"Interesting, informative, and original. Lester's work is impressively researched, well written, and carries an authoritative tone grounded in true expertise on its topic. Up from the Mudsills of Hell will undoubtedly join the short list of classic Southern state studies on the agrarian revolt of the Gilded Age, and should represent the last word on the subject in Tennessee for a long time."
Lester ties together a rich and often contradictory history of cooperativism, prohibition, disfranchisement, labor conflicts, and third-party politics to show that Tennessee agrarianism was more complex and threatening to the established political and economic order than previously recognized. As farmers reached across gender, racial, and political boundaries to create a mass movement, they shifted the ground under the monoliths of southern life. Once the Democratic Party had destroyed the insurgency, farmers responded in both traditional and progressive ways. Some turned inward, focusing on a localism that promoted—sometimes through violence—rigid adherence to established social boundaries. Others, however, organized into the Farmers’ Union, whose membership infiltrated the Tennessee Department of Agriculture and the Cooperative Extension Service. Acting through these bureaucracies, Tennessee agrarian leaders exerted an important influence over the development of agricultural legislation for the twentieth century.
Up from the Mudsills of Hell not only provides an important reassessment of agrarian reform and radicalism in Tennessee, but also links this Upper South state into the broader sweep of southern and American farm movements emerging in the late nineteenth century.
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List price: $44.95
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