Date of Award

1-1-2011

Document Type

Campus Access Thesis

Department

History

Sub-Department

Public History

First Advisor

Robert R Weyeneth

Abstract

Shrewd agricultural decisions enabled some African-American farmers to own and keep their land for decades, contributing to the economic and social stability of their homes. Their stories of black agency and community, centered on agriculture, have been largely lost in the haze that surrounds historical memory of Reconstruction and its immediate aftermath. From their farming practices and land-use policies to their heavy involvement in the Colored Farmers' Alliance, these rural inhabitants actively sought the creation of a rich community through Reconstruction and the 1890s, as much as their urban brethren or white farming counterparts. Yet traditional depictions of Reconstruction focus on the era's biracial politics or the federal tug-of-war that took place between President Andrew Johnson and Congress. In restoring the local dimension to the period, public historians can better interpret a complex subject to audiences on a more personal scale. Viewing Lower Richland County through the lens of agriculture offers the opportunity to discuss political, economic, cultural, and social changes, all through the crops and speeches of local farmers, dedicated both to the land they had long called home and the creation of a free, vibrant community.

Combining the study of land use through crop mixes, agricultural activism in the Colored Farmers Alliance, and historical interpretation of Reconstruction, a more dynamic, intriguing story of rural African-Americans waits to be told. Sharecropping and tenant farming were bleak realities for many black farmers in the postbellum South, but the efforts of a government land commission and the determination of Lower Richland farmers themselves converged to offer glimmers of economic hope, which helped the local community establish deeper roots in an area they had called home for years. In addition to presenting a more positive view of Reconstruction, this approach also engages the difficult questions of southern life in the twentieth century, as rural African Americans continued to struggle to gain economic independence and hold on to land and homes. These issues can be engaged through these momentarily and moderately successful programs, challenging entrenched assumptions and promoting awareness - two goals all public historians should strive for in their own communities.

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