The Charlotte News

Tuesday, January 24, 1939


Site Ed. Note: Unless the letter to the editor reprinted below was referring to the editorial on cotton a few days earlier, as it probably wasn't, we have yet to acquire the article to which it refers. Assuming it is not an editorial or article from one of the days in this period missing from the microfilm, those dates missing herein, we will of course endeavor to include it. For now, we provide the letter; hopefully to be connected later with Cash's piece deemed by its author to be unduly bemoaning the sharecroppers' plight. The letter certainly paints a rosy picture, one sounding too good to be entirely true, especially in time of continued depression, especially for the farmer--when the Federal government was taking excess cotton production on consignment and storing it in warehouses from the record bumper crop year of 1937 when the price dropped through the floor, as indicated, for instance, in "Non-Sequitur", November 16, 1938.

Perhaps, having been a former sharecropper, the author had, as he suggests one easily might, become a landlord and was thus lending a little color to the life to which aspirants to tenancy might hope should they happen on his especially magical land, able somehow to get around depleted world markets and glutted supply.

Former Cropper Says Tenant's Lot Is Happy One

Dear Sir:

A few days ago I noticed your Mr. W. J. Cash's comments in The News concerning Southern farm tenants or sharecroppers. Now, as to style and substance, I think that Mr. Cash is one of the very best writers in these parts. But when he tackles the sharecropper subject, he becomes just like all of his contemporaries who have broached the subject.

As a former Southern sharecropper myself, I am qualified to discuss most authoritatively the matter of farm tenancy as now and as always practiced in the South. And I hasten to deny that something is wrong with sharecroppers and that something should be done about it. The insinuation that something is wrong sprang from ignorance and political demagogy. It is positively ridiculous.

The truth is that no form of human enterprise with so little effort offers so much enjoyment and security as does sharecropping. Without education, capital or character the average farm tenants must be and is coddled along year in and year out by the benevolent landlords of the South. The last thing in the world the average tenant wants is the responsibilities and work connected with farm ownership and operation.

Any man who possesses a spark of manhood in its generally accepted sense may today, in conformity with present tenancy practices, move upon a rented farm and thereby acquire for permanent use without the expenditure of a dime on his part such essentials as free rent, fuel, water, lights, implements, barns, grazing lands, vegetable gardens, etc., whereas if he moved into the city to enter upon any other position such essentials would require on his part an outlay of hundreds of dollars. It is a fact that the landlord must and does give to his tenants practically a living absolutely free. It requires but four months out of the year to produce a crop, and the tenant, free of the responsibilities of ownership, has eight months out of the year in which to add to his farm income.

Under our system any farm tenant can, within a few short years, become a landlord himself. But with farm ownership there comes an abundance of expenses, work, and general responsibilities which are unknown to sharecropping, and which the average tenant has neither the ability nor inclination to assume. It is so much nicer and more profitable to be sharecroppers than a landlord that in most cases one becomes and remains a sharecropper wholly from choice.

L. W. Borrows.


So as to afford Cash an immediate reply, one sounding in fact similar to the editorial of January 20, "Who'll Buy Our Cotton?", here a passage from the book:

For if industry and commerce were sick, King Cotton also was growing continually sicker, and in the end would fall into worse case than had ever been known in the past, even in the nineties. As the demand for cotton goods over the earth receded and the mills all around the globe slowed down, the demand for the staple of course gradually declined too--at a time when Southern production was hanging near peak levels, and when foreign production also was growing greater than it had ever been before. In 1929 the Southern crop totaled nearly fifteen million bales, and the foreign crop eleven and a half million--with the result that the price swooped down from twenty to twelve cents. Next year it came on down to eight.

Then in 1931, a splendid growing season, plus the general failure of the individualistic Southern farmers to heed the warnings of the Agricultural Department, fetched in the third greatest Southern crop to date: over seventeen million bales. That year the foreign crop mercifully declined by two million bales, but the world carry-over from the previous year ran to about thirteen million, with the result that the total available world supply rose to about thirty-nine million, as against an annual world consumption which had gone down to twenty-three million. Promptly the quotation on the New York cotton exchange descended to five cents, and on the local Southern markets it went even lower than that.

It was the conclusive disaster for the South. Immediate disaster for farmer, planter, tenant, and sharecropper, manifestly--disaster precisely like that in the nineties. But it was a disaster which struck through the whole economic structure of the region, also, and which, because of that, came back to visit more than immediate disaster upon the agricultural population.

The banks, already tottering, now found themselves with vast stocks of mortgages which were entirely worthless as collateral with the Yankee bankers who, faced with swarming armies of depositors definitely terrified for the safety of their savings, were calling on them for payment. They turned to selling out the land as rapidly as they could, only to find the market so overwhelmingly glutted that it was impossible, and so they began to plunge into bankruptcy at the same pace as the banks in the Middle West.

And this growing collapse of the banking structure meant, of course, a rapid curtailment of credit over and beyond what had already been made necessary by the depression in general. The rate at which business and industrial establishments were closing greatly accelerated. And planters and labor employing farmers found themselves either unable to secure credit at all or unable to secure sufficient credit to maintain their old scale of operations. The number of acres planted in cotton in 1932 would be eleven million less than in 1929.

Many of the planters abandoned their lands altogether, or turned them over to their tenants to dig a living out of if they could--without seeds or fertilizers, without foodstuffs for the work animals, and, in the case of the cropper at least, without work animals. Numbers of the farmers did much the same sort of thing and hurried into the towns in the, usually, vain hope of finding employment. And the planters and farmers who held on had perforce to make the hardest possible terms for their tenants and sharecroppers. Having always gone essentially hungry for a reasonably good diet, the great body of the sharecroppers, white and black, would begin to go hungry in the full sense of the word after the fall of 1931, and the tenants would not generally fare much better. And hordes of these people who had neither employment, means of subsistence, nor any place to go were wandering along every road from county to county and state to state, or crowding into already overcrowded slums in the towns and cities, in the hope of securing aid from the always totally inadequate, often downright niggardly local relief funds.

Such was the general picture of the South in 1932. Everybody was either ruined beyond his wildest previous fears or stood in peril of such ruin. And the general psychological reaction? First a universal bewilderment and terror, which perhaps went beyond that of the nation at large by the measure of the South's lack of training in analysis, and particularly social analysis. Men everywhere walked in a kind of daze. They clustered, at first to assure one another that all would shortly be well; then, with the passage of time, to ask questions in the pleading hope of thus being assured; but in the end they fled before the thought in one another's eyes.

--The Mind of the South, Book III, Chap. III "Of the Great Blight--and New Quandaries", sections 5-6, pp. 360-62.

A Bad Bill

The virtue of the present method of having the resident Superior Court judge of this district appoint members of the County Civil Service Commission is that it removes this board as far as possible from politics. The disadvantage of diverting authority over appointments to the County Commissioners is that it would put the Civil Service Board all the way back into politics, and the danger of that would be the injection of politics into the Rural Police Department itself.

It will come, therefore, as a complete surprise to most Mecklenburgers that such a bill is being actively considered by the Mecklenburg delegation to the Legislature. Here at home we had assumed, in the lack of evidence or complaint to the contrary, that at last the Rural Police Department was to be allowed to function as a police outfit and not as an adjunct to County politics. There has been no sign of any public sentiment for a change in the manner of appointing Civil Service Commissioners, nor has there been any discussion of a bill to that end or any intimation that such a bill would be offered.

A very bad bill it will be, if it is offered, and a needless threat to the efficiency of the police and their present detachment from politics.

Site Ed. Note: One would have to think, seeing as how the plastic plane never seemed to have gotten off the ground, that perhaps this report resulted from some government bluff for the benefit of the world's warlords.

The New Plastic Plane

To all Americans who confidently believe that the inventive and industrial genius of their country would, in case of war, give its armed forces an overwhelming technological superiority in equipment, disclosures about the new plastic plane will be comforting indeed. The great advantage of it is that an average factory which turns out ten a day of the standard aluminum alloy fighting planes could, by using giant molds from which the plastic plane sections are cast, turn out a thousand a day. In fact, the speed of production would be limited only by the supply of motors, landing gears and other parts; and everybody knows that our automobile factories could, with a simple twist of the wrist, turn out an airplane engine almost with each tick of the clock.

A plane made of this plastic material has been flying for a year and is assumed to have passed all Department of Commerce tests. Wings and fuselage are cast in half sections out of wood fiber impregnated with a plastic (such as the back of your hairbrush or the steering wheel on your auto). No rivets or structural braces are required. Instead, the stuff is molded under 4,000,000 pounds of pressure, and the model plane has withstood speeds up to 200 miles an hour. It is fire-resistant. Unless deficiencies develop, fast pursuit planes and the smaller bombers can be made of the composition material with safety and speed equal to that of the metal planes. And, of course, quantity of production would be the factor of factors.

Foolish Contention

That was a sadly weak argument put out by Administration supporters Barkley and the Schwellenbach in the Senate yesterday--that the attack on Harry Hopkins was really an attack on the President, and so an "attempt to break down confidence in the President and Government of the United States," and so villainously reprehensible.

As a matter of fact, the attack on Hopkins was largely an attack on the President--as old Carter Glass had the honesty to say. And when it comes to that, there are two sides to the argument, of course. But that has nothing to do with it. Bitterness against the President, violent attacks upon him--far more violent than anything Mr. Roosevelt has ever had to suffer--are as old as the Republic. Old John Adams went angrily riding out of Washington as Jefferson rode in to succeed him, and his (Adams') followers could think of no epithet which they did not employ on "That Jacobin" from Monticello. And Lincoln's opponents in the House and the Senate did not scruple to brand him a traitor to the country and to descend to billingsgate in registering their hate of him.

So it has been all along. And it is perfect nonsense to say that it represents an attempt to destroy faith in the integrity of the Presidency as such and in the Federal Government. It represents simply an attempt on the part of those who dissent to destroy confidence in the policies of the Administration. They may be right, they may be wrong. It is purely a matter of opinion, and doesn't matter here. What does matter is that such criticism is the very essence of democratic government, and that the moment it became verboten, democratic government would be pretty well done for.

Site Ed. Note: And nature did eventually take its course. Neville Chamberlain was displaced by Winston Churchill as Prime Minister in May, 1940 with the fall of Norway behind and that of France imminent; he would die six months later. (See "Up Winnie", May 11, 1940 and "Without Drums", November 11, 1940.)

Upon Bumble's Head

The man with the most fearful responsibility upon his head that any man in Europe has had, at least since Grey of Falloden looked out of a window on an August morning in 1914 and wept as the newshawks shouted that England had declared war, is Mr. Bumble of Downing Street. Five months ago it was he who made Adolf Hitler into the greatest power on the Continent. Now it is he who has handed over Spain to Mussolini--a thing which now appears to be practically accomplished fact. The French have wanted none of these things, and they have acquiesced in them only sullenly and under threat of being utterly abandoned by England.

It is only fair to say for Bumble, to be sure, that he has had excuse for his course. It is altogether likely that another great war in Europe will mean chaos for victor and vanquished alike, that Fascism or Communism may end by taking all. And if the things we are told about Germany's air power and Hitler's barbarian intentions against London and Paris are true, then the stoutest heart might have been given pause. If there were the slightest prospect, indeed, that "appeasement" would actually work to avoid war, then it would be necessary to applaud Bumble whole-heartedly.

But, barring a miracle, there is almost no such prospect. The single real hope is that the Nazi and Fascist regimes will collapse from within, and such regimes rarely collapse while they are steadily piling triumph on triumph. To hope that Hitler and Mussolini will be satisfied with what they have got is utter nonsense. They make no effort to hide the fact that they haven't any such intention. Mussolini plans to stay in Spain, obviously--and to renew his demands upon France in very short order. And Hitler is rapidly completing his plans to advance upon the Ukraine. Within a very few months England and France stand to be faced with the choice of fighting or submitting to a new and far worse Munich. And if they do submit, they will submit with the prospect of an endless chain of Munichs in front of them. Soon or late--and not very late, either--the two nations are nearly certain to have to decide to submit to the complete destruction of their power or to stand in battle. And when they do battle, it is going to be against nations made tremendously strong precisely by the handiwork of Mr. Bumble.

He is an old man now. If the miracle comes, if Hitler falls from within Germany, if the "appeasement" yet works, he will be a hero--the greatest England has had since Nelson. But if it doesn't, then perhaps the kindest thing would be for nature to take its course with the old man and remove him from the scene. For whatever his motives and his excuses, his people are apt to feel, if and when the deluge comes, when they find themselves perhaps unable to win the war at all, certain to have to sacrifice many extra millions of lives to win it, because of his decisions--and they are apt to feel that they have been stupidly betrayed.

Speaking of Cynicism

Welfare officials in Raleigh are strongly opposed to a local bill introduced in the Legislature which would require publication of the names of old people and children who were receiving assistance. And the Welfarers' objection is, of course, that there is no use to add humiliation to the suffering of these indigents? Nope; they don't say anything about that. Then it is that publication would induce many persons who weren't receiving assistance to complain that they were fully as needy as Neighbor Jones or the Smith children? Nope; they don't mention that either.

Ground for their objection is reported to be that office-hungry local politicians would copy these lists and go around soliciting campaign contributions from the old folks and children, with an implied threat to take away their benefits unless they came across.

There is an adage to the effect that it takes a thief to catch a thief, and perhaps it takes politicians to guard against the tricks of other politicians. But, honestly, they wouldn't stoop so low as that, would they?


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