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You Can’t Eat Freedom

You Can’t Eat Freedom: Southerners and Social Justice after the Civil Rights Movement

GRETA DE JONG
Copyright Date: 2016
Pages: 320
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5149/9781469629315_dejong
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    You Can’t Eat Freedom
    Book Description:

    Two revolutions roiled the rural South after the mid-1960s: the political revolution wrought by the passage of civil rights legislation, and the ongoing economic revolution brought about by increasing agricultural mechanization. Political empowerment for black southerners coincided with the transformation of southern agriculture and the displacement of thousands of former sharecroppers from the land. Focusing on the plantation regions of Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi, Greta de Jong analyzes how social justice activists responded to mass unemployment by lobbying political leaders, initiating antipoverty projects, and forming cooperative enterprises that fostered economic and political autonomy, efforts that encountered strong opposition from free market proponents who opposed government action to solve the crisis.Making clear the relationship between the civil rights movement and the War on Poverty, this history of rural organizing shows how responses to labor displacement in the South shaped the experiences of other Americans who were affected by mass layoffs in the late twentieth century, shedding light on a debate that continues to reverberate today.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-2932-2
    Subjects: Sociology, History, Political Science
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (pp. vii-x)
  4. ABBREVIATIONS (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. INTRODUCTION (pp. 1-17)

    In her study of the transition from slavery to free labor in nineteenth-century Maryland, Barbara Fields refers to freedom as a “moving target” that was constantly being redefined in contests over economic and political rights that freedpeople attempted to assert and planters sought to deny.¹ At that time, the meaning of freedom for the nation’s working class was being transformed as the rise of industrial capitalism pushed the status of self-reliant property owner out of reach for large numbers of wage earners. Historically, Americans had considered property ownership essential to the enjoyment of liberty and the basis of citizenship in...

  6. CHAPTER 1 THE MAN DON’T NEED ME ANYMORE: FROM FREE LABOR TO DISPLACED PERSONS (pp. 18-43)

    When President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law on 6 August 1965, he declared it “a triumph for freedom as huge as any victory that has ever been won on any battlefield.” The measure outlawed electoral practices that had effectively disfranchised black southerners since the late nineteenth century and allowed the federal government to intervene in jurisdictions that continued to exclude them from political participation. Coming in response to decades of protest that saw supporters of racial equality being arrested, jailed, beaten, and murdered as they struggled to end racism, the new law promised to exorcise the horrors...

  7. CHAPTER 2 THIS IS HOME: BLACK WORKERS’ RESPONSES TO DISPLACEMENT AND OUT-MIGRATION (pp. 44-61)

    In the summer of 1966, black farmer Willie Williams offered a lesson in southern political economy to a reporter from theWashington Post. Williams was one of the tenants who James Minter had fired from his 11,000-acre cotton plantation in Dallas County, Alabama, earlier that year. The Minters had owned the land for 135 years, and the black families that tended the crops could trace their ancestry back just as far. “He’s one year older than me, Mister James is,” Williams stated. “We were raised as children together. His Daddy carried him to school in a horse and buggy every...

  8. CHAPTER 3 THEY COULD MAKE SOME DECISIONS: THE WAR ON POVERTY AND COMMUNITY ACTION (pp. 62-87)

    President Johnson’s State of the Union address in January 1964 expressed many of the same desires felt by displaced workers in the South: equal treatment under the law, jobs with adequate pay, decent homes, access to education, and economic security for those who were too old or sick to work. Johnson pointed out that as the richest, most powerful nation in the world, the United States surely had the capacity to ensure a comfortable standard of living for all its citizens, but racism and inadequate incomes excluded many people from the opportunities that others took for granted. He promised to...

  9. CHAPTER 4 OKRA IS A THREAT: THE LOW-INCOME COOPERATIVE MOVEMENT (pp. 88-115)

    In a telegram to President Johnson, spokesmen for the hundreds of people who gathered at the Poor People’s Conference at Mt. Beulah in January 1966 noted the government’s inadequate response to agricultural displacement and asserted: “We see that we will have to solve our own problems. … We don’t want charity. We are willing to work for ourselves if given a chance.”¹ Expanding and improving access to federal programs in the South through the War on Poverty were important achievements, but the long-term goal of most participants in the freedom movement was to foster black autonomy. As they saw it,...

  10. CHAPTER 5 OEO IS FINISHED: FEDERAL WITHDRAWAL AND THE RETURN TO STATES’ RIGHTS (pp. 116-140)

    Already wavering in the late 1960s, the federal government’s commitment to antipoverty initiatives weakened further over the course of the next decade as political leaders who were less disposed toward these types of investments gained dominance in the White House and Congress. Voters who were unhappy with the Johnson administration’s support for civil rights initiatives and attempts to address the deeper legacies of racism defected from the Democratic Party and began casting their votes for Republican candidates instead. A shared interest in limiting the federal government’s influence in their lives and communities drew segregationists together with conservative business leaders concerned...

  11. CHAPTER 6 TO BUILD SOMETHING, WHERE THEY ARE: THE FEDERATION OF SOUTHERN COOPERATIVES AND RURAL ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT (pp. 141-173)

    As the actions of federal officials threatened to negate earlier achievements by shifting responsibility for solving rural poverty back to local officials and private sector actors, participants in the low-income cooperative movement moved to coordinate their efforts more effectively and continued to craft their own solutions. The Federation of Southern Cooperatives brought the disparate groups that had been forming in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi together into an umbrella organization that promoted cooperative enterprise, provided training and financial assistance, advised members, lobbied for changes in federal policy, and secured funding for the movement from government agencies and private foundations. Initially hoping...

  12. CHAPTER 7 A WORLD OF DESPAIR: FREE ENTERPRISE AND ITS FAILURES (pp. 174-199)

    The FSC limped into the 1980s badly weakened by the damage that resulted from the grand jury investigation, only to see people who were just as hostile and more powerful than its opponents in the South take control of the federal government. Economic recession, inflation, and disillusionment with the Carter administration drew voters to conservative Republican Ronald Reagan, who won the presidency on promises to reduce taxes and rein in “big government.” Over the next decade, Reagan and his advisers completed the counterrevolution against social justice movements begun in the 1970s, prescribing cuts in federal programs as the solution to...

  13. CHAPTER 8 GOVERNMENT CANNOT SOLVE OUR PROBLEMS: LEGACIES OF DISPLACEMENT (pp. 200-221)

    Rural black southerners were not alone in witnessing the economic devastation of their communities in the late twentieth century. Just as the modernization of agriculture disrupted economic and social relationships in the South in the 1950s and 1960s, the next several decades saw similar processes occur in the nation as a whole. As deindustrialization and globalization undermined the comfortable living standards to which Americans were accustomed, social justice activists might have expected to gain support for policies that allowed a bigger role for government in addressing unemployment and poverty. Yet most citizens rejected that approach, opting instead for free market...

  14. CONCLUSION (pp. 222-226)

    In July 2014 the FSC/LAF’s Ben Burkett was among five winners of the James Beard Foundation’s Leadership Awards recognizing “visionaries in the world of food politics and sustainable agriculture.” The other honorees were community organizers Karen Washington and Navina Khanna, both active in efforts to enhance access to nutritious food for low-income people, and writers Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman, known for their critiques of corporate agriculture and advocacy of locally grown, organic food. Meanwhile, the United Nations promoted 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming with initiatives designed to draw attention to the part small farms played in...

  15. APPENDIX (pp. 227-230)
  16. NOTES (pp. 231-272)
  17. BIBLIOGRAPHY (pp. 273-286)
  18. INDEX (pp. 287-305)