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A Fabric of Defeat: The Politics of South Carolina Millhands, 1910-1948 [Paperback]

by Bryant Simon
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 27, 1998 0807847046 978-0807847046
In this book, Bryant Simon brings to life the politics of white South Carolina millhands during the first half of the twentieth century. His revealing and moving account explores how this group of southern laborers thought about and participated in politics and public power.

Taking a broad view of politics, Simon looks at laborers as they engaged in political activity in many venues—at the polling station, on front porches, and on the shop floor—and examines their political involvement at the local, state, and national levels. He describes the campaign styles and rhetoric of such politicians as Coleman Blease and Olin Johnston (himself a former millhand), who eagerly sought the workers' votes. He draws a detailed picture of mill workers casting ballots, carrying placards, marching on the state capital, writing to lawmakers, and picketing factories. These millhands' politics reflected their public and private thoughts about whiteness and blackness, war and the New Deal, democracy and justice, gender and sexuality, class relations and consumption.

Ultimately, the people depicted here are neither romanticized nor dismissed as the stereotypically racist and uneducated "rednecks" found in many accounts of southern politics. Southern workers understood the political and social forces that shaped their lives, argues Simon, and they developed complex political strategies to deal with those forces.

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A Fabric of Defeat: The Politics of South Carolina Millhands, 1910-1948 + Golden Haze of Memory
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Editorial Reviews


This deeply researched and well-written volume stands as a rigorous study that fills a real need.

Journal of Social History

An interesting and valuable contribution to our understanding of twentieth-century white southern legal culture.

American Historical Review

A significant addition to the new scholarship on southern working-class whites.

The Journal of Southern History

[P]rovides an unusually engaging perspective on twentieth-century southern working-class history.

The Journal of American History

Represents essential reading for those who seek a deeper understanding of the American south•s tortured course in the twentieth century.

Business History

From the Inside Flap

Brings to life the politics of white South Carolina millhands from 1920 to 1945. Examines laborers as they engaged in political activity and shows how their politics reflected their public and private opinions.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press (May 27, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807847046
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807847046
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #291,549 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Bryant Simon is professor of history and the Director of American Studies at Temple University. He is the author of Boardwalk of Dreams: Atlantic City and the Fate of Urban America. His most recent book, Everything but the Coffee: Learning about America from Starbucks, looks at what our latte choices tell us about our daily desires and dreams. This research took him to more than 450 Starbucks in 10 countries.

He blogs at www.everythingbutthecoffee.net

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a wonderful book. September 29, 1999
Fabric of Defeat's title sounds like a downer, but this is an wonderful book that is fun to read. Simon does a particularly good job of talking about race in an industry that was "lily white," as the saying goes. He manages to discuss racist white workers without either apologizing for them or indicting them. Rather he gives texture to their racial ideas, explaining how views of race and class changed in relation to each other as the New Deal broadened the political vision of South Carolina's millworkers. This is a book I would certainly assign to undergraduates.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A really good book March 23, 2003
I wanted to read this book, which actually covers the subject from 1910 to 1948, rather than as the title listed here indicates (1920-1948) because I wanted to know more about the flamboyant and racist Coleman Blease who in the early part of this century was such a prominent figure in South Carolina's politics. This book does tell a lot about Blease and his connection with the mill workers of South Carolina, but I found even more interesting the account of the career of Olin D. Johnston. Those who only watched his career in the U.S. Senate, once he finally got there, on his third attempt, in 1945, may not (as I did not) realize the extraordinary positions he took while Governor from 1935 to 1939--he took over the highway department by force, defying a Supreme Court ruling--and that he ran in 1938 against Cotton Ed Smith on a platform of 100% support for FDR. The racist climate of South Carolina got to him, however, and not till he became more anti-Negro was he finally elected. The book also relates the fascinating account of Peter Richard Moody, a student at Wofford College, and the poem he wrote in 1936 which led the Legislature to order a mental examination of Moody, and the funny account of the result of the mental exam. The book traces the efforts and hopes of the disadvantaged millhands, and amply justifies the title of the work. Anyone interested in Southern politics should read this enlightening and well-researched book. The bibliography alone runs 30 pages, and I found the book unique in its subject. A minor note: a footnote on page 291 says poet Moody became a professor at the U.S. Military Academy, whereas it appears that actually he was at the Air Force Academy.
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