How farming of the South's royal fiber expanded and changed under mechanization and competition.
King Cotton in Modern America places the once preeminent southern crop in historical perspective, showing how "cotton culture" was actually part of the larger culture of the United States despite the widespread perception of its cultivation and sources as hopelessly backward. Leaders in the industry, acting through the National Cotton Council, organized their various and often conflicting segments to make the commodity a viable part of the greater American economy. The industry faced new challenges, particularly the rise of foreign competition in production and the increase of man-made fibers in the consumer market.
Modernization and efficiency became key elements for cotton planters. The proliferation of cotton fields in the western states after 1945 enabled America to compete in the world cotton market, but internal dissension developed between the traditional regions of the South and the new areas in the West, particularly over the USDA cotton allotment program. Mechanization had profound social and economic impacts.
Combining history with music and literature, D. Clayton Brown carries cotton's story to the present with a special emphasis on the meaning of cotton in the lore of Memphis's Beale Street, blues music, and African American migration.
D. Clayton Brown —
D. Clayton Brown, Fort Worth, Texas, is professor of history at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. He is the author of Electricity for Rural America: The Fight for the REA, the children's book Dwight D. Eisenhower: The Space Race and Cold War, and Globalization and America since 1945.
Brown, D. Clayton. King cotton in modern America: a cultural, political, and economic history since 1945. University Press of Mississippi, 2011. 440p bibl index afp; ISBN 9781604737981; ISBN 9781604737998 e-book, contact publisher for price. Reviewed in 2011aug CHOICE.
Few could argue cotton's importance to the US economy or to its place in global trade. Brown (history, Texas Christian Univ.) argues that cotton is more than an agricultural product; it has deep cultural roots, possessed political clout, and was influential in shaping the social fabric. His detailed, thoughtful study examines the transformation of the cotton industry after 1945, particularly the westward expansion of cotton lands, the adaptation to mechanization and the shift to agribusiness production, the efforts through political intervention to shape government policy, and the development of scientific research to provide better yields, improved fibers, and pestilence prevention. Recently, the cotton industry has faced challenges from increased use of synthetic fibers and foreign producers that threaten US dominance. Brown makes excellent use of government documents, National Cotton Council histories, existing oral histories, and personal interviews to provide a rich narrative. He argues that despite the shifting perception of cotton farmers as backward, cotton has a persistent cultural resonance, particularly in music and literature. The chapters on cotton mechanization and expansion are well done. This study is an important contribution to the place of cotton in recent years.
Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readership levels. -- R. M. Hyser, James Madison University