Abstract

The New Deal resettlement communities appear in the literature as efforts to ameliorate the wretched condition of southern sharecroppers and tenants.However, those evicted to make way for the new settlers are virtually invisible in the historic record. The resettlement projects were part of larger efforts to modernize rural America. "Modernization" is a complex process whereby a relatively specific set of assumptions and behaviors make other assumptions and behaviors "wrong, "both morally and pragmatically. The removal of former tenants and their replacement by FSA clients in the lower Mississippi alluvial plain — the Delta — reveals core elements of New Deal modernizing policies, exposing key concepts that guided the FSA’s tenant removals: the definition of rural poverty as rooted in the problem of tenancy; the belief that economic success entailed particular cultural practices and social forms; and the commitment by those with political power to gain local support. These assumptions undergirded acceptance of racial segregation and the criteria used to select new settlers. Alternatives could only become visible through political or legal action — capacities sharecroppers seldom had. However, in succeeding decades, these modernizing assumptions created conditions for Delta African Americans on resettlement projects to challenge white supremacy.

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NOTES

1 Walter Wilson to President Roosevelt, Dec. 11, 1937, File 912, Box 393, Louisiana LA14-LA18, Project Records Farm Security Administration & Predecessor Agencies, 1935-1940 (hereafter PR), RG 96, National Archives II, College Park, Md. (hereafter NARA II).
2 The memoir is John H. Scott, with Cleo Scott Brown, Witness to the Truth: My Struggle for Human Rights in Louisiana (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2003).
3 Sidney Baldwin, Poverty and Politics: The Rise and Decline of the Farm Security Administration (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1968);
Theodore Saloutos, The American Farmer and the New Deal (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1982);
Ira Katznelson, When Affirmative Action was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2005);
Jill Quadagno, The Color of Welfare: How Racism Undermined the War on Poverty (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994). The way the New Deal dealt with race and its legacy is a vexed one. See, for example, 2007 Sarah Lawrence College symposium "Rethinking New Deal Racial Politics: Citizenship, Public Policy, and the American Welfare State" reported in "Sarah Lawrence Symposium to Rethink Racial Politics of the New Deal," Collegenews.org, http:// www.collegenews.org/x6842.xml (accessed Feb. 26, 2009). Kenneth Finegold and Theda Skocpol, State and Party in America’s New Deal (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1995);
Deborah Fitzgerald, "Accounting for Change: Farmers and the Modernizing State," in The Countryside in the Age of the Modern State: Political Histories of Rural America, ed. Catherine McNicol Stock and Robert D. Johnston (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001), 189-212;
James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999);
Catherine McNicol Stock, Main Street in Crisis: The Great Depression and the Old Middle Class on the Northern Plains (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992).
4 "Rohwer Relocation Center," Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture, http://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=369 (accessed July 22, 2008);
"Jerome Relocation Center," Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture, http://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=2399 (accessed July 27, 2008);
Rosalee Gould, interview with Jane Adams and D. Gorton, May 22, 2004, McGehee, Arkansas, notes in authors’ possession;
Bill Stroud, email correspondence with D. Gorton, Mar. 16, 2007, in authors’ possession;
Donald Holley, Uncle Sam’s Farmers: The New Deal Communities in the Lower Mississippi Valley (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1975);
Matty Monteith and Jean Shields Jones, interview with authors, Jan. 12, 2003, Greenfield Plantation, Washington County, Mississippi, transcript in authors’ possession.
5 M. H. Mclntyre, to the Secretary of Agriculture, FSA, with letter from Dr. W. H. Jernagin, Fraternal Council of Negro Churches in America, Jan. 15, 1939;
Howard S. Stansburg and S. R. Archer to the President, Jan. 26, 1939;
O. C. W. Taylor to the President, Jan. 19, 1939, with transmittal from M. H. Mclntyre to the FSA, Jan. 21, 1939, File 1568, Misc. papers, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Library, Hyde, Park, New York;
Scott, Witness to the Truth;
Holley, Uncle Sam’s Farmers, 183, 112 also noted the protests over the transfer of Transylvania to white farmers. Johnston’s charges were made at the Hearings before the Select Committee of the House Committee on Agriculture, to Investigate the Activities of the Farm Security Administration, 77th Cong., 1st sess., part 2, June 7 to July 2, 1943;
quoted in Lawrence J. Nelson, King Cotton’s Advocate: Oscar G. Johnston and the New Deal (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1999), 219, 223;
also quoted in Holley, Uncle Sam’s Farmers, 264-65;
Plat of Phillipston Plantation, Plat Book 1, Chancery Clerk’s Office, Leflore County Courthouse, Greenwood, Mississippi;
Kathryn Richardson Brown interview with authors, Mar. 17, 2005, Leflore County Courthouse, notes in authors’ possession.
6 Scott, Seeing Like a State;
Jess Gilbert, "Low Modernism and the Agrarian New Deal," in Fighting for the Farm: Rural America Transformed, ed. Jane Adams (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003), 130-31. See, also, Fitzgerald, "Accounting for Change," 189-212.
7 The literature on modernism and nationalism is large and beyond the scope of this article to discuss at length. See, for example, Anthony D. Smith, Nationalism and Modernism: A Critical Survey of Recent Theories of Nations and Nationalism (London: Routledge, 1998).
8 Jane Adams and D. Gorton, "Confederate Lane: Class, Race, and Ethnicity in the Mississippi Delta," American Ethnologist 33 (May 2006): 288-309;
Jane Adams and D. Gorton, "’Southern Trauma’: Revisiting the Indianola, Mississippi, of John Dollard and Hortense Powdermaker," American Anthropologist 106 (June 2004): 334-45. The issue of long-term effects of government programs is examined by Lester M. Salamon, "The Time Dimension in Policy Evaluation: The Case of the New Deal LandReform Experiments," Public Policy 27 (Spring 1979): 131-32, which focuses on the impor-, tance of these projects in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. The projects are listed in various reports to Congress and internal reports. The National New Deal Preservation Association published a "Complete List of New Deal Communities, compiled primarily from the Committee on Agricultures," Hearing on the Farm Security Administration, 78th Cong., 1st sess., 1943-44, http://www.newdeallegacy.org/table_communities.html (accessed July 27, 2008). Books of plats of all the tracts purchased by 1940 in Region VI (Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi) are in Box 105, Arkansas AK9-AK11, PR, RG 96, NARA II. Agency records indicate that what was defined as a "community project" varied through time. Additionally, some projects, like Sunflower Plantation were treated administratively as part of Mississippi Delta Farms, despite the fact that they had a number of cooperatives and other elements characteristic of community.
9 The county-by-county inventory yields a more detailed list of lands acquired by the FSA than available in the project records at the National Archives for two reasons: first, project records for Mississippi and Louisiana are far less complete than those for Arkansas;
and second, after Congress forbade the FSA from directly acquiring land the agency acted as intermediary between clients and the landowner, so these lands, although technically not administered by the FSA, were effectively FSA projects, see, Baldwin, Poverty and Politics, 205-207;
Paul V. Maris, "The Land is Mine";
From Tenancy to Family Farm Ownership (1950, repr., New York: Greenwood Press, 1969), 149-50. Records on individual clients for Region VI are housed at the National Archives in Fort Worth.
10 "The collection includes about 164,000 black-and-white negatives;
this release provides access to over 160,000 of these images. The FSA-OWI photographers also produced about 1600 color photographs" http"//rs6.loc.gov/ammem/fsahtml/fahome.html (accessed July 27, 2008). See, also, http://rs6.loc.gov/ammem/fsahtml/fabout.html. Roy Stryker was the head of the RA’s Historical Section from the formation of the photographic project in 1935 until his resignation in 1943. In 1942 the Historical Section was folded into the Office of War Information (OWI). The complete collection of photographs (approximately 270,000 negatives and 77,000 prints) was transferred to the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, in 1944, http://arthurdalewv.org/2007/09/06/fsa-owi-photography-project/ (accessed July 27, 2008). The captions are not always accurate. See, Marion Post Wolcott’s mis-attribution of Joe Gow Nue & Co.’s grocery store to Leland, Mississippi, (LC-USF34-052450-D) when it was a Greenville landmark. The reason for this was the method they used. The photographers sent their film to Washington, DC, where it was developed and contact prints made. "After Stryker reviewed and selected images, the negatives and file prints (or ’first prints’) were returned to the photographers for captioning. The resulting captions were edited at the photographic unit’s headquarters," http://rs6.loc.gov/ammem/fsahtml/fabout.html (accessed July 27, 2008).
11 The precursors to the RA included rural relief programs begun under the Civil Works Administration (established 1933) that were rolled into FERA’s Division of Rural Rehabilitation and Stranded Populations in 1934;
the FERA community program that began to establish planned communities in 1935;
and its program to purchase and retire submarginal land, begun in 1934, with the Department of Interior’s Division of Subsistence Homesteads established under the National Industrial Recovery Act, see, Baldwin, Poverty and Politics, 64-65;
L. C. Gray, "The Social and Economic Implications of the National Land Program," Journal of Farm Economics 18 (May 1936): 258. OnTbgwell’s resignation, see, Baldwin, Poverty and Politics, 121-23.
12 Holley, Uncle Sam’s Farmers, 28, 67-68, 102, 179-81;
Plats of Region VI projects, Box 105, Arkansas AK9-AK11, PR, RG 96, NARA II;
T. Roy Reid wrote to W. W. Alexander, Aug. 13, 1937, stating, "we will not sell land to negroes in any community where such sale does not have the endorsement of the leading citizens of the area affected." File 903011, Box 393, Louisiana LA14-LA18, PR, RG 96, NARA II. The proportion of black and white tenant families to be selected for the Farm Tenant Security Projects for each state in Region VI are listed in a letter from John O. Walker to T. Roy Reid, July 14, 1937, File 011045, Box 151, Arkansas AK19, PR, RG 96, NARA II. The policy is spelled out in Walter E. Packard to T. Roy Reid, Feb. 27, 1937, File 991-045, Box 393, Louisiana LA14-LA18, PR, RG 96, NARA II;
Baldwin, Poverty and Politics, 196-97, 202.
13 Scott, Witness to the Truth, 82. His account is corroborated by the FSA Project Records, RG 96, NARA II;
James Matthew Reonas, "Once Proud Princes: Planters and Plantation Culture in Louisiana’s Northeast Delta, From the First World War through the Great Depression" (PhD diss., Louisiana State University, 2006), 157.
14 Thurgood Marshall to RA Director, Mar. 23, 1937, File 701;
Lewis Long to Mr. Aylesworth, Nov. 20, 1937, File 789-513, Box 392, Louisiana LA14-LA18, PR, RG 96, NARA II;
"Fight Wholesale Ousting," Pittsburgh Courier, Aug. 13, 1938, 1;
"FSA to Explain Removal of Louisiana Tenant Farmers," Pittsburgh Courier, Oct. 15, 1938, 6;
a shorter version of the article appears in the Chicago Defender, Oct. 15, 1938, 6;
Scott, Witness to the Truth, 89;
"La. Whites Protest Removal: Transfer being Fought by Both Groups, as FSA Gets Itself Tangled Up," Pittsburgh Courier, Oct. 29, 1938, 5;
"Man Who Ousted Tenants ’On Spot,’" Pittsburgh Courier, Dec. 10, 1938, 4;
J. O. Walker to T. Roy Reid, Jan. 19, 1939;
Reid to Alexander, Jan. 20, 1938, File 912-06, Box 393, Louisiana LA14-LA18, PR, RG 96, NARA II.
15 Scott, Witness to the Truth, 90.
16 To see the entire series of photos Russell Lee took of this family, see, http://www.siu.edu/~jadams/fsa/ahs/trans-fam.html and http://www.siu.edu/~jadams/fsa/ahs/trans-fam-cnorder.html.
17 J. O. Walker to W W. Alexander, Sept. 21, 1937, "Soliciting Information from Julius Rosenwald Foundation Relative to Conditions of Title to Property on Which They Erect Buildings for Negro Education," File 210, Box 409, Mississippi MS18-MS23, PR, RG 96, NARA II;
Marie M. Hemphill, Fevers, Floods, and Faith: A History of Sunflower County, Mississippi 1844-1976 (Indianola, Miss.: Sunflower County Historical Society, 1980), 416-17;
Horace Taylor, in a Nov. 14, 1938 history reproduced by Peggy Moore, ed., Sunflower Plantation Part 1:A History, spiral bound pamphlet, nd, copy in authors’ possession, states that "at one time [Sunflower Plantation] accommodated 170 or more Negro families."
18 Webb to Alexander, Nov. 26, 1938;
Alexander to Webb, Dec. 12, 1938;
Alexander to Reid, Dec. 12, 1938;
Reid to Webb, Dec. 20, 1938, File 910, Box 410, Mississippi MS18-MS23, PR, RG 96, NARA II.
19 Reid to Whittington, Jan. 31, 1939, File 910, Box 410, Mississippi MS23-MS56, PR, RG 96, NARA II.
20 Holley, Uncle Sam’s Farmers, 47, 140;
Report on Plum Bayou Project, Lake View, see plats of projects, including Arkansas Tract No. 27, 1935, File ACC 59A-I213, Box 105, Arkansas AK9-AK11;
Ogero C. Brewer to Senator Joe Y. Robinson, Apr. 20, 1936, Box 119;
T. Roy Reid to Will W. Alexander, July 14, 1937, with "Special Selection Criteria," File 911041, Box 121, Arkansas AK12, PR, RG 96, NARA II.
21 George Wolf to Jack Fischer, Aug. 5, 1939;
Alexander to Reid, Aug. 19, 1939, File AD-AJ-12, Box 121, Arkansas AK12, PR, RG 96, NARA II. For letters protesting removal, see, Cammack to J. O.Walker, Aug. 9, 1937, Sept. 23, 1937;
R. L. Montgomery to E. B. Whitaker, Aug. 23, 1937;
Sumrall to Whitaker, Oct. 5, 1937;
Sumrall to Donilson, Willie Taylor, Louis Dixon, Walter Wilson, Nov. 24, 1937;
Willie Taylor to President Roosevelt, Dec. 7, 1937;
Lewiss Dixon and twenty-six other farm tenant families to Henry Wallace, nd, Dec. 7, 1937;
Walter Wilson to President Roosevelt, Dec. 11, 1937;
Cammack to Alexander, Dec. 27, 1937;
Bill Donilson to President Roosevelt, Jan. 3, 1938;
Walker to Walter Wilson, Dec. 3, 1937;
Walker to Reid, Jan. 6, 1938, File 911-04, Box 393, Louisiana LA14-LA18, PR, RG 96, NARA II.
22 Letter from thirty-two signatories to W. M. Whittington, Dec. 17, 1938, File 910, Box 410, Mississippi MS23-MS56, PR, RG 96, NARA II;
Taylor, "Sunflower Plantation."
23 Maris, "The Land is Mine, " 148.
24 Holley, Uncle Sam’s Farmers, 179-81;
Donald Holley, "The Negro in the New Deal Resettlement Program," Agricultural History (July 1971): 179-95;
Baldwin, Poverty and Progress, 95-96, 121-23;
Charles S. Johnson et al, The Collapse of Cotton Tenancy: Summary of Field Studies and Statistical Surveys, 1933-1935 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1935).
25 Adams and Gorton, "Confederate Lane";
"A ’Friend’ of the Negro," Pittsburgh Courier, Dec. 10, 1938, 10.
26 W. Lloyd Warner, "American Caste and Class," American Journal of Sociology 42 (Sept. 1936): 234-37;
Allison Davis et al., Deep South: A Social Anthropological Study of Caste and Class (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1941), 3-14;
Robin D. G. Kelley, Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990). The party, Kelley notes (p. 13), advocated racial integration in the North but nationalism in the South. Paul V. Canonici, The Delta Italians: Their Pursuit of "The Better Life" and Their Struggle Against Mosquitoes, Floods, and Prejudice (Madison, Miss.: Paul V. Canonici, 2003).
27 J. O. Walker to Reid, Aug. 7, 1937;
letters regarding protests over Lake View being a black project are in File 913-011;
Lake Providence leaders to White, Dec. 4, 1937;
Alexander to Biggs, Dec. 17, 1937;
Walker to Reid, Jan. 18, 1938;
Reid to Alexander, Jan. 19, 1938;
Reid to Alexander, Aug. 17, 1937, File 911-045;
Reid to Alexander, Sept. 7, 1937, File 911-04, Box 393, Louisiana LA14-LA18;
J. M. Haw to Bennett C. Clark, Apr. 10, 1937;
E. L. Brown to Clark, Apr. 17, 1937, File 913-01, Box 412, Missouri MO16, PR, RG 96, NARA II. The cited file contains copies of numerous letters and petitions transmitted by Missouri congressmen and senators expressing similar sentiments, as well as typescript of "Let’s Nip This in the Bud," Enterprise Courier (Charleston, MO), Apr. 8, 1937.
28 John L. McClellan to Alexander, Apr. 20, 1938, with copy of letter from Tom Johnson to McClellan, Apr. 15, 1938, Box 158, File 700;
Alexander to McClellan, May 11, 1938;
Reid to Alexander, Apr. 22, May 16, 1938;
Reid to Alexander, with attached letter from Desha County citizens, May 23, 1938, File 703-01, Box 158, Arkansas AD-AK-19, PR, RG 96, NARA II.
29 S. B. Hardwick to Orville Zimmerman, Apr. 8, 1937, File 913-01, Box 412, Missouri MO 16, PR, RG 96, NARA II. Despite greater political power and access, African Americans in southeast Missouri were unable to obtain more than a portion of La Forge Project, despite considerable effort. See, N. C. Bruce, Bud Johnson, J. B. Graves, J. A. Alexander, and S. D. Woods to Henry A. Wallace, Apr. 20, 1939;
J. O. Walker to N. C. Bruce, nd, General Correspondence 1935-42, Box 230, RG 96, Chicago, NARA Great Lakes Region.
30 Lee O. Sumrall to E. B. Whitaker, July 22, 1937, File 913-011, Box 393, Louisiana, LA14-LA18, PR, RG 96, NARA II;
Baldwin, Poverty and Progress, 199.
31 Gilbert, "Low Modernism," 131;
Fitzgerald, "Accounting for Change";
Form dated May 5, 1936, File 911-45, Box 151, Arkansas, AK19, PR, RG 96, NARA II. On revising the criteria, see, Project Brief, July 23, 1937, File 918, Box 153, Arkansas Tenant Security, Arkansas RR-AK-19, PR, RG 96, NARA II, p. 2. Lake View, Arkansas and Lake Dick, Arkansas, had special selection criteria that slightly modified the general criteria. See, Special Selection Criteria, Lake View Project, RR-AK-12;
Special Selection Criteria Lake Dick Project, RR-AK-14, with transmittal letter dated July 14, 1937, approval letter dated July 28, 1937, File 911-041, Box 121, Arkansas, PR, RG 96, NARA II;
Baldwin, Poverty and Politics, 217-19.
32 The three assumptions schematized here should not be viewed as eliding the deep ideological cleavages within the New Deal itself between liberal and radical modernizers,
and in the larger polity, particularly regarding conservatives of various stripes. See, for example, Baldwin, Poverty and Politics, chpt. 9.
33 Johnson et al., The Collapse of Cotton Tenancy is representative of this concern. See also the manual prepared under the direction of the FSA Personnel Training Committee for FSA employees by Joseph Gaer, Toward Farm Security (Washington, DC: GPO, 1941). American Indians and the African-American community at Gee’s Bend, Alabama, may be the only exception to this generalization. The various "community studies" undertaken by the USDA looked at formal institutions like economic enterprises, churches, civic organizations, and schools that functioned to make rural communities coherent;
they did not study "informal" social networks and economic relationships created through kinship, patronage, and reciprocity.
34 Gaer, Toward Farm Security, 82-84, 109-10;
Holley, Uncle Sam’s Farmers, 135-36.
35 Gaer, Toward Farm Security, 97-115;
Brief Outline County Procedures Instructions, Resettlement Administration, Rural Resettlement Division, Farm Tenant-Purchase Project, May 5, 1936, File 911-45, Box 151, Arkansas AK 19, PR, RG 96, NARA II.
36 Baldwin, Poverty and Politics;
Conkin, Tomorrow a New World;
"The New Frontier," on DVD Our Daily Bread and Other Films of the Great Depression (1934, Hat Creek, Calif.: Film Preservation Associates: Image Entertainment, [distributor], 1999);
Holley, Uncle Sam’s Farmers;
Saloutos, The American Farmer and the New Deal, 155, chpt. 12;
Holley, "The Negro in the New Deal Resettlement Program," 185-86, notes that fifteen elderly couples were not approved as resettlement clients at Gee’s Bend, Alabama, despite the fact that all other (97) Gee’s Bend residents were and they "possessed a strong sense of community." Scott, Seeing Like a State, 311-16.
37 Scott, Seeing Like a State.
38 On vote-buying, see, Ethel Cowart Smith’s recollections of her mother selling her vote so she could go to business college in Memphis. Interior page, http://home.cablelynx.com/~jrcowart/cowarthil.htm;
on "Julian’s Place" http://home.cablelynx.com/~jrcowart/ (accessed July 27, 2008). Whittington to Reid, Sept. 25, 1936, File 714-06, Box 408, Mississippi MS23-MS56, PR, RG 96, NARA II.
39 The Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union, primarily supported by the Socialist Party and various liberal leaders and organizations, made tenant evictions a cause célèbre in 1934 and again in 1939. See, Donald H. Grubbs, Cry from the Cotton: The Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union and the New Deal (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1971);
Howard Kester, Revolt among the Sharecroppers (1936, repr., Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1997). The 1939 roadside demonstration in the Missouri Bootheel protesting the evictions was extensively documented by FSA photographer Arthur Rothstein (Library of Congress). On the Bootheel demonstrations, see, Bonnie Stepenoff, Thad Snow: A Life of Social Reform in the Missouri Bootheel (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2003).
40 Salamon, "Time Dimension in Policy Evaluation";
Spencer D. Wood, "The Roots of Black Power: Land, Civil Society, and the State in the Mississippi Delta, 1935-1968" (PhD diss., University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2006).