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King Cotton in Modern AmericaA Cultural, Political, and Economic History since 1945$

D. Clayton Brown

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9781604737981

Published to University Press of Mississippi: March 2014

DOI: 10.14325/mississippi/9781604737981.001.0001

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(p.425) Bibliographic Essay

(p.425) Bibliographic Essay

King Cotton in Modern America
University Press of Mississippi

There are manuscript and archival collections rich in cotton history. The records of the National Cotton Council are incomparable, but other archival gems are the Anderson-Clayton Papers, the W. R. Poage Papers, the records of the Arizona Cotton Growers Association, the Morgan Nelson Papers, the Delta and Pine Land archives, and the Southwestern Collection. The Harry S. Truman Library houses the papers of Harry S. Truman, Will Clayton, and Charles Brannan. Another collection of Clayton papers is available at Rice University. The largest archival collection is Record Group 16, the official files of the Secretary of Agriculture. Smaller collections include the John Rust Papers and the personal papers of MacDonald Horne, Read Dunn, and Morgan Nelson. The papers of Lewis T. Barringer are held by his son John Barringer.

Numerous studies focus on cotton, but the classics start with Rupert B. Vance, Human Factors in Cotton Culture: A Study in the Social Geography of the American South; Howard Odum, Southern Regions of the United States; and James Street, The New Revolution in the Cotton Economy.

Among the excellent studies dealing with cotton farming and culture are Charles Aiken, The Cotton Plantation since the Civil War; Karen G. Britton, Bale o’ Cotton: The Mechanical Art of Cotton Ginning; Pete Daniel, Breaking the Land: The Transformation of Cotton, Tobacco, and Rice Culture since 1880; Gilbert Fite, Cotton Fields No More: Southern Agriculture, 1865–1980; Donald Holley, The Second Great Emancipation: The Mechanical Cotton Picker, Black Migration, and How They Shaped the Modern World; Jack T. Kirby, Rural Worlds Lost: The American South, 1920–1960; Lawrence Nelson, King Cotton’s Advocate: Oscar G. Johnston and the New Deal; and George Tindall, The Emergence of the New South, 1913–1945.

Official histories have information unavailable elsewhere, particularly the two histories of the National Cotton Council, Albert Russell, U.S. Cotton and (p.426) the National Cotton Council, 1938–1987; and Gaylon Booker, U.S. Cotton and the National Cotton Council, 1988–2007. Further information can be found in Timothy C. Jacobson and George D. Smith, Cotton’s Renaissance: A Study in Market Innovation; Jack Lichtenstein, Field to Fabric: The Story of American Cotton Growers; and Catherine M. Merlo, Legacy of a Shared Vision: The History of Calcot, Ltd.

The two memoirs of Read Dunn Jr., Mr. Oscar and Remembering, provide an inside look at the origin of the National Cotton Council and the promotion of world trade in cotton.

Special studies on the technology of farming are essential for understanding the cultivation of cotton. They include Willard A. Dickerson, ed., Boll Weevil Eradication in the United States through 1999; Raymond Frisbee, ElZik Kamal, and Ted Wilson, Integrated Pest Management Systems and Cotton Production; Chester G. McWhorter and John Abernathy, Weeds of Cotton: Characterization and Control; and C. Wayne Smith and Tom Cothren, eds., Cotton: Origin, History, Technology, and Production.

Recent and popular histories are Gerald Helferich, High Cotton: Four Seasons in the Mississippi Delta; and Stephen Yafa, Big Cotton: How a Humble Fiber Created Fortunes, Wrecked Civilizations, and Put America on the Map. A unique and valuable work on the Memphis Cotton Carnival is Perre Magness, The Party with a Purpose: Seventy-five Years of Carnival in Memphis, 1931–2006.

Government documents rank among the most valuable resources for studying the formation of policy and farm conditions. No document compares with the special study undertaken by the House Agriculture Committee and the National Cotton Council, U.S. House, Subcommittee of the Committee on Agriculture, Hearings, Study of the Agricultural and Economic Problems of the Cotton Belt, 80th Congress, 1st session, July 7–8, 1947; and U.S. House, Subcommittee of the Committee on Agriculture, Hearings, Study of the Agricultural and Economic Problems of the Cotton Belt, 80th Congress, 1st session, part 2, October 1947. For the complete testimonies of the special Cotton Conference in 1944, see U.S. House, Subcommittee of the Committee on Agriculture, Hearings, Cotton, 78th Congress, 2nd session, December 4–9, 1944.

The slippery topic of cotton culture can be studied from many perspectives. For the conditions of the cotton South before World War II, the classic studies include James Agee and Walker Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men; David Cohen, God Shakes Creation; Charles S. Johnson, Edwin Embree, and W. W. Alexander, The Collapse of Cotton Tenancy; Herman C. Nixon, Possum Trot: Rural Community, South; and Arthur Raper, Preface to Peasantry. For exploring aspects of the cotton culture after 1945, see Joe Carr (p.427) and Alan Munde, Prairie Nights to Neon Lights: The Story of Country Music in West Texas; James C. Cobb, The Most Southern Place on Earth: The Mississippi Delta and the Roots of Regional Identity; William R. Ferris, Blues from the Delta, B. B. King, Blues All around Me: The Autobiography of B. B. King; Billy Joe Shaver, Honky Tonk Hero; Thad Siton and Dan K. Utley, From Can to Can’t; and James Sullivan, Jeans: A Cultural History of an Icon.

Questions of the environmental impact of cotton farming are explored in David Carle, Drowning the Dream: California’s Water Choices at the Millennium; Rachel Carson, Silent Spring; Charles Daniel, Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food; Bill Lambrecht, Dinner at the Gene Café: How Genetic Engineering Is Changing What We Eat, How We Live, and the Global Politics of Food; and Henry I. Miller and Gregory Conko, The Frankenfood Myth: How Protests and Politics Threaten the Biotech Revolution.

To date the literature lacks an updated history of Latinos in the cotton culture, but the best description of their lives as migrants is found in Pauline R. Kibbe, Latin Americans in Texas. A valuable work for the pre-1945 era is Neil Foley, The White Scourge: Mexicans, Blacks, and Poor Whites in the Texas Cotton Culture. Other works include Leon Metz, Border: The U.S.-Mexico Line; and David Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836–1986.

Some of the most effective descriptions of the cotton culture come from fiction, and among the most outstanding examples are Erskine Caldwell, Tobacco Road; John Faulkner, Dollar Cotton; and Dorothy Scarborough, In the Land of Cotton.

Cited in the chapter endnotes are numerous books and articles of great importance; and Internet sources furnish information not available in print.

Oral history collections are essential, and the most notable is the Mississippi Oral History Project of the University of Southern Mississippi. An outstanding assortment of interviews is archived in the Southwestern Collection at Texas Tech University. The Columbia University Oral Collection and the Texas A&M University Agricultural Extension Service also have interviews pertaining to cotton.

I conducted personal interviews with the following individuals, who provided information and perspective unavailable in stored collections or printed material. (p.428)

Adkisson, Perry

Booker, Gaylon

Anderson, Carl

Brumfield, Bruce

Asley, Harrison

Burnett, Phillip

Aycock, Barry

Carter, Frank

Barringer, John

Curlee, Jesse

Day, Kenny

Mayers, Drayton

Deputy, Keith

Miller, Tom

Dixon, Paul

Mitchener, Frank

Dulaney, H. G.

Morgan, Chip

Eastland, Woods

Nelson, Cotton

Ethridge, Don

Nelson, Morgan

Frisbie, Ray

Pearson, William (Bill)

Gibson, Charles

Pendergrass, J. Stan

Gillon, William

Person, Janice

Glover, Charles

Russom, Dallas

Haldenby, Roger

Russom, Hortense

Hamilton, Allen

Sears, Earl

Harvey, Jr., Paul

Smith, Tom

Hickman, William T.

Stephen, Michael

Houston, William (Bill)

Stone, Jack

Johnson, Fred

Tucker, Emerson

Jordon, Andrew

Turley, Calvin

Lanclos, D. Kent

Walker, Knox

Lavis, Rick

Welford, Dabney

Lyons, Daniel

Magazines and newspapers provided effective supplemental information, particularly the Cotton Trade Journal. Others include the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Cotton Farming, the Memphis Press Scimitar, and the New York Times.