African-Americans and poor whites living in the South were denied land and the economic stability that it could provide. After the Civil War, the unfulfilled promises of freedom and independence vaporized into a quasi-slavery system of sharecropping and paupers wages instead of the dream of land ownership and true independence. In the agricultural South, any advancement towards freedom, equality, and civil rights would need to be accompanied by the real opportunity to own land. The land was not simply the security of what it could produce. In the South, the land was a symbol of unfulfilled dreams, an expression of cultural independence, and a meaningful representation of real social capital. The plantation system of production that proliferated in the South in the 18th and 19th centuries placed land as a currency. Landowners that we’re able to produce cotton could have lines of credit and assure themselves a steady income. Without land ownership they were nothing. Almost all social status was obtained and measured from the number of acres anyone owned. The adoption of the factor system by the cotton plantations in the South left little for the planters and less for the workers and slaves. Still, planters would be driven to expand and the impulse to enlarge his undertakings had become deep-rooted and were apparently irresistible. There was a sort of atmospheric psychology in the situation that seemed to make a man forever dissatisfied with stagnated sufficiency (Stone, 1915, p.562-563). In the South, the question of status was not what you did, but rather how many acres you owned. The Ante-bellum South also produced a paradox of ambivalence towards the ownership of land. While it was clearly understood that land was a significant measure of a mans social and material worth, those that were denied its use also decried land ownership. Religious beliefs in the South were initially evolved from a concept of land as a shared resource.
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