By Evan P. Bennett
“When Tobacco used to be King reconstructs the lives of farm households within the Tobacco South, in addition to their paintings and their political struggles, in brilliant, nuanced aspect. This fabulous account joins a quick record of necessary histories facing vibrant leaf tobacco.”—Adrienne Monteith Petty, writer of Standing Their flooring: Small Farmers in North Carolina because the Civil War
Tobacco has left an indelible mark at the American South, shaping the land and tradition through the 20th century. within the previous couple of many years, advances in know-how and shifts in hard work and farming coverage have altered the way of living for tobacco farmers: family members farms have mostly been changed by means of large-scale operations depending on employed hard work, a lot of it from different beaches. even if, the mechanical harvester and the H-2A guestworker didn't placed an finish to tobacco tradition yet quite despatched it in new instructions and sped up the swap that has continuously been a part of the farmer’s life.
In When Tobacco Was King, Evan Bennett examines the agriculture of the South’s unique staple crop within the previous brilliant Belt—a assorted quarter named after the original vivid, or flue-cured, tobacco sort it spawned. He lines the region’s background from Emancipation to the abandonment of federal crop controls in 2004 and highlights the alterations continued via blacks and whites, landowners and tenants, to teach how tobacco farmers persevered to discover which means and neighborhood of their paintings regardless of those drastic changes.
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Extra resources for When Tobacco Was King: Families, Farm Labor, and Federal Policy in the Piedmont
Unlike eighteenth- and nineteenth-century planters, who found social prestige in the domination of others and the management of their labor, twentiethcentury farm families earned the respect of their neighbors in the demonstration of their own skills as farmers. Their work, they said, was not drudgery, but something with value and purpose far beyond the monetary return it might (but often failed to) produce. This new tobacco culture did not eradicate class biases, racism, and patriarchy, but it was inherently more democratic and egalitarian and ultimately provided farm families with a language they could use to articulate their own desires.
20 After enough leaves had been picked and strung, the men came from the fields to hang the sticks on horizontal tier poles set at different heights inside 30 | When Tobacco Was King the barns in order to get the curing process started. Young men climbed to the top of the barn using the tier poles as rungs and carefully hung the tobaccoladen sticks handed up by workers on the ground. “Being big enough to straddle the tier poles . . seemed to be somewhat of a status symbol among the young boys,” one man recalled.
These preparations were culturally resonant. Farm families earned respect—from their neighbors, from warehousemen, and from tobacco buyers—by actually doing the work. Throughout the late fall and early winter, families, often fathers and older sons, cut timber for the next year’s curing fires. They might return to this job any time there was not pressing work. A 1930 study estimated that it took four acres of growing timber to supply enough wood to cure each acre of Hands | 23 tobacco. Another expert reported that each curing could take two to three cords of dry wood, meaning that a family on a moderate-size tobacco farm might use dozens of cords during a season.