Southern small towns: Society, politics and race relations in Clinton, Louisiana, 1824--1880
Thompson, Virginia Elaine
Boles, John B.
Doctor of Philosophy
Small towns fulfilled an important and unique role in southern life. After examining archival resources, public documents, and the architecture of the town of Clinton, Louisiana, two distinct but interlocking themes emerge. The first is the quest for order, respectability, and prosperity. The second is an outgrowth of those three goals, in that the social and economic infrastructure created by the townsfolk's activities acted as a catalyst to produce interactions that would not otherwise have occurred in a predominantly rural setting. Social, economic, and political interactions in small towns took place on a day-to-day and face-to-face basis. Village life allowed the citizens to interact with those outside their family groups and immediate neighbors for a broader social and economic base than country-dwellers yet did not provide the anonymity of large cities like New Orleans or Charleston. In the years before the American Civil War, wealthy and middle-class whites dominated Clinton's society and economy. By building railroads, establishing strong mercantile houses, and developing a varied corps of artisans, Clinton's elite made the town the center of a booming cotton region. One-third of the village's 1000 residents were slaves, and despite the lack of anonymity within the community, they were still able to create a semblance of a unique subculture away from whites' prying eyes. Following the Civil War, however, the small-town environment proved particularly stifling for the freed slaves, as white-supremacist attitudes prohibited free development of social and political organizations, with the notable exception of black churches. Whites in Clinton reacted violently to their loss of power, ultimately pursuing a massive campaign of terror against local Republicans during the contested presidential election of 1876. Small-town life is not incongruous within the framework of southern history; in fact, these villages incorporated the best and worst features of the southern rural and urban milieux.
Black history; American history