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History Department Seminar: Camille Goldmon

Tuesday, April 25
3:30-5:00 p.m.
McKenzie 375

George Washington Carver, Tuskegee Institute, and the Politics of Food Power in the Rural South

The rural South in the early-to-mid twentieth century was dominated and shaped by the presence of row crops. Season after season, cotton, corn, and increasingly, soybeans, occupied fertile land, replanted to the point that once-rich Delta lands became barren. Disparately trapped in the debt cycles of sharecropping and underpaid farm work, Black farmers in the rural South planted these crops at the demands of landlords hoping to eke out a profit. Unfortunately, those profits often failed to cover the costs of living for those farmers and farmworkers. In Tuskegee’s earliest days, Booker T. Washington identified food insecurity and over-reliance on credit for food as one of the foremost concerns in the Black Belt. When George Washington Carver started his career at Tuskegee in the late 19th century, he pursued the spread of scientific agricultural knowledge with the intent of helping cash-poor farmers address their food needs by cultivating and storing their own foodstuffs. Carver’s initiatives marked a radical departure from the normative cycle of debt-based control held by the planter class. Those initiatives, such as his periodic bulletins, use of the state extension service, and accessible training on Tuskegee’s campus—and the ways in which self-determination relative to food security upset the planter/sharecropper power dynamic—are the subject of this talk. 

Camille Goldmon is an incoming Assistant Professor in History at UO. She is currently on leave while pursuing a postdoctoral fellowship at Princeton.