A corporate plantation reading public: Labor, literacy, and diaspora in the global black South

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2019-09-01

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Abstract

This essay reconstructs the history of the Cotton Farmer, a rare African American newspaper edited and published by black tenant farmers employed by the Delta and Pine Land Company, once the world’s largest corporate cotton plantation located in the Mississippi delta. The Cotton Farmer ran from 1919 to circa 1927 and was mainly confined to the company’s properties. However, in 1926, three copies of the paper circulated to Bocas del Toro, Panama, to a Garveyite and West Indian migrant laborer employed on the infamous United Fruit Company’s vast banana and fruit plantations. Tracing the Cotton Farmer’s hemispheric circulation from the Mississippi delta to Panama, this essay explores the intersections of labor, literacy, and diaspora in the global black South. What do we make of a reading public among black tenant farmers on a corporate cotton plantation in the Mississippi delta at the height of Jim Crow? How did the entanglements of labor and literacy at once challenge and correspond with conventional accounts of sharecropping in the Jim Crow South? Further, in light of the Cotton Farmer’s circulation from Mississippi’s cotton fields to Panama’s banana fields, this essay establishes the corporate plantation as a heuristic for exploring the imperial logics and practices tying the US South to the larger project of colonial domination in the Caribbean and Latin America, and ultimately reexamines black transnationalism and diaspora from the position of corporate plantation laborers as they negotiated ever-evolving modes of domination and social control on corporate plantations in the global black South. In so doing, it establishes black agricultural and corporate plantation laborers as architects of black geographic thought and diasporic practice alongside their urban, cosmopolitan contemporaries.

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10.1215/00029831-7722116

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McInnis, JC (2019). A corporate plantation reading public: Labor, literacy, and diaspora in the global black South. American Literature, 91(3). pp. 523–555. 10.1215/00029831-7722116 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/25006.

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McInnis

Jarvis C McInnis

Cordelia and William Laverack Family Assistant Professor of English

Jarvis C. McInnis holds a BA in English from Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi, and a Ph.D. in English & Comparative Literature from Columbia University in the City of New York.  Jarvis is an interdisciplinary scholar of African American & African Diaspora literature and culture, with teaching and research interests in the global south (primarily the US South and the Caribbean), sound studies, performance studies, and visual culture.

He is currently at work on his first book project, tentatively titled, “The Afterlives of the Plantation: Aesthetics, Labor, and Diaspora in the Global Black South,” which aims to reorient the geographic contours of black transnationalism and diaspora by exploring the hemispheric linkages between southern African American and Caribbean literature and culture in the early twentieth century. Jarvis’s research has been supported by numerous grants and fellowships, including the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship, the Ford Foundation Pre-doctoral and Dissertation Fellowships, and Princeton University’s Department of African American Studies postdoctoral fellowship. His work appears or is forthcoming in journals and venues such as CallalooMELUSMississippi QuarterlyPublic Books, and The Global South.

Professor McInnis hopes to curate a classroom space where his students feel free to take intellectual risks, and where they can use African diaspora literature and culture to celebrate and affirm black humanity and creativity; interrogate and dismantle systems of power, injustice, and inequality; and imagine new futures and more just worlds. 


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