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The coalition of black and white farmers


Booker T. Washington of Tuskegee Institute
Booker T. Washington of Tuskegee Institute

The agricultural slump was not limited to cotton. As elsewhere in the nation, small Tennessee farmers suffered as wealth created by commerce and manufacturing was concentrated in the hands of a few wealthy business people. Among the causes of unrest were the declining prices of farm products, the growing indebtedness of farmers to merchants and banks, and the discriminatory freight rates imposed on farmers by the railroads. In the 1870s and 1880s American farmers under midwestern leadership formed self-help groups such as the National Grange and Farmers’ Alliances. When these organizations decided that agricultural grievances had to be addressed with political action, the dominance of the Democrats in the South was threatened. This threat was complicated by the fact that the Democrats stood for white power, while the farmers’ groups were willing to attract black farmers to their cause. The movement nationwide was called populism and resulted in an important third political party, the People’s Party.

In Tennessee, political groups worked within the Democratic Party, gained strength in the legislature, and in 1890 captured the governorship with the election of Democrat John Buchanan.

The coalition of black and white farmers fell apart after 1896 as a result of intimidation and white susceptibility to racist Democratic appeals. Segregation of the races, through separate public facilities for whites and blacks, became a basic rule in Southern society in the last two decades of the 19th century (see Segregation in the United States). The same Tennessee constitution of 1870 that provided for universal manhood suffrage also required public schools to be segregated.

A black educator, Booker T. Washington of Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee, Alabama, reacted to this erosion of black rights by advocating a policy of racial accommodation. He urged blacks not to emphasize the goals of social integration and political rights but instead to acquire the occupational skills that would facilitate economic advancement. Other black leaders disagreed, but Washington’s prestige and white support of his position caused him to be accepted as the blacks’ chief spokesperson. "Tennessee" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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