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Ultimately, the people depicted here are neither romanticized nor dismissed as the stereotypically racist and uneducated "rednecks" found in many accounts of southern politics. Southern workers understood the political and social forces that shaped their lives, argues Simon, and they developed complex political strategies to deal with those forces. Table of Contents Contents Acknowledgments Introduction 1. Bleasism in Decline, 3. Searching for Answers to the Great Depression 4. We the People of the U. The General Textile Strike, September 7.

Johnston and the Workers' Compensation Act, 9. Fighting for the Right to Strike, Johnston chatting with another politician, "Cotton Ed" Smith and wife shaking hands with voters, Maps 1. South Carolina Counties, 2. Blease versus James F. Byrnes, U. Senate Runoff, A. Johnston versus Ibra C. Blackwood, Gubernatorial Runoff, A. Johnston versus Ellison D. The Fabric of Sin.

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The Fabric of Geology. The Fabric of the Cosmos. A South Carolina chronology, The Fabric Of Mind. Fabric of Fate. The politics of South African cricket. The Politics of Extremism in South Asia. Fabric of Knowledge. The Art of Manipulating Fabric. FDR launched his ill-fated attempt to purge the Democratic Party of obstinate southerners in A bitter racist and successor to the legacy of Blease, Smith used the race issue as an excuse for opposing almost any positive action by the federal government aimed at the South.

Smith was a dedicated champion of southern distinctiveness and isolation. Johnston challenged Smith for a U. Senate seat in , with FDR's implicit backing. Johnston defended the concept of state action to improve labor's lot, but he refused to defend black rights, consistently contended that the race question had been settled at the end of the nineteenth century in South Carolina, and used racially offensive terms to describe African-Americans to millhand audiences.

Nevertheless, Cotton Ed managed to defeat Johnston with a race-baiting campaign. By the end of the s, given their experiences with FDR and Johnston, workers were beginning to question their faith in state action. While some succumbed to Smith's arguments, most millhands stood by Johnston in Smith's tirades against New Deal programs that promoted advancement for blacks in most cases as a by-product struck a responsive chord among voters who had supported Blease in earlier times.


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Johnston's campaign for the senate, like his governorship, galvanized the wealthy in the state into concerted action. Fearing for their economic and social positions, middle-class proponents of economic development, lowland conservatives, and mill owners and management personnel rallied against Johnston's labor-oriented program, fearing it as a threat to what would come to be called in later years the favorable business climate in South Carolina. Johnston lost in not because millhands abandoned him, but because many of the middle-class folk who supported his gubernatorial campaigns crossed over to Cotton Ed, swayed by the demagogue's opposition to further federal intrusions into the southern regional economy.

Workers refused to be swayed by Smith's racial appeals, and voted their class interests. South Carolina's millhands "continued to try to use their access to the ballot to redistribute power on the shop floor, not to cut down African-Americans. Johnston ran for the Senate against Smith again in The demise of the state's white primary at the hands of the U. Supreme Court in April gave Johnston a symbolic chance to stake out a position on the race question.

In a wonderful turn of phrase, Simon notes that "Olin Johnston was not the kind of man who swam against history. Johnston conjured images of the horrors of Radical Reconstruction and the carpetbaggers who had tried to exploit the South.

A Fabric of Defeat: The Politics of South Carolina Millhands, 1910-1948

Johnston urged the legislature to repeal all state laws regarding the Democratic primary, making it a purely private affair and therefore, supposedly, not subject to the dictates of the Constitution. Johnston moved toward the reactionary racial politics which characterized the South in the post-war years.

He rode the race issue into the U. Senate, out race-baiting Cotton Ed himself, in He remained in the Senate until his death in , a staunch opponent of integration and racial equality. Johnston increasingly came to oppose the state activism he had once championed, a stance that mirrored the politics of the millhands who helped make his career. Simon makes it clear that the race issue did not sink the labor-liberalism of Olin Johnston. Johnston's program had failed already at the state level by the time he challenged Cotton Ed in The main obstacle to the success of mill worker political action was organized class power.


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The mill owners in South Carolina made common cause with lowland conservatives in the malapportioned state legislature to stymie Johnston at every turn. Near the end, Simon also alludes to the increasing material standard of living for millhands which came during and after World War II. Mills sold off village housing to workers and granted wage increases in an effort to counter the threat of union organization among white mill workers.

At the same time, the national Democratic party moved away from its earlier emphasis on economic issues toward a sharper focus on the moral issue of racial justice. By the early s, white millhands had come to see state action as almost universally negative, threatening to destroy the meager benefits offered by white supremacy but offering nothing in return. Other historians have discussed the relationship between race and class in the defeat of labor-oriented liberalism or New Deal liberalism or Popular Front liberalism; the terms are used loosely and sometimes interchangeably in the literature.

Recently, numerous scholars have identified this shift in focus among American liberals as a turning point for labor and the cause of liberal reform in the South, and Simon's narrative buttresses these arguments.

Numan V. Bartley, for example, has written that the new liberalism of the postwar years "offered white workers little aside from contempt and the right to compete for scarce jobs with black workers. While not agreeing with Bartley's emphasis on class cohesion in the s, David Carlton and Peter Coclanis have recently argued along somewhat similar lines. Carlton and Coclanis emphasized the regionalism of Howard Odum and other southern moderate liberals in the depression decade. For Bartley, the Cold War helped undermine radical economic critiques of the South's colonial economy and fit with the emerging concern with the race issue in national liberal circles.

Southern New Deal liberalism collapsed as the race issue came to the fore and submerged other concerns much as it had during the Populist campaigns of the s.

Reform in World War I-era South Carolina

For Carlton and Coclanis, class was never the defining element in the vision of mainstream southern reformers. The regionalism of Howard Odum, however, while not emphasizing class, did project a cooperative view of the South's future. Odum and the regionalists envisioned the South as a coherent community broadly conceived with unique problems and opportunities to be shared by southerners of both races. The emergence of the race issue also doomed the regional vision, recasting the debate over the South's future in explicitly racial terms.