This paper reconstructs the history of the Cotton Farmer, a rare African American newspaper edited and published by black tenant farmers employed by the Delta & Pine Land Company, 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 the fall of 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 paper 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? What kinds of literacies did they cultivate there, and 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, how might we think about 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 perhaps most importantly, what would it mean to rethink black transnationalism and diaspora from the position of corporate plantation laborers? How did they imagine themselves as transnational subjects and forge diasporic linkages within and against the ever-evolving modes of domination and social control on corporate plantations in the global black south?
Jarvis C. McInnis is an Assistant Professor of English at Duke University. He is a proud graduate of Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi, where he earned a BA in English, and Columbia University in the City of New York, where he earned a Ph.D. in English & Comparative Literature. McInnis 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. McInnis’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 Callaloo, MELUS, Mississippi Quarterly, Public Books, and The Global South. In addition to his research and teaching, McInnis serves as an assistant to the editor for Callaloo and a consultant for the W. E. B. Du Bois Scholars Institute housed at Princeton University.
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