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The Post Civil War South - Essay Example

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Man's relationship with the land has been told in literature since the days of Moses when he pleaded with the Pharaoh to free his people. In the Southern United States during the 19th century, land ownership became a social division between the elite landowners and the slaves and poor whites…
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The Post Civil War South

Download file to see previous pages... African-Americans and poor whites living in the South were denied land and the economic stability that it could provide. After the Civil War, the unfulfilled promises of freedom and independence vaporized into a quasi-slavery system of sharecropping and paupers wages instead of the dream of land ownership and true independence. In the agricultural South, any advancement towards freedom, equality, and civil rights would need to be accompanied by the real opportunity to own land. Land was not simply the security of what it could produce. In the South, land was a symbol of unfulfilled dreams, an expression of cultural independence, and a meaningful representation of real social capital.
The plantation system of production that proliferated in the South in the 18th and 19th centuries placed land as a currency. Landowners that were able to produce cotton could have lines of credit and assure themselves a steady income. Without land ownership they were nothing. Almost all social status was obtained and measured from the number of acres anyone owned. The adoption of the factor system by the cotton plantations in the South left little for the planters and less for the workers and slaves. Still, planters would be driven to expand and the "impulse to enlarge his undertakings had become deep rooted and was apparently irresistible. There was a sort of atmospheric psychology in the situation that seemed to make a man forever dissatisfied with stagnated sufficiency" (Stone, 1915, p.562-563). In the South, the question of status was not what you did, but rather how many acres you owned.
The Ante-bellum South also produced a paradox of ambivalence towards the ownership of land. While it was clearly understood that land was a significant measure of a man's social and material worth, those that were denied its use also decried land ownership. Religious beliefs in the South were initially evolved from a concept of land as a shared resource. Goldsmith (1988, p.392) states, "land, previously treated as a shared resource and mainly immune from individual ownership, became a commodity, accessible to individual enterprise. Traditional agrarian society had been invaded by the forces of a national capitalist economy". As the evolution of land from a survival source to an economic factor progressed, the social structure deprived certain members from ownership. Faulkner in Go Down, Moses describes the paradox of people seeking land, yet understanding the negative consequences of ownership. He writes,
... the land, the fields, and what they represented in terms of cotton ginned and sold, the men and women whom they fed and clothed and even paid a little cash money at Christmas-time in return for the labor which planted and raised and picked and ginned the cotton, the machinery and mules and gear with which they raised it and their cost and upkeep and replacement --- that whole edifice intricate and complex and founded upon injustice and erected by ruthless rapacity and carried on even yet with at times downright savagery not only to the human beings but the valuable animals too (p.221).
Without land and its ability to produce and provide, man was nothing. Yet with it man could also become the antithesis of spirituality that was defined by not only Christianity, but also by the African-American forms of worship.
The promise of land after the Civil War was a symbolic ideal that ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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