The Dispossessed: America's Underclass From The Civil War To The Present

by Jacqueline Jones

Hardcover, 1992





Basic Books, (1992)


The specter of the "underclass" haunts the American imagination. Many books focus on a piece of the problem: either the North or South, blacks or whites, industrial or agricultural workers. Jacqueline Jones's sweeping chronicle of the roots of poverty reveals for the first time the full contours of this American tragedy. In a moving evocation of what it has meant to be down and out in America, this prizewinning historian explores the wrenching displacement of millions of rural Americans, both blacks and whites, beginning with the Civil War, and follows their great trek into the industrial centers and urban ghettos of the North. Through the stories of ordinary families, The Dispossessed systematically dismantles the myth of the "culture of poverty," challenging the central tenets of the underclass debate. Jones shows how family members of both sexes and all ages struggled mightily on cotton plantations, in coal mining camps, and in factory towns to piece together a livelihood through wage work, farming, and foraging. These families were determined to resist enforced dependency at the hands of cotton farmers and agents of the welfare state. The book argues that:. Poverty cannot be defined exclusively in racial or cultural terms. Poverty has a history encompassing political as much as economic forces. Place--not only a physical location but also a network of kin and neighbors--is a major theme in the history of poverty. While many scholars and most politicians continue to relegate poor people to a position outside the "mainstream," here is a brilliant work that restores America's dispossessed to a central place in the country's history. Integrating elements of labor, family, African-American and political history, this is a timely and provocative book.… (more)


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