The Second Great Emancipation: The Mechanical Cotton Picker, Black Migration, and How They Shaped the Modern Southby Donald Holley

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  • The Second Great Emancipation: The Mechanical Cotton Picker, Black Migration, and HowThey Shaped the Modern South by Donald HolleyReview by: R. Douglas HurtThe Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Vol. 60, No. 3 (Autumn, 2001), pp. 327-328Published by: Arkansas Historical AssociationStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40023071 .Accessed: 15/06/2014 20:16

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  • BOOK REVIEWS 327

    The Second Great Emancipation: The Mechanical Cotton Picker, Black Migration, and How They Shaped the Modern South. By Donald Hol- ley. (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2000. Pp. 284. Pref- ace, illustrations, figures, tables, appendix, notes, selected bibliography, index. $36.00.)

    The mechanization of the cotton harvest proved the most difficult technological problem in American agricultural history. Although the first patent for a mechanical picker was issued to a hopeful inventor in 1850, more than 1,800 patents followed before the International Harvester Com- pany developed a reliable model in 1942, and six more years passed before it became commercially viable. First adopted in California and Arizona where environmental conditions, landholding patterns, and labor costs made mechanical pickers profitable, these pickers ultimately harvested the cotton crop nationwide by 1970. In this study, Donald Holley, professor of history at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, analyzes the signifi- cance of the mechanical cotton picker in relation to the economy and social structure of the Mississippi Delta, that is, in the states of Arkansas, Loui- siana, and Mississippl.

    Since the mechanization of the cotton harvest, scholars have debated whether the New Deal pushed and World War II pulled sharecroppers and tenant farmers from the land or whether the mechanical cotton picker pushed them to the cities, both North and South. Holley persuasively ar- gues that cotton farmers adopted the mechanical picker only after labor be- came so scare that it made mechanical picking both cheaper and necessary. To reach this conclusion Holley provides an excellent discussion of the problems that inventors confronted during the century-long experimental process to develop a reliable cotton picker. Although Holley 's focus is the Mississippi Delta, his narrative ranges across the Cotton South and West. Holley tells the story of the Rust brothers, developers of one of the best me- chanical pickers, with insight and greater detail than any other scholar, and he provides an excellent synthesis of the historical literature on this sub- ject. Most important, however, Holley argues that until the New Deal pushed and World War II pulled people from the land, cotton farmers had no need to mechanize because hand picking remained more efficient and cheaper than the adoption of the less than perfect mechanical pickers avail- able, the Rust picker included.

    Holley makes a passing and unfortunate, or at least arguable, reference to the benefits of sharecropping over wage labor. Free housing with a pos- sible garden were no great benefits, even for those farmers at the bottom of the agricultural ladder. Nor is the book a revisionist study as contended simply because Holley argues that mechanization of the cotton harvest be-

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  • 328 ARKANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY

    came possible only after cheap labor left the land. Holley does offer the fresh insight that the mechanical cotton picker aided the civil rights move- ment because landowners did not need to keep a black peasantry, and they were, therefore, more amenable to change. This important subject merits greater study. Most significantly, Holley argues that the Mississippi Delta had transformed from a labor-intensive to a capital-intensive agricultural economy by 1970, a phenomenon that he calls the Second Great Emanci- pation. As a result, the blacks who remain in the countryside form a class of have-nots who have been left behind and who have no connection to farming in the delta today.

    Overall, Holley has provided the best synthesis to date of the techno- logical development of the mechanical cotton picker and the economic and social consequences of its adoption. The book is cogent, well-reasoned, and clearly written. Anyone interested in American agricultural and Ar- kansas history will find this book must reading.

    R. Douglas Hurt Iowa State University

    Romancing the Folk: Public Memory & American Roots Music. By Ben- jamin Filene. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000. Pp. xi, 325. Acknowledgments, introduction, illustrations, coda, notes, bibliography, discography, permissions, index. $49.95, cloth; $19.95, paper.)

    Fascination with "authenticity," "construction of tradition," and "pub- lic memory" continues to inspire works among younger scholars in the dis- ciplines of history, folklore, and American studies. In examining the various relationships between the folk revival, commercial recording, and academic folklore, Benjamin Filene's Romancing the Folk: Public Mem- ory & American Roots Music follows along ground broken by the late- 1980s exhibit "Folk Roots, New Roots" (and the accompanying collection of essays), as well as Robert CantwelPs When We Were Good: The Folk Revival (1996). Considering its earlier incarnation as a Yale dissertation, Romancing the Folk is remarkably readable and should interest a broad au- dience. Also, unlike many of its predecessors in the study of cultural rep-

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    Article Contentsp. 327p. 328

    Issue Table of ContentsThe Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Vol. 60, No. 3 (Autumn, 2001), pp. 245-338Front Matter"Disband Him from the Church": African Americans and the Spiritual Politics of Disfranchisement in Post-Reconstruction Arkansas [pp. 245-264]"Most Shamefully Common": Arkansas and Miscegenation [pp. 265-283]The Songbook Gospel Movement in Arkansas: E. M. Bartlett and the Hartford Music Company [pp. 284-300]The Benton Meeting of the Arkansas Historical Association, 2001 [pp. 301-304]Arkansas Listings in the National Register of Historical Places: The Confederate Soldiers Monument and Monument to Confederate Women in Little Rock [pp. 305-310]Book ReviewsReview: untitled [pp. 311-313]Review: untitled [pp. 314-315]Review: untitled [pp. 315-317]Review: untitled [pp. 317-319]Review: untitled [pp. 319-320]Review: untitled [pp. 321-322]Review: untitled [pp. 322-324]Review: untitled [pp. 324-326]Review: untitled [pp. 327-328]Review: untitled [pp. 328-330]

    Book Notes [pp. 331-332]News & Notices [pp. 333-338]Back Matter

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