Abstract

Five historians who have used oral history to study the rural South assess the ways that oral history methodology and content have complicated our understanding of the region’s agricultural past. They explore two major themes: first, the ways that the information gathered in oral history interviews revealed the diversity and complexity of the rural South and second, how the dialectical process of the interview—the give and take between interviewer and informant—shaped their interpretation of that rural past. Sharpless and Jones examine new content gained through interviews with German Americans and plantation managers, who have been excluded from most studies. Through their personal experiences, Petty and Schultz consider the ways in which relationships between interviewer and interviewee shape the narrative, often obviating differences of class and particularly race. Walker frames the discussion from her experiences in interviewing a variety of rural Southerners.

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Notes

1 "Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936–1938," Library of Congress, http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/snhtml (accessed July 20, 2009)
Nate Shaw and Theodore Rosengarten, All God’s Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw (New York: Random House, 1974)
Pete Daniel, Toxic Drift: Pesticides and Health in the Post–World War II South (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2007).
2 "Germans," The Handbook of Texas Online, Texas State Historical Association, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/GG/png2.html (accessed July 6, 2009).
3 Jon Gjerde, The Minds of the West: Ethnocultural Evolution in the Rural Middle West, 1830–1917 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997), 8.
Grace Elizabeth Hale, Making Whiteness: The Culture of Segregation in the South, 1890–1940 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1998)
David Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class (New York: Verso, 1991).
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4 Thad Sitton and Dan K. Utley, From Can See to Can’t: Texas Cotton Farmers on the Southern Prairies (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1997).
Lois Myers et al., Rock Beneath the Sand: Country Churches in Texas (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2003), 31.
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5 Edward Everett Davis, "Rural Schools in Williamson County," University of Texas, Bulletin No. 2238 (Oct. 8,1922): 7–8
"Oral Memoirs of Canaan Baptist Church, Crawford, Texas," Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, Tx. (hereafter BUIOH), 81–82, 221, 378, 175–76, 351, 365
Walter D. Kamphoefner, The Westfalians: From Germany to Missouri (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987), 106.
6 Harry Yandell Benedict and John A. Lomax, The Book of Texas (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Page, & Co., 1916), 326
Oscar Lewis, On the Edge of the Black Waxy: A Cultural Survey of Bell County, Texas (St. Louis; Washington University Press, 1948), 103
Leola K. Tiedt, interview 2, interviewed by Thad Sitton, Dec. 1, 1994
LaGrange, Tx., BUIOH, 33
"Oral Memoirs of Canaan Baptist Church," 366.
8 Tiedt, 2:16
Matthies, 1:46–47.
9 Wegner, 4:26, 1:16–23
Matthies, 1:55–56.
Rebecca Sharpless,Fertile Ground, Narrow Choices: Women on Texas Cotton Farms, 1900–1940 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999), 117–18.
10 "Oral Memoirs of Canaan Baptist Church," 53
Wegner, 1:7–8
Matthies, 1:24–25.
11 Wegner and Krinke, 5–6
Sharpless, Fertile Ground, 138–39.
12 Wegner, 4:6–7
Matthies, 1:23, 28–29, 51, 54, 55
13 Wegner, 1:7
"Oral Memoirs of Canaan Baptist Church," 76, 84, 87.
14 Matthies, 1:57–58, 2:35, 32
"Oral Memoirs of Canaan Baptist Church," 314–17
Tiedt, 1:45.
15 Krause, 27–28
Wegner, 3:30
Matthies, 2:10, 11, 17, 18
Tiedt, 1:46
"Oral Memoirs of Canaan Baptist Church," 59.
16 "Oral Memoirs of Canaan Baptist Church," 314–15
Walter D. Kamphoefner, "The Handwriting on the Wall: The Klan, Language Issues, and Prohibition in the German Settlements of Eastern Texas," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 112.(July 2008): 52–66
Wegner, 3:31.
17 "Oral Memoirs of Canaan Baptist Church," 165–66.
18 Wegner, 3:31
"Oral Memoirs of Canaan Baptist Church," 165–66
Sitton and Utley, Can See to Can’t, 53.
19 William Kauffman Scarborough, The Overseer: Plantation Management in the Old South (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1966).
"Robert E. Lee Wilson and the Making of a Post–Civil War Plantation," in The Southern Elite and Social Change: Essays in Honor of Willard B. Gatewood, Jr., ed. Randy Finley and Thomas A. DeBlack (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2002), 95–117
"’Get Hard and Raise Hell’: Financing the Cotton Crop on the Backs of Black Labor," paper presented at a conference in honor of Pete Daniel, Memphis, Tenn., June 13, 2009.
Franklin, La., "An Oral History of Southern Agriculture," Folder 22, Box 6, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Washington, DC.
20 Jeannie M. Whayne, ed., Shadows Over Sunnyside: An Arkansas Plantation in Transition, 1830–1945 (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1993)
William Alexander Percy, Lanterns on the Levee: Recollections of a Planter’s Son (1941, repr., Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1973), 276–87.
Raymond McClinton, "A Social-Economic Analysis of a Mississippi Delta Plantation" (master’s thesis, University of North Carolina, 1938).
"Biggest Cotton Plantation," Fortune 15 (Mar. 1937): 125–32, 156, 158, 160
Zhengkai Dong, "From Postbellum Plantation to Modern Agribusiness: A History of the Delta and Pine Land Company" (PhD diss., Purdue University, 1993)
Robert Gordon, Can’t Be Satisfied: The Life and Times of Muddy Waters (Boston: Little, Brown, & Co., 2002), 64–65.
23 Jonathan M. Wiener, Social Origins of the New South: Alabama, 1860–1885 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978), 59–60.
Jeannie M. Whayne, A New Plantation South: Land, Labor, and Federal Favor in Twentieth-Century Arkansas (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1996), 6, 57–61.
24 Gordon, Can’t Be Satisfied, 63–64.
26 http://www.proquest.com/ (accessed Dec. 27, 2007)
"Plantation Manager Killed," Atlanta Constitution, Mar. 6, 1899, 1
"War Against Negro Lodges," Washington Post, July 22, 1901, 1
"Mississippians Stage Another Lynching Bee," Chicago Defender, Feb. 21, 1925, 1
"Mob of 200 Pursues Slayer," Pittsburgh Courier, May 30, 1931, 5
"Rushes Man to Mob-Proof Jail After Shooting," Chicago Defender (national ed.), Dec. 21, 1935, 1.
Can’t Be Satisfied, 62–63
Mark M. Smith, "Time, Slavery and Plantation Capitalism in the Ante-Bellum American South," Past and Present 150 (Feb. 1996): 142–68
Lu Ann Jones, "Voices of Southern Agricultural History," in International Annual of Oral History, 1990: Subjectivity and Multiculturalism in Oral History, ed. Ronald J. Grele (New York: Greenwood Press, 1992), 135–44.
27 Charles S. Aiken, The Cotton Plantation South since the Civil War (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), 54–55
Charles S. Aiken, "New Settlement Pattern of Rural Blacks in the American South," Geographical Review 75 (Oct. 1985): 383–404.
29 William L. Van Deburg, The Slave Drivers: Black Agricultural Labor Supervisors in the Antebellum South (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1979)
30 Lu Ann Jones and Nancy Grey Osterud, "’If I Must Say So Myself: Oral Histories of Rural Women," Oral History Review 17 (Fall 1989): 1–23.
33 Ibid.
36 Ibid.
38 Pete Daniel, "Deep Exposures: The Landscape and Atmosphere of Mystery," in Carry Me Home: Louisiana Sugar Country Photographs, ed. Debbie Fleming Caffery (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1990), 13–34.
41 Gilbert Fite, Cotton Fields No More: Southern Agriculture, 1865–1980 (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1984)
Pete Daniel, Breaking the Land: The Transformation of Cotton, Tobacco, and Rice Cultures since 1880 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985)
Jack Temple Kirby, Rural Worlds Lost: The American South, 1920–1960 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1987).
Lu Ann Jones, Mama Learned Us to Work: Farm Women in the New South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002)
Claire Strom, Making Catfish Bait out of Government Boys: The Fight Against Cattle Ticks and the Transformation of the Yeoman South (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2009).
42 Alessandro Porteiii, The Battle of Valle Giulia: Oral History and the Art of Dialogue (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1997), 36.
Kathleen Blee, "Evidence, Empathy and Ethics: Lessons from Oral Histories of the Klan," Journal of American History 80 (Sept. 1993): 596–606.
The Oral History Manual (Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltaMira Press, 2002), 71–72.
Valerie Raleigh Yow, Recording Oral History: A Guide for the Humanities and Social Sciences (Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltaMira Press, 2005), 170.
Charles L. Perdue Jr. et al., eds., Weevils in the Wheat: Interviews with Virginia Ex-Slaves (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1976), 380–81
Norman Yetman, "The Background of the American Slave Collection," American Quarterly 19 (Fall 1967): 534–53.
James West Davidson and Mark Hamilton Lytle, After the Fact: The Art of Historical Detection (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1992).
43 David King Dunaway, "Field Recording Oral History," Oral History Review 15 (Spring 1987): 36–37
Delia Pollock, ed., Remembering: Oral History Performance (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005)
Melissa Walker, Southern Farmers and Their Stories: Memory and Meaning in Oral History (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2006), 14
44 Pigford v. Glickman, 185 FRD 82 (DDC 1999).
45 Pete Daniel, Lost Revolutions: The South in the 1950s (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000), 39–62
47 Daniel, Lost Revolutions, 39–62
49 Ibid.
50 Ibid.
Michael A. Fletcher, "Bias a Perennial Crop for Black Farmers; Lawsuits and Complaints Blame USDA for Foreclosures, Dwindling Ranks," The Washington Post, Dec. 11, 1996, A01.
53 Ibid.
54 Sharon Ann Holt, Making Freedom Pay: North Carolina Freedpeople Working for Themselves, 1865–1900 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2000), 52–99.
W. E. B. DuBois, "The Negro Landholder of Georgia," Bulletin of the Department of Labor, no. 35 (July 1901): 648.
55 Barbara Jeanne Fields, "Slavery, Race and Ideology in the United States of America," New Left Review 181 (May/June 1990): 116n42.
Adam Nossiter, "On a Battlefield of Civil Rights, Race Fades for Some Voters," New York Times, Feb. 21, 2008, Sec. A, 1.
56 Loren Schweninger, "A Vanishing Breed: Black Farm Owners in the South, 1651– 1982," Agricultural History 63 (Summer 1989): 48–19.
58 Sommer and Quinlan, Oral History Manual, 72.
60 W. Fitzhugh Brundage, The Southern Past: A Clash of Race and Memory (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005)
W. Fitzhugh Brundage, ed., Where These Memories Grow: History, Memory, and Southern Identity (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000)
David W. Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001).
61 Mark Schultz, "A More Satisfying Life on the Farm: Benjamin F. Hubert and the Log Cabin Community" (master’s thesis, University of Georgia, 1989).
62 Mark Schultz, "Interracial Kinship Ties and the Emergence of a Rural Black Middle Class: Hancock County, 1865–1920," in Georgia in Black and White: Explorations in the Race Relations of a Southern State, 1865–1950, ed. John Inscoe (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995), 173–201.
63 Loren Schweninger, Black Property Owners in the South, 1790–1915 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990), 170, 174.
64 Mark Schultz, The Rural Face of White Supremacy: Beyond Jim Crow (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2005).
65 Potter, The South and the Sectional Conflict (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1968), 15–16
Johnson and Roark, No Chariot Let Down: Charleston’s Free People of Color on the Eve of the Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984), 10–15.
Schultz, Rural Face, 6–7.
66 Porteiii, Battle of Volle Giulia, 42.
Melissa Walker, "Afterword: Reflections on Interpreting Oral History," Country Women Cope With Hard Times: A Collection of Oral Histories, ed. Melissa Walker (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2004), 189–203
Walker, Southern Farmers and Their Stories, 13–16.
67 Yow, Recording Oral History, 4, 2.
68 Stephanie Cole, "Finding Race in the Turn-of-the-Century Dallas," in Beyond Black and White: Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in the US South and Southwest, ed. Stephanie Cole et al. (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2004), 75–96
Neil Foley, The White Scourge: Mexicans, Blacks, and Poor Whites in Texas Cotton Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997).
70 David Blight, "Southerners Don’t Lie, They Just Remember Big," in Where These Memories Grow, ed. Brundage, 347–54
Porteiii, Battle of Valle Giulia, 80.