The biggest rabbit hole that I ever ran down as a blogger in the history of this website was the years that I spent studying and analyzing the rise of plantation society.
I researched and traced the birth, growth and evolution of the whole system of plantation slavery from the Atlantic Islands to South America to the Caribbean and finally to the American South. In a series of disasters in the 19th century, this system was overthrown and replaced by the British system of emancipation and free-market capitalism, or what was called “free society.”
While “free society” succeeded in ending slavery, it left this vast region which stretches from northern Brazil through the Caribbean to the American South a wreck. No one is doing anything about the problem either. They simply congratulate themselves and celebrate the demise of slavery and white supremacy without giving any thought at all into fixing what was destroyed.
The single most disgusting thing that reminds me of this is how all the Democratic politicians come to Selma, AL to march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge here. They march over the bridge, take a photo op and are gone by the end of the day. Meanwhile, Selma and the entire surrounding region is rotting away. Strangely enough, there is no plan to deal with “Southern poverty” even though there is a building in Montgomery which has a $319 million dollar endowment to “fight hate.”
They assume it will all just work out … under wage slavery. It seems like no one remembers anymore how bad the Southern economy got from 1870 to 1940. We remember the War Between the States. We remember the Ku Klux Klan. We remember slavery. We remember the Civil Rights Movement. There are vast gaps, however, in our historical memory as a people due to the Boomer generation and late 20th century conservatism. There are long stretches of time which are skipped over and barely remembered at all like how sharecropping collapsed. We don’t remember, for example, pellagra.
Sharecropping was a system of debt peonage that lasted several generations longer in Alabama than slavery ever did. The rise and fall of plantation slavery in my area took place in the blink of an eye – roughly 40 years – equivalent to my lifetime. There are people like Elizabeth Warren who want to wave the bloody shirt of bitterness and resentment over slavery who ignore the fact that blacks and whites here were BOTH trapped in debt peonage under the sharecropping system for a much longer period of time and that it was federal investment in everyone that finally ended that. The Democratic Party hasn’t been worth a damn for people here since the days of FDR and Huey Long.
Organizations like the SPLC have spent decades toxifying race relations and stoking hatred and resentment for financial reasons to milk donors without doing much of anything at all for the people who live in the region surrounding Montgomery. Some of those people work at the SPLC (spoiler: they’re the help) and know what it is like in west Montgomery, Tuskegee, Selma, Union Springs, etc.
The system we have today is not working for huge swathes of the country particularly here in Alabama. It makes a tiny number of people filthy rich. They fight over social issues like Confederate monuments and various -isms and -phobias while the money flies into the pockets of Morris Dees and Richard Cohen. What if people actually had investment in our local economy though? Everyone gets $1,000 a month as a permanent stimulus for the rest of their lives. Have you ever driven around Montgomery and seen all the title pawn and payday lending stores? How would that begin to change things?
I’ve done a tremendous amount of historical research in our archives and want to reexamine it all in light of this idea. I’m talking about the growth of wage slavery in the Southern economy from 1865 forward and the impact that it has had on our culture and politics. It feels like there is a big part of our heritage and historical memory that has withered away here over the past few generations.
Anyway, I never wrote a book of my own out of all of that material. I want to give it some thought in light of the possibility that wage slavery, poverty and chronic underinvestment might end here within our lifetimes. Hopefully, political correctness will end too.
I’ve always admired this quote from J. Quitman Moore’s 1862 essay Southern Civilization; or, the Norman in America which is a more succinct description of my beliefs than any “extremism profile” on the SPLC website. I’m an “extremist” who doesn’t believe our current system is working:
“Opposite under the banner of the king, stood the Cavalier – the builder, the social architect, the institutionalist, the conservator – the advocate of rational liberty and the supporter of authority, as against the licentiousness and morbid impulse of unregulated passion and unenlightened sentiment. No idealist, enthusiast or speculative system-builder, upheaving ancient landmarks and overthrowing venerable monuments; but a realist, a practical and enlightened utilitarian, bowing to the authority of experience and acknowledging the supremacy of ideas, forms and institutions that had received the hallowing sanction of time . An institutor by genius and a ruler by race, his pride was at once the sword of his most eminent virtues and greatest weaknesses, while honor was the touchstone of his character. Chivalrous in sentiment and magnanimous in deed, glory was his ambition, and loyalty the inspirer of his every thought, impulse and action. Elevated in his ideas and tolerant in his views, his selfishness was vicarious and his very faults wore the semblance of virtue. Unyielding in his principles, but compromising in his opinions, his conduct was governed more by sentiment than reflection, and more by association than either. Courtly in his manners and splendid in his tastes, a knightly generosity he practiced even toward his foes, and never lost his faculties in volumptuousness. Without being an abject advocate of passive obedience or a supporter of arbitrary power, he yet took ground against the revolutionary party, not as an enemy to liberal institutions or a well-regulated liberty: but, discovering in the doctrines and principles of the revolution a greater danger to the social and political system than from the alleged existing abuses, he preferred yielding his loyalty rather to institutions than abstractions, and felt it a duty to attempt to quench the lights of the incendiary philosophy, whose torch had been applied to the noblest monuments of civil wisdom yet erected by the genius of man.”
We need a new social architect.
We need someone who is going to study and fix problems, not moralize and capitalize on them. I think there is a lot to be gained in becoming better acquainted with the Southern mindset and past. Hopefully, there are “journalists” reading this website who begin to realize we have thought about these matters and know far more about them than they do.