Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Tuesday Voice: The plantation of the mind

It rots more than 
the soul of the South

By Ed Rogers

I was taught in school that a plantation was a very large farm that was owned by one person or one family, and they were normally white. Because of the magnitude of the farm it required a sizable workforce. This workforce came in the form of slaves. Not all slaves were black, as we have begun to think of slaves. In fact, before Africans were imported to the Americas, the slaves came from the prisons of Europe. However, unlike the black slaves that followed, these men and women could work off their sentence within a prescribed number of years – usually seven or fourteen – and become free.
    The idea of freeing slaves after a set number of years became a problem. The crops needed tending and if the shipment of new prisoners was late, the crop could be lost. However, no plantation owner wanted to see one of his own go under, so there was a lot of slave lending. This added an unwanted hardship to both parties, however. The plantation owners married within their peer group and most were related by the time of the Civil War. As an example, Robert E. Lee’s mother married her first cousin, John Carter. After all, these were the Lords and Ladies of the New World, and the blood line, the money, and the power had to remain with the Right People.
    Most of the plantations at the time were located in Virginia, and the livelihood of the towns, and even of the small farmers, seemed to depend on the success of the plantations. So every few months a new batch of convicts would be set free and the locals of Jamestown, Virginia, for example, had to endure the population growth of criminals walking their streets. These people had little or no money, and there was no work for them. Moving west was out of the question – that land belonged to the Indians, and the British Army enforced the Indians’ right to that land.

    Then one night in 1676 these ex-criminals had had enough and rioted. They killed a number of people and burned Jamestown almost to the ground. I believe that this one act caused the plantation owners to start importing black slaves – at a much higher cost, I might add. The white slaves were indentured for only seven years and the Crown was happy to be rid of them. So, for the price of a boat fare to the New World you had a slave for seven years.
    However, there had been problems with using white slaves. For one thing, they had rights under the law, but the rioting and burning of Jamestown gave the plantation owners the power to have laws passed that declared black slaves to be property and not human beings. This removed the threat of the seven-year rioting or the question of how the slaves were treated. It also created a way of thinking that still rots the soul of the South today.
    The Jamestown story and the information about Robert E. Lee I learned while researching my family tree. I read books about “the Great Families of Virginia” and many of the letters of Landon Carter (1710-1778). Lee and I came down the same tree of Carters. In 1800 something – can’t remember the date, but I want to say it was 1850 – people were allowed to free their slaves. One of the Carters living in Tennessee freed 500 slaves. After that, a law went into force that said if you freed a slave after that date you had to give them $25 and transport them across the state line; slaves could not be free in the same state where they had lived. People who may have wanted to free their slaves after that could not afford to do so.
    I’m not sure that the burning of Jamestown was the only reason plantation owners started importing black slaves, but it played a big part in how slaves were treated after that. Plus, the supply of black slaves was larger than the supply of convicts coming from England, and, although they cost more, you had them and their offspring for life.

I call this way of thinking the plantation mentality. I have seen it spread across the land, and while the South has a history of blind faith in those in power, the rest of the country doesn’t have that excuse. We have been sold the idea that those with power or/and wealth got it through hard work. In fact, most inherited their position and money. This money and power will be passed to their children. The circle continues with each new generation gaining more money and more power. Today there is no government by the people and for the people. Bills and laws are decided in board rooms, and then handed to Congress or the Senate along with a handful of money. In their day, the rich plantation owners wrote and paid for laws to enslave people, and today corporations are out to enslave us all.
    Southerners’ belief that their very livelihood depended on the plantation owners made them slaves to a way of life. Today we are led to believe that our corporations must do well and their CEOs must be paid millions of dollars, and only this will give us a good life. In the Old South, what those Lords and Ladies did and said was followed like the Bible. Poor women imagined themselves dressed in fine gowns attending big gala affairs while their men rode their plow horses pretending to be big land owners. There was very little resentment toward the upper class. Instead, poor white people of the South believed that one day they could be the upper class. When the Civil War came it was the plantation owners who became the captains, colonels, and generals who led the poor whites into battle, thus imbedding a lasting curse on the South – a curse that today is showing up in every corner of America.
    When the war ended it was these same plantation owners who came back to a land that was on its knees and began their fight for control. Southerners had hated the Yankees for five years, so it was easy to blame all of their hardships on the North. To this day Southerners will not take responsibility for the destruction of the South. They wore, and still wear their plight of being poor like a badge of honor. Jessie James, Bonnie & Clyde, the KKK, and a large range of gangsters became their heroes. It was then as it is now: “The USA government is to blame for all of our problems, and had the South won the war, things would be so much better.”
    The plantations and the owners of the plantations are not gone – they just changed their name and their way of doing business. Large corporations are the new plantations, and their CEOs are the new field bosses. As in days past, the owners sit in their big mansions being waited upon by their slaves.
    Once more, we are owned, and over half the country thinks this is a good thing.
    Once more, people of questionable character are being held in high regard – people living in swamps killing gators or making fish lures or not paying taxes, telling crazy lies, and waving Confederate flags: these have become the new heroes.
    The Southerner, and now much of the rest of the country, look at this and say: “One day that will be me in the big house.”

Copyright © 2015 by Ed Rogers


  1. Ed,

    What an interesting read! I'm not sure I'm entirely with you but I do follow your argument. Let me ask you...your point about large corporations being the plantations of old...in your view would you extrapolate further and say that capitalism is the ultimate issue/concern?

    Also...how do you process the recent angst the country has had over the Confederate flag in SC? I understand that even pro golfer, Bubba Watson, repainted his replica of the General Lee from the TV show The Dukes of Hazzard to cover over the Confederate flag. An almost meaningless act, I realize, but it does seem to represent a change in national sentiment. Is there not some movement in the country against the use of the Confederate flag? How does this play into your thinking?

    Engaging read. Thanks for contributing it.

  2. I'm not against capitalism itself, but unchecked its only goal is to feed the ones at the top. The owners of the plantations could produce nothing without the slaves and their product if only sold to the rich would not have given them the income needed to run their everyday business---same with the corporations today. However, unchecked capitalism does not factor in the people who keep the machine running. Teddy Roosevelt and then F. D. Roosevelt saw the dangers and the harm that unchecked capitalism could do and past laws to to hold the banks and corps, in check. Most of those laws are gone. The American people have given their right of control over to the corporations. Now the beast we call capitalism is free. In some ways the civil war was a good thing(I believe slaves and other problems could have been resolved without war)the land in the south was burned up from planting cotton over and over. The owners could not afford not to plant the cotton but the price of growing it was increasing and the buyers in the north wanted cheap cotton but each field produced less cotton each year. This is what happens with unchecked capitalism it feeds on its self but we suffer.

    As for the flag any change you see is because they do not want to be seen as bigots. As for national sentiment before we elected a black man president it was a very rare sight to see a Confederate flag waving in the north or on the west coast as for as that goes. I don't know if there has been this many people with so much hate in heart all along and no one noticed or there is something in the water.

  3. To anyone else who finds today's column an interesting, engaging read, please share your reaction to Ed Rogers's thesis. Does it explain anything that you may not previously have understood? Has "plantation mentality" spread to other parts of the country, as Ed contents? How do you see all this in relationship to capitalism? (See Patrick Sawyer's comment above, and Ed's response, immediately below it.)
        Please contribute your thoughts on today's thoughtful essay. We appreciate it.

  4. The following is kind of off the grid from Mr. Rogers’s article but still relevant and important:

    We have made some changes [writing from South Carolina], but I must agree with Mr. Rogers. For example, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 gave the US Attorney General the right to investigate schools that he or she believed were still participating in discriminatory activities. Charter schools are even more profoundly segregated than most public schools and magnet schools, [which] with a few exceptions have failed for more than 40 years to achieve diversity. I am not aware of a true diversity policy that will protect African American students from feeling isolated, alienated, and discriminated against by the majority population. M. Hinton ["In need of a newer model," in Diverse Issues of Higher Education, 27(18), 2010] stressed that “as the demographics of those who comprise college shift, there has been no move to make the culture more inclusive, rather, the student must fit narrow cultural norms” (p. 43). I believe this is across the board for all aspects of life for people of color.

    1. I agree with Saundra one of the worst things that happened in the South after integration was Church Schools which do the same as Charter Schools they create a lack of diversity. The only answer I can think of is a College like compound where everybody is bused, because as long as you have poor neighborhoods their schools will never match the better off neighborhoods.

  5. The idea of the corporations being the "new plantations" has the awful stab of accuracy about it, and it seems us "slaves" have accepted this as a sad fact to which we can only submit, at least if we want to keep alive the dream of one day being "in the big house". Some of us, however, long ago let go of the illusion that most of the wealthy and powerful got there through "hard work", and also let go of the illusion that bigotry and ignorance are limited to the South. I spent two years living in Los Angeles, and I recall a conversation in which a woman told me she was so happy to have left the South for good--"Too many rednecks," she said. All I could think was that she was wearing blinders--I ran into plenty of what we call rednecks, they just came with a West Coast accent rather than a Southern drawl.

    Good piece, Ed.


    1. Thanks. I lived in Northern Cali for 6 years it was almost like being in Mississippi. Only without the forest fires.

  6. Interesting read. I see plantation life and corporate lifestyles as an extension of industrialism and Victorianism as it arose out of Europe, specifically as it addressed social class distinctions. .

    Sorry, have to stop thinking and do my farm chores for the evening.

  7. Maybe imperialism would have been a better word than industrialism. For those who haven't read Imperial Leather (Anne McClintock), it is a must read. Best book I've ever read.

    ...race, gender and sexuality in the colonial contest

  8. Excellent to and fro and very interesting subject matter, Ed. I think you are right with your comparisons to corporations and plantations. And the mentality of all involved from top to bottom. My question is this. How did the "Southern mind set" get to Australia? They call them Bogans here - the poor, loud and the proud. (This is not really a serious question BTW.) Other then Hawaii, California is the closest, so I guess it's there fault. Just kidding, ya'll!!

  9. You might want to consider "there" as "their" to be correct. Or not. I've heard say, "I used to coont spell redneck now I are one."

  10. The Southern Gentleman was first an English Gentleman as was the Australian. England believed in the power of the wealthy as did most of the founding fathers. Remember while the shooting of the Revolution started in the North most of the leaders were from Virginia and the freedom they wanted had to do with family money. In someways the Revolutionary War was the first battle for free trade.

    I don't believe they saw a day that the common person would have a vote or hold a seat of power. I could look up the date it was changed but in's not that important; for many years after the war only land owners could vote or run for elected office. Today it is getting harder for the poor to vote and if you are not rich or good friends or willing to sell your soul you cannot afford to run for office. History repeating itself.

  11. Excellent column! Now living in the the South I have been corrected many times about the following: it was the Northern aggression against the South, not the Civil War. I think his comparison is quite brilliant and a way of thinking that just might open up some closed minds.