned to it, but there are men and neighborhoods in them all which cannot be called Southern in any but a...

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Rehabilitation Is Now Almost Complete

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pp. 127-132

Whatever else the thousands who will visit St. Louis this summer may decide concerning the city and the Fair, they can hardly deny that the place is sufficiently central to encourage breadth and catholicity in one’s views of American life.1 Foreigners will have a good chance to compare the contributions of their various countries to our population and to our civilization. Americans...


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pp. 133-164


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pp. 165-176


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pp. 177-185

E-ISBN-13: 9781611173765
E-ISBN-10: 1611173760
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611173758

Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Southern Classics

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Southern States -- History -- 1865-1951.
  • Southern States -- Social conditions -- 1865-1945.
  • Southern States -- Race relations.
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