Poverty and Literature 2017

Lemann, The Promised Land (1991)  Clarksdale (pp1-58)


Thesis: ?????????

Clarksdale (3-58)

1. The Mechanical Cotton Picker (3-7) October 1944

  • Why was the invention of the mechanical cotton picker truly historic?

2. Sharecropping (7-21)

  • The Work  (7-8)
    • Describe the real work a cotton picker did:
  • Ruby's Family History (8-9)
  • The Delta (9-11)
    • Why is the Delta the richest natural cotton farming land in America?
    • Why was it the last land in the South to be settled and cultivated?
    • When did the cotton industry peak in the South?
  • The Institution of Segregation (1875-90) (11-14)
    • What is the racist myth about the origin of sharecropping?
    • What happened to the idea of 'forty acres and a mule'?
    • What were the real origins of sharecropping?
  • Cotton Crash (15)
    • When did the great Depression come to the Mississippi Delta?
  • The Lure of Job-Rich Chicago (16)
    • Compare the amount of money that could be made in Chicago with the top wages Ruby made as a sharecropper.
  • Plantation Economy (17-20)
    • How did the owners cheat the sharecroppers who worked the land. (Describe the furnish, seed money, taking up, interest rates and the settle.)
  • Psychological Impact
    • What psychological impact did sharecropping have on black families?

3. Ruby's Story from 1916-1938 (21-24)

  • Describe Ruby's childhood, teenage and early adult years.

4. Racist Attitudes about Sharecroppers (24-28)

  • How did whites explain the chaotic nature of the sharecropper family?
  • How were sexual taboos essential to maintaining the economic system of sharecropping?

5. Sociological Studies of the Sharecropper Family (28-32)

  • What conclusions about family life among sharecroppers did Northern intellectuals make?
  • Charles S. Johnson (1934):
  • Arthur Raper (1936):
  • Powdermaker (1934) 
  • Continuities?

Today's scholars:

  •  Herbert Gutman:
  • Dollard:
  • Johnson:

Lemann's Thesis: (31)

  • Articulate Lemann's thesis.

6. Ruby's Clarksdale Family Disintegrates (1938-44) (pp. 32-40)

  • How do Ruby's attitudes towards marriage confirm Lemann's thesis (surprise?)

  • How did black people like Ruby cope with the humiliations and violence of segregation? (pp. 34-36)

  • What was the attitude of black middle class towards poor blacks? (pp. 37-38)

  • What was Ruby’s situation in Clarksdale when she had her first two children?

  • What happened to her twin sister Ruth when she moved to Chicago?

  • Why does Ruby start thinking seriously of moving to Chicago?

7. To Move to Chicago? (pp. 40-46)

  • Describe some of the stories that Clarksdale residents heard about how life was different in Chicago. (pp. 40-42)

  • Find on the internet and play a song by Muddy Waters-- the most famous resident of Clarksdale to hit it big in Chicago. (p.42)

  • Describe the circumstances behind each of these decisions to move to Chicago or to stay at home in Clarksdale:

  • George Hicks (pp. 41-44) 

  • Bennie Gooden (pp. 44-45) 

  • Why did Aaron Henry decide to stay? (p. 46)

  • Explain the differences between W.E.B. DuBois' strategy and Booker Washington's strategy to advance the lives of black folk.

8. White Efforts to Block Emigration End (1940-46) (pp. 47-52)

  • How did whites try to block black emigration north in the years before WWII? (pp. 47-48)

  • Beyond the invention of the mechanical cotton picker, what political reasons made whites switch their positions on black emigration north? (pp. 48-49)

  • David Cohn's prediction (1947)

  • Richard Wright's warning (1941)

9. Ruby Moves to Chicago (1946) (pp. 52-53)

  • What kind of life did Ruby find for herself and her children when she moved to Chicago?

10. Uless Carter Moves to Chicago (1942) (pp. 53-58)

  • What made Uless Carter give up on sharecropping and move to Chicago?