A corporate plantation reading public: Labor, literacy, and diaspora in the global black South
This essay reconstructs the history of the Cotton Farmer, a rare African American newspaper edited and published by black tenant farmers employed by the Delta and Pine Land Company, once the world’s largest corporate cotton plantation located in the Mississippi delta. The Cotton Farmer ran from 1919 to circa 1927 and was mainly confined to the company’s properties. However, in 1926, three copies of the paper circulated to Bocas del Toro, Panama, to a Garveyite and West Indian migrant laborer employed on the infamous United Fruit Company’s vast banana and fruit plantations. Tracing the Cotton Farmer’s hemispheric circulation from the Mississippi delta to Panama, this essay explores the intersections of labor, literacy, and diaspora in the global black South. What do we make of a reading public among black tenant farmers on a corporate cotton plantation in the Mississippi delta at the height of Jim Crow? How did the entanglements of labor and literacy at once challenge and correspond with conventional accounts of sharecropping in the Jim Crow South? Further, in light of the Cotton Farmer’s circulation from Mississippi’s cotton fields to Panama’s banana fields, this essay establishes the corporate plantation as a heuristic for exploring the imperial logics and practices tying the US South to the larger project of colonial domination in the Caribbean and Latin America, and ultimately reexamines black transnationalism and diaspora from the position of corporate plantation laborers as they negotiated ever-evolving modes of domination and social control on corporate plantations in the global black South. In so doing, it establishes black agricultural and corporate plantation laborers as architects of black geographic thought and diasporic practice alongside their urban, cosmopolitan contemporaries.
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