It wasn’t cotton fields that lured mills from North

“It was not proximity to cotton fields that explains this sudden expansion of cotton manufacturing in the U.S. South [in the late 19th and early 20th centuries]….The secret of success was plentiful and cheap labor.

“The destruction of slavery and the attendant transformation of the countryside had created a large and malleable pool of low-wage workers for the cotton factories, at first mostly white rural workers, who had once been tenant farmers, and later African American workers, most of them former sharecroppers. As one contemporary observed, Southern cotton growers left the farms ‘like rats leaving a sinking ship.’

“As a result, a 1922 study by the Massachusetts Department of Labor and Industries revealed that whereas the average hourly wage of a Massachusetts mill worker was 41 cents, the going rate was 29 cents in North Carolina, 24 cents in Georgia, 23 cents in South Carolina and a mere 21 cents in Alabama.”

— From Empire of Cotton: A Global History” by Sven Beckert (2014)


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