Date of Graduation

5-2019

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in History (PhD)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

History

Advisor

Jeannie Whayne

Committee Member

James Gigantino

Second Committee Member

Patrick Williams

Keywords

Agriculture, Appalachia, Cooperatives, Institutional Racism, Mountain Farming, Regional Identity, Southern Highlands

Abstract

In 1927, the Farmers’ Federation agricultural cooperative in Western North Carolina launched an organization to solicit funds from wealthy donors. The money raised through philanthropic campaigns enabled the cooperative to fund large-scale agricultural projects, which helped members navigate the dramatic agricultural transformations of the early twentieth century. Although the cooperative advocated a progressive program of business-minded, scientific farming, its leadership modified programs to reflect farmer members’ limited resources and the realities of mountain production. As a result, the co-op provided a crucial bridge between white farmers and new methods of agricultural production that reached deep into peoples’ familial and productive lives. Cooperation, however, was never sufficiently profitable for those projects to be self-sustaining. Instead, the cooperative relied on fundraising that traded on the region’s relatively new national image as a reservoir of pure Anglo-Saxon stock. Fundraising efforts promised urban elites that donations to white mountaineers would combat the threat they perceived arising from Eastern European and Catholic immigrants by drawing a previously isolated, but racially pure, population into national life. Within this framework, the Farmers’ Federation boosters erased the area’s substantial African American population and helped create a regional identity that denied black Appalachians’ existence. Contrary to this depiction, black highlanders were woven into all aspects of mountain life. In fact, the expensive programs that the co-op created with donated money relied on and exploited African American labor.

As a result, the Farmers’ Federation cooperative provides a lens for uncovering the national culture of white supremacy beneath the mythological racelessness of stereotypical depictions of the Southern mountains. Furthermore, the Farmers’ Federation and its fundraising efforts reveal the economic benefits that Southern whites accrued as a result of national elevation of the region’s racial associations. Finally, an examination of the Farmers’ Federation and its fundraising arm traces one instance in which wealthy donors’ efforts to buy a particular vision of racial supremacy through philanthropy brought millions of dollars into the highlands, supporting the creation of institutions, schools, and infrastructure with the capacity to maintain racial disparities long after the decline of national fervor for investing in mythological Anglo-Saxon populations.

Available for download on Tuesday, May 25, 2021

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