‘Amiable Peasantry’ or ‘Social Burden’: Constructing a Place for Black Southerners



Booker T. Washington knew his white neighbours well. Southern employers and landlords might incessantly complain about their black labour force; various white southerners might repeatedly warn of the inability of African-Americans to reach the Anglo-Saxon level of civilisation; legislators might translate an ideology of racial hierarchy into spatial distance by mandating segregation. ‘But when there is work to be done about the plantation, when it comes time to plant and pick the cotton the white man does not want the Negro so far away that he cannot reach him by the sound of his voice.’1 During the half-century between emancipation and the publication of this insight in 1914, black southerners on the move tended to remain — at least metaphorically — within hailing distance. Two years later, however, a vast social movement known as the Great Migration signalled the beginning of very different, and less accommodating, patterns of African-American migration. White southerners responded in ways that reveal not only the extent of their dependence on black labour, but also the ideological, political and economic underpinnings of social relations and order in much of the South.


Labour Market Baton Rouge Race Relation Black Worker Social Burden 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1997

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