Out of the Lion’s Mouth: The Colored Farmers’ Alliance in the New South, 1886-1892
Patrick John Dickson
Thesis DT 3 .5 2000 D535
Thesis DT 3.5 2000 D535
viii, 208 leaves; 29 cm.
The 1880s and 1890's were a period of rapid social, political, and economic change in the American South. Before the total domination of Jim Crow segregation, African Americans in the Post-Reconstruction era continued to actively better their own conditions through a variety of forms of organization, migration, and protestation. The Colored Farmers' Alliance represents one of the most critical forms this Black agency took. Beginning in 1886-1887 as a movement composed of at least five independent Colored Alliance Organizations in East Texas, the Colored Farmers' Alliance evolved by 1890 into a single national organization representing perhaps a million people. The Colored Alliance's rapid growth and large constituency demonstrates its success in organizing rural African Americans toward their own betterment. Moreover, in taking its place within the larger agrarian and labor reform movement of the day, the Colored Alliance compelled the all-white Southern Farmer's Alliance to begin to explore interracial cooperation as an essential element in its reform program.
Regrettably, the Colored Farmers' Alliance suffered from internal weaknesses, the most important of which were the result of race and class issues inherent in the unique composition of the Colored Alliance. While the presence of some whites in key positions may have been seen as necessary for early success, it clearly affected the group's cohesion. At the same time, from its founding in Houston County, Texas, the organization was largely led by a relatively prosperous, landowning group of Black farmers, while a poorer class of tenants, sharecroppers, and farm laborers dominated its membership. The political interests of these two groups were largely the same. In economic issues, however, they maintained different priorities. No single event demonstrates this more than the cotton pickers' strike of 1891, which brought both racial and class differences within the Colored Alliance to the fore. The white Alliance's rejection of the cotton pickers' strike also illustrates that it was, as an organization, unwilling to support any initiative which threatened the racial and class hegemony its members held over Black agrarians. As a result, the biracial union of the two Alliances was never fully realized.
These developments represent important limitations to the Colored Alliance's internal stability and led to its eventual decline. Despite these problems however, through the Colored Alliance, hundreds of thousands of African Americans fought to improve their lives, their farms, and in defense of the rights they won during the Civil War and Reconstruction. As a result, the Colored Alliance represents an important aspect of Black self-determination and resistance in the New South, which has been largely ignored by historians. As such, it deserves far great attention than it has received in the past.