Monday, May 12, 2014

ALABAMA: COTTON FIELDS, MONROEVILLE TO MOBILE

We found that driving around in the countryside near Monroeville was a bit of a Brigadoon or Shangri-La experience. We could have sworn we had gone back in time. It was eerily quiet, and a little bit of fog enhanced the mystical atmosphere.
One of the tiny towns we drove through had the sensuous name of "Burnt Corn." In an interview, Truman Capote said, "My favorite place in the whole wide world is Burnt Corn. I swear, it's just the most delightful wide place in the road, and the way the highway bends right there, with the church and the cemetery, and the little country store, and those people."
 
I'm not sure what "people" he was talking about, because we got a little lost and couldn't find anyone who could give us directions.
Later, we started driving south towards Mobile, and the landscape was just as interesting. As it was January, the cotton fields were barren. Bits of unwanted fluff left on the brittle stalks hinted at what must have been a glorious wash of white a few months earlier:

At the beginning of the Civil War, the South was producing 75% of the world's cotton. The Confederacy coined the term "King Cotton," claiming that by exporting all their cotton to Europe, Southern states would destroy Northern textile industries and garner the support of England and France, who also depended on American cotton in their own industries. Too bad the North blockaded the Southern ports, and England, which had been wisely stockpiling cotton for years, didn't relish the thought of going to war anyway.
One field was littered with the refuse of unwanted leftovers strewn in the barren furrows. Slag heaps of dirty cotton were mounded on the field's edge.
These days the United States is third in cotton production behind China and India, and the Deep South no longer dominates U.S. production. Texas, California, and Arizona are significant produces of cotton as well.
Map from here
And yet, I live in Southern California, and I've never seen a cotton field here. Cotton is not part of our lives as it is in the South, where enormous tubes of cotton fiber, looking like giant slices of old-fashioned licorice, are waiting to be transported to the mills.


Once the building blocks of the new Confederate States of America, they are now just another commodity.


Horatio Alger, the famous 19th century author of dozens of "rags-to-riches" stories for boys, wrote this ballad personifying "King Cotton" and its role in the demise of the South. I find the last stanza especially moving. It would be many, many years before Alger's vision of a Temple of Freedom populated by both black and white men would come to pass. Some say that day is yet to come.

KING COTTON (IN TIME OF WAR)

King Cotton looks from his window
Towards the westering sun,
And he marks, with an anguished horror,
That his race is almost run.

His form is thin and shrunken;
His cheek is pale and wan;
And the lines of care on his furrowed brow
Are dread to look upon.

But yesterday a monarch,
In the flush of his pomp and pride,
And, not content with his own broad lands,
He would rule the world beside.

He built him a stately palace,
With gold from beyond the sea;
And he laid with care the corner-stone,
And he called it Slavery:

He summoned an army with banners,
To keep his foes at bay;
And, gazing with pride on his palace walls,
He said, "They will stand for aye!"

But the palace walls are shrunken,
And partly overthrown,
And the storms of war, in their violence,
Have loosened the corner-stone.

Now Famine stalks through the palace halls,
With her gaunt and pallid train;
You can hear the cries of famished men,
As they cry for bread in vain.

The king can see, from his palace walls.
A land by his pride betrayed;
Thousands of mothers and wives bereft.
Thousands of graves new-made.

And he seems to see, in the lowering sky,
The shape of a flaming sword;
Whereon he reads, with a sinking heart,
The anger of the Lord.

God speed the time when the guilty king
Shall be hurled from his blood-stained throne;
And the palace of Wrong shall crumble to dust,
With its boasted corner-stone.

A temple of Freedom shall rise instead,
On the desecrated site:
And within its shelter alike shall stand
The black man and the white.

5 comments:

  1. Those are big bales of cotton!

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  2. I believe that is the first time I've ever seen cotton in a field or in a bale. A whole different life from my experience.

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  3. Once you do your first session in the Ghana Temple, you will agree with me that there are indeed "Temples of Freedom" where black man and the white stand together in a land where slaves were once gathered and transported to the New World to pick cotton, cut sugar cane, and many of the other chores considered too hard for the Obruni slave owners.

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  4. Once you attend your first session in the Ghana Temple, you may feel like that "Temple of Freedom" with black man and white standing side by side already exists.

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  5. Whenever I go and visit the Arizona clan, I pass by fields of cotton. Apparently (according to the signs) they grow long-staple cotton there, which is more valuable than regular cotton. Or so the sign says. But the way they're building houses in the fields there, it may be gone by the time we cross the desert on our next trip. Love the name of that little lonely town.

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