Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
The Delta country of northeast Louisiana is a richly productive alluvial region stretching south from the Arkansas line to the confluence of the Red and Mississippi Rivers below Natchez. As the source of great cotton fortunes made during antebellum times, it reflected the Old South ideal and, for several decades after the end of the Civil War, remained firmly grounded in this old plantation culture. The economic depression of the 1890s and the coming of the boll weevil in the early 1900s, however, signaled a gradual decline that turned into full-blown dissolution in the years following the First World War. Old families, both black and white, were swept aside or moved away, new people arrived, lands changed hands, and revolutions in organization and authority eroded the bonds of people connected by the intensity of shared experience through time. This dissertation examines the challenges to traditional Delta life during the 1920s and 1930s, as the old plantation order collapsed amidst the pressures of the modern era. In particular, this study focuses on the transformation of the planter class from a collection of independent producers to an organized interest group, as its members grappled with financial uncertainty, the collapse of their social hegemony, and the loss of political power. Ongoing problems with the cotton economy forced dramatic changes in the plantation routine and a virtual revolution in race, gender, and class relations further disrupted the integrity of the old order. The rise of Huey Long to prominence decreased the influence of planters in state and national politics and the expansion of the Federal government into agriculture and flood control policy during the ensuing years, although ultimately beneficial, proved disturbing for a group accustomed to radical independence. By the end of the 1930s, however, local planters had adjusted to the new conditions, paving the way for rapid development after the Second World War and moving the Delta ever further from its roots in the antebellum era.
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Reonas, James Matthew, "Once proud princes: planters and plantation culture in Louisiana's northeast Delta, from the First World War through the Great Depression" (2006). LSU Doctoral Dissertations. 579.
Charles J. Shindo