Redeemers to Northern capitalists: Come on down!

“The Compromise of 1877 ended Reconstruction, sealed the alliance between Northern and Southern conservatives and ratified the shifting emphasis of Northern policy from the political and missionary to the economic and exploitative…..

“Northern capital could not have moved so swiftly through the South had it not been for the collaboration of Southern business elites. The men who ‘redeemed’ state governments from carpetbag rule were eager to play the role of junior partner in the lumbering, railroad, textile and other industries….

“Their rhetorical devotion to the ‘Lost Cause’ and the supposed glories of the old order were the syrup that made the medicine of modernization go down. As early as the summer of 1877, when railroad strikes threatened to rip the Northern class structure apart, Southern publicists saw their opportunity. The Raleigh Observer addressed the ‘panic-stricken, mob-ridden States of the North,’ promising that ‘Money invested here is as safe from the rude hand of mob violence as it is in the best U.S. bond.’ ”

— From “Rebirth of a Nation: The Making of Modern America, 1877-1920” by Jackson Lears (2009)


A challenging assignment for Thomas Hart Benton

“Thomas Hart Benton… counterposed the truth of his art against the lies of advertising in an account of his dispute with the American Tobacco Company in 1943.

“The company, pioneering what has become a standard business practice, sought to counteract its federal conviction for price-fixing by hiring N.W. Ayer to surround it with ‘jes’ folks’ imagery. Benton was a natural choice for the assignment: His work was accessible but carried connotations of high-art legitimacy. Yet when Benton was sent to the hills of south Georgia, and painted what the saw — black people harvesting tobacco — the agency executives complained: ‘The Negro institutions would boycott our products and cost us thousands of dollars if we showed pictures of this sort. They want Negroes presented as well-dressed and respectable members of society. If we did this, of course, then the whole of the white South would boycott us. So the only thing to do is to avoid the representation of Negroes entirely in advertising.’

“So Benton went to North Carolina ‘where the hillbillies handle tobacco’ and produced a picture of an old man and his granddaughter; the agency thought it was fine but that the girl was too skinny. ‘ “Everything about tobacco must look healthy,” the advertising people declared….’ ”

— From “Fables of Abundance: A Cultural History of Advertising in America” by Jackson Lears (1995)


Once upon a time, there was a N.C. legislature that….

“In certain Southern places, the economic crisis of the 1890s drove Populists and Republicans into each other’s arms…. Fragile biracial coalitions elected ‘fusion’ tickets in Alabama, Georgia, Texas and — most successfully — in North Carolina….

“Between 1894 and 1898, the fusionist legislature required ‘The School History of the Negro Race in the United States’ to be taught in North Carolina public schools; it also raised money for education and poor relief by increasing taxes on railroads and other corporations….”

— From “Rebirth of a Nation: The Making of Modern America, 1877-1920” by Jackson Lears (2009)