1840 - 1940

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2. Black Population: 1880 and 1920
  • 1880: Post-Civil War black population.
  • 1920: Increase in migrations to northern cities.
3. Southern Sharecropping: 1880
  • Sharecropping: Land owner supplies sharecropper with land, tools, mules, seed, cabin, food. Gets 1/4 to 1/2 of crop.
  • Tenant farming: Land owner rents to tenant; gets part of crop (e.g. 1/3). Tenant owns mules and tools.
4. The Cotton Boll Weevil
  • In 1870s, South recovers world market share of cotton lost during Civil War.
  • But Boll Weevil crosses the Rio Grande from Mexico in 1893.
  • Spreads east and north.
  • By 1909, occupies cotton growing areas of Texas, Louisiana, southern Mississippi, southern Oklahoma and Arkansas.
5. Spread of Boll Weevil, 1892-1910

6. The Cotton Boll Weevil

  • Four stages: egg, larva (grub), pupa, adult.
  • 25 days to mature weevil.
  • One pair in late spring produces 250,000 or more by fall.
  • Up to 50 percent survive winter.
7. Huddie Ledbetter
  • Louisiana, 1885-1949.
  • Mixed racial descent: Indian and African American.
  • Called Leadbelly owing to enormous strength in field work.
  • "Ballad of the Boll Weevil."
8. Ballad of the Boll Weevil
  • The Boll Weevil is a little black bug,
Come from Mexico they say,

Come all the way to Texas

Just a-lookin' for a place to stay.

  • CHORUS: Just a-lookin' for a home, Just a-lookin' for a home,
Just a-lookin' for a home, Just a-lookin' for a home.
  • The first time I seen the boll weevil,
He was settin' on the square;

The next time I seen the boll weevil,

He had all his family there.

9. Cotton Boll Weevil Damage
  • Mature Weevil punctures the cotton square (the fruit or boll) when feeding.
  • The bracts (leaves) flare (curve).
  • Boll rots.
  • Square falls to ground with its weevils.
10. Cotton Boll Weevil Larval Damage
  • Weevil lays eggs in cotton square.
  • Larva (grub) develops.
  • Bracts (leaves) become pale, flare, and curve.
  • Cotton boll dies.
  • Dead square falls off.
11. Boll Weevil as an Actor in Southern History
  • Farmers are planting acres and acres of my favorite food!
  • I hide in workers' clothing, in cotton bales, in fields, under leaves, in trash, in tree bark, in woods and grass where they can't see me.
  • I love the hot summers when I can produce kids every 15 to 30 days.
  • I love the cold winters when I don't have to eat.
12. Ballad of the Boll Weevil
  • The farmer took the boll weevil
And buried him in hot sand;

The boll weevil say to the farmer,

I’ll stand it like a man.

  • Then the farmer took the boll weevil
And left him on the ice;

The boll weevil say to the farmer,

"This is mighty cool and nice."

13. A Louisiana Convention Declares War on the Boll Weevil, 1903
  • "The state of Louisiana is threatened on the west by an insect known as the cotton-boll weevil. It has been a mystery to me that the great State of Texas, with its immense territory from west to east, would permit an insect to destroy millions of its property without any effort on the part of the State to check its course. How was it that the veterans who sacrificed their property and their lives to drive back the human vermin that infested their state would suffer this insect to overwhelm them? If we consider the amount of money that is in circulation, we realize the immense importance of the crop." The Honorable Charles Schuler
14. Greetings From the Cotton Exchange, 1903
  • "You are called upon to consider ways and means for arresting the progress of the Mexican cotton boll weevil. More than this, you are expected to devise means to permanently exterminate the weevil. It is folly to say that this cannot be done. It can be accomplished; it must be accomplished; it will be accomplished." Abe Brittin, President of the New Orleans Cotton Exchange
15. "Why That Boll Weevil Done Come"
  • A Freed Slave, 1945: "I knows why that boll weevil done come. They say he come from Mexico, but I think he always been here. Away back yonder a spider live in the country, 'specially in the bottoms. He live on the cotton leaves and stalks, but he don't hurt it. These spiders kept the insects eat up. They plow deep then, and plants cotton in February, so it made 'fore the insects git bad."
  • "Then they gits to plowing deep, and it am colder ‘cause the trees all cut, and they plows up all the spiders and the cold kill them. They plants later, and there ain't no spiders left to eat up the boll weevil."
16. Controlling the Boll Weevil
  • Plow and burn cotton stalks and litter in October to prevent weevil from wintering.
  • Turn cattle into cotton fields to eat leaves, stalks, and litter.
  • Plant early in the spring to allow cotton to set bolls before weevils appear.
  • Pick up cotton squares when they fall off.
  • Plant early blooming and setting varieties.
  • Use Paris Green (copper acetoarsenite).
17. Ballad of the Boll Weevil
  • The farmer took the boll weevil
And fed him on Paris Green;

The boll weevil say to the farmer,

"It's the best I ever seen."

  • The boll weevil say to the farmer
"You better let me alone;

I et up all your cotton

And now I’ll start on the corn."

18. All God's Dangers
  • Theodore Rosengarten. The Life of Nate Shaw (Ned Cobb)
  • "These white folks down here told the colored people, if you don't pick them cotton squares off the ground and destroy them boll weevils, we'll quit furnishing you. Told 'em that?putting the blame on the colored man for the boll weevil comin' in this country."
  • "But, you couldn't keep your fields clean?boll weevil schemin' to eat your crop faster than you workin' to get him out."
  • "Yes, all God's dangers ain't a white man."
19. Aid for Black Farmers
  • USDA and Cooperative Extension Service
  • Education on machinery, fertilizers, pesticides, and farming methods.
  • Seaman Knapp--Special Agent for Promotion of Agriculture in the South, 1902.
  • Demonstration farm in Texas.
20. Booker T. Washington
  • Booker Taliferro Washington (1856-1915). Franklin Co. Va.
  • Autobiography, 1901.
  • Tuskegee Institute.
  • Started Tuskegee Negro Conference.
  • County fairs, short courses, literature, leaflets.
21. Aid for Black Farmers
  • Jesup agricultural wagon
  • Backed by N.Y. banker Morris Jesup.
  • Wagon toured countryside with information for black farmers.
  • Primarily benefited middle-class blacks.
  • Black agricultural agents
  • Thomas Campbell, Macon Co., Alabama.
  • John B. Pierce, Norfolk Co. Virginia.
  • Eugene A. Williams, Georgia.
22. Monument to the Boll Weevil
  • Enterprise, Alabama.
  • Only memorial in the world glorifying a pest.
  • Destroyed 60 percent of the cotton crop in 1915.
  • Forced diversified farming; peanuts became major crop, 1917; 1 million bu.
23. The Boll Weevil Today
  • 1993: Texas legislature creates the Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation with support from the USDA of $3.9 million.
  • 500,000 acres sprayed with malathion.
  • Boll weevils along with beneficial insects killed, leading to outbreak of armyworms.
  • Armyworms destroy 90 percent of cotton crop. Farmers go into debt.
  • Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, 1962.
24. Discussion Questions
  • How should insects such as the boll weevil be controlled?
  • What are the ecological consequences of such controls?
  • What kinds of ethical questions arise when humans attempt to control the spread of insects?