The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 98, July 1994 - April, 1995 Page: 520
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
Historians often present the economic history of the South from the
1870os to 1933 as almost a seamless web. As one puts it, "the same
processes worked throughout the region after 1906 as before." While
pinpointing some areas and times of growth, images of decay and stag-
nation dominate the literature on the rural cotton-growing South in par-
ticular. Based on the experiences of Northeast Texans this obscures and
oversimplifies the period from 1900 to 1930. Even in this rural cotton
growing area there was little stagnation in the first three decades of this
century. Those decades were times of substantial and significant
The Great Depression and World War II probably were the most im-
portant events in the postbellum economic history of the South, but
they were not complete breakpoints with the past. They were part of a
process that began thirty years earlier. It was not simply federal "crop
subsidies" that caused "a major social reorganization of the rural South-
west" or "out of the travail of the 1930s that fundamental change would
begin to shake the old agricultural South."4
In Pittsburg and surrounding counties the new economic opportuni-
ties apparent to Lockhart, changes in cotton marketing, and efforts to
solve farm problems restructured the economy before the Great Depres-
sion. Instead of being an isolated backwater, Northeast Texas was con-
nected to and affected by the even more dynamic centers of economic
change in Texas. Of course, elements of this restructuring, particularly
the increase in the number of sharecroppers, magnified the painful im-
pact of New Deal policy. The patterns of growth that emerged between
the early 1900oos and 1930, however, also speeded recovery. In a sense the
onslaught of the Great Depression and the federal government's reac-
tion to that depression exaggerated and accelerated a process well un-
der way by 1930. Contrary to the argument advanced by many scholars
for the South as a whole, elements of a more modern economy were in
place. Increased scale, more capital, more efficient labor, greater mobili-
ty of labor and capital, new managerial practices, an increased reliance
' Edward L. Ayers, The Promise of the New South. Lfe AJter Reconstructzon (New York. Oxford Unim-
versity Press, 1992), 437 (quotation). Also see Gavin Wright, Old South, New South. Revolutions in
the Southern Economy since the Czvil War (New York: Basic Books, 1986), 51-238. For a more nu-
anced view see Jack Temple Kirby, Rural Worlds Lost: The American South, i92o-i960 (Baton
Rouge. Louisiana State University Press, 1987), 25-79; Pete Daniel, Breaking the Land The Trans-
Jormalzon of Cotton, Tobacco, and Rice Cultures since i88o (Urbana- University of Illinois Press,
1985). For a convenient summary of the literature see Pete Daniel, "The Crossroads of Change:
Cotton, Tobacco, and Rice Cultures in the Twentieth-Century South," journal oJ Southern Hastory,
L (Aug., 1984), 429-456 (cited hereafter asJSH).
'James N Gregory, American Exodus" The Dust Bowl Mzgration and Okze Culture in Calfornza
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 12 (1st quotation), Gilbert C Fite, Cotton Fizels No
More: Southern Agriculture, 1865-z98o (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1984), 119 (2nd
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 98, July 1994 - April, 1995, periodical, 1995; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101216/m1/590/: accessed March 19, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.