Agriculture Reference
In-Depth Information
overwhelming medical evidence, Berry is reluctant to condemn tobacco in unequivocal
terms. “The tobacco controversy,” says Berry, “distracts from the much greater danger
that we are an addictive society; that our people are rushing from one expensive and
dangerous fix to another, from drugs to war to useless merchandise to various commer-
cial thrills, and that our corporate pushers are addicted to our addictions” (Berry 1993,
58). He even suggests that tobacco could serve a useful (if macabre) economic role: “The
anti-smoking campaign, by its insistent reference to the expensiveness to government
and society of death by smoking, has raised a question that it has not answered: What is
the best and cheapest disease to die from and how can the best and cheapest disease best
be promoted?” (Berry 2001, 145).
It should also be kept in mind that the pre-World War II socioeconomic order that
Berry portrays as so much better than today's is in fact the socioeconomic order of
the Jim Crow South. Not everybody agrees with Berry's assessment that the move
from farm to factory, from rural to urban, from the agrarian South to the industrial-
ized North, was an unmitigated disaster—least of all the people who did the moving.
This phenomenon, much lamented by Berry and labeled “the unsettling of America,”
is seen in a very different light by the author Isabel Wilkerson, who has documented
the migration of a large section of the southern population—blacks—from southern
farms to northern cities. Wilkerson sees this great migration as a positive, even perhaps
a necessary development:
Over the course of six decades, some six million black southerners left the land of
their forefathers and fanned out across the country. . . . The Great Migration would
become a turning point in history. It would transform urban America and recast the
social and political order of every city it touched. It would force the South to search
its soul and finally to lay aside a feudal caste system. . . .
During this time, a good portion of all black Americans alive picked up and left the
tobacco farms of Virginia, the rice plantations of South Carolina, cotton fields in east
Texas and Mississippi, and the villages and backwoods of the remaining southern
states—Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina,
Tennessee, and by some measures, Oklahoma.
(Wilkerson 2010, 9)
Nor does everybody share Berry's view that the mechanization of agriculture has been
entirely negative. According to the historian Donald Holley, the mechanization of agri-
culture in the American South was closely associated with the desegregation of south-
ern society:
The First Great Emancipation freed the slaves. The Second Great Emancipation freed
the Cotton South from the plantation system and its attendant evils—cheap labor,
ignorance, and Jim Crow discrimination. These changes all derived in part from the
development of the mechanical cotton picker, a dominant force for social and eco-
nomic change in the South after World War II. . . .
The story of the cotton picker is more than the story of a machine. The mechanical
cotton picker symbolizes how far modern agriculture has taken the Cotton South
from the era of mules and tenants. The development of the mechanical cotton picker
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