When Tobacco Was King
Families, Farm Labor, and Federal Policy in the Piedmont

Evan P. Bennett

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The history of tobacco farming after Emancipation in the South's Old Bright Belt
"Bennett makes a provocative argument about the importance of family labor on the tobacco farm, the empowerment of women and children, and the development of a community culture."—Jeannie Whayne, author of Delta Empire: Lee Wilson and the Transformation of Agriculture in the New South

"When Tobacco Was King reconstructs the lives of farm families in the Tobacco South, as well as their work and their political struggles, in vivid, nuanced detail. This brilliant account joins a short list of indispensable histories dealing with bright leaf tobacco."—Adrienne Monteith Petty, author of Standing Their Ground: Small Farmers in North Carolina Since the Civil War

Tobacco has left an indelible mark on the American South, shaping the land and culture throughout the twentieth century. In the last few decades, advances in technology and shifts in labor and farming policy have altered the way of life for tobacco farmers: family farms have largely been replaced by large-scale operations dependent on hired labor, much of it from other shores. However, the mechanical harvester and the H-2A guestworker did not put an end to tobacco culture but rather sent it in new directions and accelerated the change that has always been part of the farmer's life.

In When Tobacco Was King, Evan Bennett examines the agriculture of the South's original staple crop in the Old Bright Belt—a diverse region named after the unique bright, or flue-cured, tobacco variety it spawned. He traces the region's history from Emancipation to the abandonment of federal crop controls in 2004 and highlights the transformations endured by blacks and whites, landowners and tenants, to show how tobacco farmers continued to find meaning and community in their work despite these drastic changes.

Evan P. Bennett is assistant professor of history at Florida Atlantic University. He is a coeditor of Beyond Forty Acres and a Mule: African American Landowning Families since Reconstruction.
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Weaves agricultural, social, and political history into a thorough and compelling history of the Bright Belt tobacco region....Highly recommended.

A concise study of families, farm labor, and federal policy in the Old Bright Belt region of North Carolina and Virginia. Bennett provides historical context for tobacco’s past and future in his work.
--North Carolina Historical Review

A well-written and thoroughly researched [book] on bright leaf tobacco culture in the Old Belt of North Carolina and Virginia since the Civil War.
--Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

Bennett successfully depicts the insecurity of family farms.
--Journal of American History

An important addition to our understanding of the shaping of tobacco agriculture, especially in the context of government farm programs.
--Journal of Southern History

Provides an indispensable historical and analytical perspective on one of the most important crops and agricultural landscapes in the United States. . . . This book is highly recommended, insightful and readable.
--Florida Historical Quarterly

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