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Title:"We cleared the land with our own hands": space and place in African American community building and freedom struggles in the Missouri Bootheel, 1890-1968
Author(s):Dodson, Heidi Lorraine
Director of Research:Lang, Clarence E.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Lang, Clarence E.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Burton, Orville V.; Cha-Jua, Sundiata K.; Ginsburg, Rebecca; Roediger, David R.
Department / Program:History
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Missouri Bootheel
Missouri Delta
civil rights
labor history
sundown towns
Black towns
African Americans
African American freedom struggles
border South
cotton plantations
plantation South
cotton South
rural history
agricultural history
African American land ownership
school desegregation
New Deal
farm labor
rural housing
Farm Security Administration
migrant labor
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
Abstract:Scholarship on African American community building and Black freedom struggles has demonstrated the centrality of the Black working class to social, political, and economic transformations in the twentieth-century rural South. Yet, our understanding of how African Americans actively engaged in power struggles over space, and the nature of struggle in the Border South, has been under-analyzed. This dissertation looks at the significance of space and place to African American life in the Missouri Bootheel, or Missouri Delta, during the region's metamorphosis from a sparsely populated region of lowland swamps, to an agricultural "Promised Land" that included vast fields of cotton farmed by sharecroppers. It explores the ways in which African Americans acted as central agents in this transformation through their labor in the forests and fields, their planning visions, politics and their influence on the built environment through institution, neighborhood and town-building. White supremacy was embedded in the region’s social and economic fabric, but its power was not absolute. This dissertation argues that African Americans used the instability of key periods of social and economic change and the relative fluidity and unpredictability of race relations in a Border South region to push for access to rural industrial jobs, public space, land, schools and housing. African Americans’ strategies for community building and activism varied, but their establishment of Black institutions and rural Black towns and enclaves, independent of plantation space, was central to struggles in these arenas. Periods of intense social struggle over space included Black migration during the 1910 and 1920s, the New Deal, and the transition from sharecropping to day labor from the 1930s through the 1950s.
Issue Date:2016-04-22
Rights Information:Copyright 2016 Heidi L. Dodson
Date Available in IDEALS:2016-07-07
Date Deposited:2016-05

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