Poverty and Literature 2019

Lemann, The Promised Land (1991) 

Clarksdale (3-58)

General Questions:

    * What influence did the environment of the segregated South have upon the people who moved from Clarksdale to Chicago?
    * Does Lemann believe that ‘a culture of poverty’ existed in the South?
    * What role does the family structure have on the transmission of poverty from generation to generation?
    * What impact did the move from the agricultural South to the urban North have on the migrants?
    * Would Lemann recommend government intervention to address the problems of poverty which emerged in the cities? If so, how?

Analyze why Lemann chose these people to represent the millions of African-Americans who moved north during the Great Migration:

    * Ruby Daniels
    * Uless Carter
    * Lillian Henry

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)
          o Describe the real work a cotton picker did:

    * Ruby's Family History (8-9)

    * The Delta (9-11)
          o Why is the Delta the richest natural cotton farming land in America?
          o Why was it the last land in the South to be settled and cultivated?
          o When did the cotton industry peak in the South?

    * The Institution of Segregation (1875-90) (11-14)
          o What is the racist myth about the origin of sharecropping?
          o What happened to the idea of 'forty acres and a mule'?
          o What were the real origins of sharecropping?

    * Cotton Crash (15)
          o When did the great Depression come to the Mississippi Delta?

    * The Lure of Job-Rich Chicago (16)
          o 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
          o 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)
  • Studies of sharecropper society by Northern intellectuals all rejected the idea of black inferiority, but they agreed that family life among sharecroppers was different from the ordinary family life of the rest of the country. (29)
          o Charles S. Johnson (1934):
          o Powdermaker (1934)
          o John Dollard, Caste and Class in a Southern Town (1932)
          o W. E. B. DuBois, in The Souls of Blakc Folk (1903):
          o E. Franklin Frazier 1920's
          o They all assumed that they were seeing the continuation of a pattern of family life that began during slavery

Lemann's Thesis: (31)

    * Articulate Lemann's thesis.

6. Ruby in Clarksdale vs. Black Middle Class  (1938-44) (32-41)
  • How do Ruby's attitudes towards marriage confirm Lemann's thesis (surprise?) (32-34)
  • What kind of humiliations and threats of violence did Ruby cope with while living in segregated Clarksdale? (pp. 34-36)
  • What was the experience of middle-class blacks like in Clarksdale? (36)
  • What was the attitude of the black middle class towards poor blacks?  (36)
  • What was Ruby’s situation in Clarksdale when she gave birth to her first two children? (39-40
  • What happened to her twin sister Ruth when she moved north? (40)
  • Why does Ruby start thinking seriously of moving to Chicago? (40)

7. To Move to Chicago? (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)
  • What experiences finally convinced George Hicks and Bennie Gooden to leave Clarksdale for Chicago? (42-44)
    • 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) (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)

What was David Cohn's prediction in 1947 about the consequences of the Great Migration? (51)

What was Richard Wright's warning in 1941 about the consequences of the Great Migration? (52)

9. Ruby Moves to Chicago (1946) (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) (53-58)
  • What made Uless Carter give up on sharecropping and move to Chicago?