In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

chapter 1 The Wages of the “Problem South” Alice Grogan spent her early years on a farm in the South Carolina upcountry, the eldest girl in a family of five boys and three girls. She began helping her mother with household chores at age five, and as soon as she was old enough, she began helping pick her father’s cash crops, cotton and corn. Among Alice’s other chores were picking blackberries, minding her younger siblings, carrying water from the spring, helping fix dinner for the young men who helped thresh her father’s wheat, and helping can fruit and vegetables and prepare virtually everything the growing family ate. When she was eleven, Alice contracted pellagra, a disease associated with poverty and a vitamin-deficient diet. It recurred several times before doctors finally cured her. For the Grogan family, the hard times of the Depression did not wait for the stock market crash. In the 1920s they found it difficult to make ends meet, even with the work of sons and daughters. As was the case for many other farm families, the jobs in the nearby textile mills looked inviting. Finally, in 1926, the Grogans made the move to Greenville, where Charlie Grogan and his oldest children found work at the Woodside Cotton Mill. Even Charlie’s wife Lydia filled batteries in the weave shop in the hours around the noon break when the weavers lunched. Although Alice and her brothers found town living and wage work a respite from the long hours of hard work on the farm, Charlie Grogan merely made the best of the change. Like many southerners who grew up on the farm, he never liked leaving the life he had known.1 In some ways, the Grogans were fortunate to leave when they did, finding mill jobs relatively easily. Other country people made the difficult transition during less opportune times. At the outset of the Depression, Calvin and Lola Simmons were hardscrabble tenant farmers in Tennessee’s Upper Cumberland region. Never able to get far enough ahead to acquire livestock, Calvin had to borrow a horse or mule to plow, which often meant that he had to plow in less than ideal conditions. Lola failed to make a sufficient garden for extra needs, and the couple was no more successful raising chickens or pigs, which Lola lamented “were two things it just wasn’t no way for us to keep from dying.” Eventually, the Simmonses left 12 chapter 1 for Knoxville after Calvin had a fight with neighbors who accused his dog of killing their chickens. But middle aged and without skills, Calvin scrambled to make a living as a handyman, while Lola stretched his irregular income to meet rent, coal, and food for them and their son. They lived in a cold, damp, threeroom apartment with a leaky roof and a “little water privy in the kitchen closet, but it don’t flush right,” Lola complained. Still, she noted, “being poor ain’t easy nowhere, but it’s a sight better in the city than on the farm.”2 The Grogans and the Simmonses were part of a dramatic transformation of the South that began in the 1930s, one that demanded momentous adjustments for much of the white working classes. In significant numbers they left their rural places of birth, many for the North or West, many more for towns, mill villages, and cities in the South. They left the farms that they owned, rented, or sharecropped in favor of wage-earning jobs in factories, mines, shops, and warehouses . They left the churches, schools, and kin networks, where they learned their values and their ways of understanding the world, for new homes where they had to adapt those values to new circumstances. They did this in a region with an economy ill suited for absorbing the masses of mobile people. The Great Depression began early in the rural South, and it flooded the labor markets of such low-wage regional industries as textiles, lumber, furniture, and tobacco, further depressing wages and leading to surplus production that only intensified price wars and put unhealthy industries on life support.3 By 1938, the administration of Franklin Roosevelt had identified what some called the “colonial economy” of the South as the nation’s number one economic problem. In The Report on Economic Conditions of the South, key southern liberals, under the auspices of the administration’s National Emergency Council, identified the paradox of the South, a...


Additional Information

Related ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.