White Poverty and the Legacy of Slavery in the US South

Tropics of Meta

While the moonlight-and-magnolias myth of the Old South continues to persist, the region’s history actually is much more sinister and grim – even for many white Southerners. Recently scholars have revealed the brutal, bloody realities of slavery in the late-antebellum Deep South. Yet to truly understand the gross inequalities endemic to slave societies, it is also important to acknowledge what happens to excess workers when a capitalist system is predicated on slave labor.

With the rising global demand for cotton, and thus, slaves, in the 1840s and 1850s, the need for white laborers in the American South was drastically reduced, creating a large underclass who were unemployed or underemployed. These landless poor whites simply could not compete – for jobs or living wages – with profitable slave labor. Though impoverished whites were never subjected to the daily violence and degrading humiliations of racial slavery, they did suffer tangible socio-economic consequences…

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