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tv   History of Cotton in Memphis  CSPAN  November 17, 2018 3:48pm-4:01pm EST

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died. one defector of the people's temple died. i was shot five times on the right side of my body. a bone jutting out of my right arm, a wound in my leg the size of a football. i'm 28was, oh my god, years old, this is it. >> sunday night at 8:00 eastern on c-span's today -- q&a. >> during the mid-19th century, cotton was king. up next, how this plant played a role in the memphis economy and the legacy it still leaves today. >> you cannot understand memphis without understanding cotton, because it has such an impact on not just the economy, but also the social fabric of the city. the role of cotton in memphis history, the memphis economy, is central. it is, for much of the 19th
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century, it is the industry in memphis. memphis for example, shipped 23,000 bales of cotton. in 1859, 20 years later, the city is shipping over 300,000 bales of cotton. so just within 20 years, you can see the growth of that industry. there is no other industry in memphis in the 19th century that is that large. what is big is cotton. if you are going to make money, real money in the south, cotton is where you want to be. memphis, very quickly after its founding in 1819, became a center of the cotton industry because of its transportation location. bluff, right at the mississippi river. so if you are a cotton planter in rural shelby county or parts of west tennessee or
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north mississippi, you can ship, you would bring your cotton to reachs so that you could the wider world to sell your goods to a large industry. by the 1830'said, memphis is an important center for cotton production. thethen, beginning in 1857, railroads begin to develop in memphis, which provides another opportunity to ship cotton to other points. in 1857, the memphis and charleston railroad is opened, connecting the mississippi river with the atlantic ocean, which is crucial to the growth of this industry. this means that you can very easily ship cotton being produced in the surrounding region, bring it to memphis, have it ginned or processed, and then it gets loaded onto the memphis and charleston railroad,
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shipped to charleston, and then you can ship to england. in the 1850's and 1860's, the textile mills in england relied on southern cotton, and memphis is a key component of that. and then, at the same time, soon after, you have the development of the cotton exchange, which is where people can buy and sell cotton. so if you are someone who wants to invest in cotton, you might not be picking cotton, you might not be involved in processing at, but the other key part of that industry is the buying and selling of cotton. and so at the cotton exchange, what you are going to be doing is getting economic reports from liverpool, other parts of england, other parts of europe, and what is the price of cotton today? well, $.25 a pound. so either you buy or sell your investment, and it was very common for speculators to go to
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andcotton exchange one day make a huge amount of money, and walk out rich. the next day they show up and lose everything. so it was a gambler's market in many respects. the cotton economy not only affected those directly involved in the economy, but also indirectly affected everyone. it means that, demographically, you have a lot of rural people who come in to memphis to sell their cotton, to take advantage of places like beale street, where they can go drink and gamble, later on see a movie or a show. so it creates a sort of regional tourism industry in the city as well. but a key factor in all of this, in terms of demographics, is the slave population. the cotton industry, whether it be the picking of cotton, ginning of cotton or shipping of
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cotton, all relies on slave labor. that means there is a large african-american population in memphis. walking the streets every day, working in all of the industries we have been talking about, but particularly the cotton industry. so at the various what are called gins where they process the cotton, bale it, get it ready to ship to market, african-american slaves are doing that work. 16,000, there were about african-american slaves in memphis, and there were about 300 free persons of color in the city, who had either father way out of slavery or had been emancipated by their owners and allowed to stay in the city. inthe population of memphis 1860 is about 35,000. so we are talking about a third of the population, roughly
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african-american. so it creates the white-black dynamic in memphis that dominates the city for the 19th century, the 20th century, and well into the 21st century. thecivil war did change cotton economy in memphis. during the war, the south could not ship cotton to europe, and so england, for example, for their large textile mills, they began buying cotton from egypt. that continues after the war. so the markets are diminished. they don't disappear by any means, but they are diminished after the war, because there are other cotton producers that start to join in the economy. cotton prices in the late 19th century begin to fall, and you have a lot of people who are
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dependent on the cotton economy, because they don't know anything else. so they continue to grow cotton, every year. the cotton industry absorbs that, ships it out, makes money off of it, speculates on it. but the prices are lower. so that means that there is essentially, except for world war i, a, the cotton economy is depressed, so memphis is forced to move beyond cotton in the early 20th century and begin to embrace industrialization. the city gets a ford motor plant, later international harvester, firestone tire and rubber build a plant here, as well as additional railroads, meaning goods manufactured here beyond cotton can also be shipped out of the city. so that has an impact as well. during the great depression, of
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course, the cotton economy had collapsed. comes, andar ii there is a huge need for cotton. for example, there is a need for cotton to ship weapons in, as, to protect weapons. it is also used in artillery. cannonss used to swab and artillery pieces. and then there's also this huge need for uniforms for soldiers and sailors and marines. so the cotton industry begins to for in the 1940's, really the first time since the end of the 19th century, and begins to expand and grow. and then, after world war ii, of course, the cotton industry in places like holland, for example, which had created a cotton economy in the first half of the 20th century. ziat has been destroyed by na
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occupation in the war, so memphis is able to exploit the need for cotton in a depressed europe. that rises, and combine that with the growth of technology. now,. for example, the cotton exchange still exists. now it is all done on computers. in fact, i have seen, we have had cotton speculators in the library, who are on their phones trading cotton right there while they are talking to you. they opened it up, expanded it. it is different, because there are fewer people growing cotton. nobody is picking cotton by hand anymore. it is all by machine. but if you go to the rural parts of shelby county, into fayette county, north mississippi, eastern arkansas, in september and october, you will see a lot of cotton being picked by
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machines. so, where it would take 50 people to pick a field, now it only takes one guy on a tractor with a cotton picker. so the industry has changed, in the sense that there are fewer memphians involved in the industry. but in terms of overall economics and how much money it brings into the city, either directly or by shipping it indirectly, it is still huge. millions of dollars flow through memphis because of the transportation hub, and that of course includes cotton. memphis is acy for two-edged sword. on the one hand, it is the reason in many ways that memphis grew beyond its small roots. have there been no cotton economy, there might not have been the need for a transportation hub at this location on the river, so it's quite possible that without
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cotton, memphis would not exist in the 21st century. thater, you can't forget that is being done on the backs of enslaved people. a foundations up of inequality, a foundation of discrimination, that memphis is going to deal with for the rest of its history, really, up until this point. is strong and remains an important part of memphis culture. >> our cities to her staff recently traveled to memphis, tennessee to learn about its rich history. learn more about memphis and other stops on our tour at www.c-span.org/citiestour. touyou are watching american history tv, all weekend, every weekend on c-span3.
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charlotte and joe talk about their book her story come a timeline of women who changed america. their profile includes suffragists like susan b anthony and african-american entrepreneur madam cj walker. this was recorded at the tattered store in 2008. it is 40 minutes. thank you and good evening. i am honored to introduce charlotte and jill. they are the authors of "her story." , ifirst moved to denver often describe her as the energizer bunny of women engineers. iso not know anyone who busier. behalf ofs on

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