The history of a brief but powerful coalition of Populists, Republicans, and African Americans.
During the 1890s, North Carolina witnessed a political revolution as the newly formed Populist Party joined with the Republicans to throw out do-nothing, conservative Democrats. Focusing on political transformation, electoral reform, and new economic policies to aid poor and struggling farmers, the Populists and their coalition partners took power at all levels in the only southern state where Populists gained statewide office. For a brief four years, the Populists and Republicans gave an object lesson in progressive politics in which whites and African Americans worked together for the betterment of the state and the lives of the people.
James M. Beeby examines the complex history of the rise and fall of the Populist Party in the late nineteenth century. His book explores the causes behind the political insurgency of small farmers in the state. It offers the first comprehensive and in-depth study of the movement, focusing on local activists as well as state leadership. It also elucidates the relationship between Populists and African Americans, the nature of cooperation between Republicans and Populists, and local dynamics and political campaigning in the Gilded Age. In a last-gasp attempt to return to power, the Democrats focused on the Populists' weak point--race. The book closes with an analysis of the virulent campaign of white supremacy engineered by threatened Democrats and the ultimate downfall of already quarreling Populists and Republicans. With the defeat of the Populist ticket, North Carolina joined other southern states by entering an era of segregation and systematic disfranchisement.
James M Beeby —
James M. Beeby is an assistant professor of history at Indiana University Southeast.
Beeby, James M. Revolt of the Tar Heels: the North Carolina Populist movement, 1890-1901. University Press of Mississippi, 2008. 280p bibl index afp ISBN 1-60473-001-3; ISBN 9781604730012. Reviewed in 2009aug CHOICE.
Avoiding a top-down analysis, this groundbreaking, thoroughly researched study of the Populist movement in North Carolina brings together factors of political, economic, and social reform to shed light on the insurgent culture that challenged the two-party system in the Old North State. Starting with the rise of the Farmers' Alliance, Beeby (Indiana Univ. Southeast) centers discussion on the 1890s cooperation movement of Populists and Republicans that until 1900 threatened to radically change North Carolina. Populist leader Marion Butler hoped to utilize the silver issue and gain the support of wageworkers, but that strategy did not succeed. Beeby shows how various corporate interests used their economic power to fight the cooperationists. In 1898, the Democrats utilized a panoply of white racial fears, especially fears of sexual aggression, to defeat the cooperation movement and in Wilmington murdered many Republicans and Populists, setting in place long decades of white supremacy. By the early 1900s, the Populists in the state were history, their demise relying not upon lawful electoral processes, but on bloodshed. All in all, this book is a fine contribution to late-19th-century US history.
Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. -- H. Shapiro, emeritus, University of Cincinnati