American Dreams in Mississippi: Consumers, Poverty, and Culture, 1830-1998 / Edition 1

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The dreams of abundance, choice, and novelty that have fueled the growth of consumer culture in the United States would seem to have little place in the history of Mississippi—a state long associated with poverty, inequality, and rural life. But as Ted Ownby demonstrates in this innovative study, consumer goods and shopping have played important roles in the development of class, race, and gender relations in Mississippi from the antebellum era to the present.

After examining the general and plantation stores of the nineteenth century, a period when shopping habits were stratified according to racial and class hierarchies, Ownby traces the development of new types of stores and buying patterns in the twentieth century, when women and African Americans began to wield new forms of economic power. Using sources as diverse as store ledgers, blues lyrics, and the writings of William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Richard Wright, and Will Percy, he illuminates the changing relationships among race, rural life, and consumer goods and, in the process, offers a new way to understand the connection between power and culture in the American South.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
An important work that should serve as a model for similar studies.

Journal of American History

[Ownby] opens a new window on a distinctive southern state.

North Carolina Historical Review

With this well-written and thoughtful book, Ownby adds an unexpected case study to the burgeoning literature on American consumerism.


A valuable work of social history that could encourage a reevaluation of many premises about the Deep South.


A provocative social history that examines the consumer behavior around four powerful dreams.

Library Journal

Library Journal
Ownby (history, Univ. of Mississippi) has produced a provocative social history that examines the consumer behavior around four powerful dreams (abundance, democracy of goods, freedom of choice, and novelty) from a multicultural perspective. Instead of asking what is distinctive about Mississippi history, Ownby looks at what goods meant to various groups of Mississippians. In the antebellum period, the plantation economy produced shopping habits that kept society stratified. By the 20th century, new types of shopping and buying patterns had been established, challenging the old hierarchies and allowing women and African Americans to wield new forms of economic power. Ownby views the forces of consumer goods, shopping, and advertising as sources of liberation and empowerment for the underclass. His work "tries to treat with care and sympathy both those who chose to spend money for pleasure and liberation and those who chose not to do so." Ownby creatively uses a wide variety of secondary and primary source materials, often punctuated with photographs and illustrations, to illuminate the changing nature of Mississippi society and offers a new understanding of the connection between power and culture in the South. Recommended for academic libraries.--Charles C. Hay, Eastern Kentucky Univ. Lib., Richmond Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807848067
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 5/31/1999
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 248
  • Product dimensions: 8.38 (w) x 6.14 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Ted Ownby is associate professor of history and southern studies at the University of Mississippi. He is author of Subduing Satan: Religion, Recreation, and Manhood in the Rural South, 1865.

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Table of Contents


Chapter One. Men Buying Cloth: The Limits of Shopping among Nineteenth-Century Farmers
Chapter Two. Wealthy Men, Wealthy Women, and Slaves as Antebellum Consumers
Chapter Three. You Don't Want Nothing: Goods, Plantation Labor, and the Meanings of Freedom, 1865-1920s
Chapter Four. New Stores and New Shoppers, 1880-1930
Chapter Five. Gladys Smith, Dorothy Dickins, and Consumer Ideals for Women, 1920s-1950s
Chapter Six. Goods, Migration, and the Blues, 1920s-1950s
Chapter Seven. Percy, Wright, Faulkner, and Welty: Montgomery Ward Snopes and the Intellectual Challenges of Consumption
Chapter Eight. White Christmas: Boycotts and the Meanings of Shopping, 1960-1990
Epilogue. A "Fine New Day"?


Leigh's Chapel Store, Tipton County, Tennessee, early 1900s
Dry goods store in Bolivar, Tennessee, 1913
Joseph Perlinsky, Canton, Mississippi
Abroms New City Store, Rosedale, Mississippi, 1939
North Washington Street, Vicksburg, Mississippi, 1936
Good Hope Plantation, Mileston, Mississippi, 1939
Woman with a mail-order catalog, Washington County, Mississippi, 1937
Workers moving between Clarksdale and Greenville, 1938
The Hoffman 5 and 10 Cent Store, Greenville, Mississippi, 1905
Kew Mercantile, Wiggins, Mississippi
The Woolworth store in Laurel, Mississippi
Commerce Street, West Point, Mississippi, 1907
Quilters in a home near Pace, Mississippi, 1939
Woman in Hinds County, Mississippi, wearing clothing made from a fertilizer sack
Juke joint outside Clarksdale, Mississippi, 1939
Robinson Motor Company, Clarksdale, Mississippi, 1939
Elderly couple in Madison County, Tennessee, 1910
Downtown Port Gibson, Mississippi, 1940


1. Accounts at General Stores, by Gender
2. Customers at General Stores, by Gender
3. Purchases Made by Sixty-seven Customers at the F. H. Campbell Store, Lodi, Mississippi, 1889-1891
4. Most Expensive Individual Purchases at Stores, 1831-1894
5. Spinning Wheels, Looms, and Spinning Machines Owned by People of Different Levels of Wealth in Nineteenth-century Mississippi
6. Methods of Payment at Rogers and Hearn Store, Jackson, Tennessee, 1859-1860
7. Amounts Paid in Cash by Slaves at Rogers and Hearn Store, 1859-1860
8. Fabric Purchases Made by Slaves at Rogers and Hearn Store, 1859-1860
9. Value of Hats Purchased by Slaves at Rogers and Hearn Store, 1859-1860
10. Visits by Slaves to Rogers and Hearn Store, March 1859-February 1860
11. Nonmusical Work Performed by Blues Musicians, 1910-1949

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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 25, 2008

    American Dreams in Mississippi

    I really enjoyed this book, and would like to read it again when I have more time to devote to it. It takes a unique perspective on Southern - Mississippi - history, by portraying a culture and history through consumerism. It's fascinating in that it has accurate historical data about exactly who purchased what, when, and where. Many of my preconceived notions of Mississippi consumerism were soundly debunked, which was very interesting. What I also found to be of particular interest was the way the book tracks the changes that occured in consumerism, focusing on how they changed more so than why they changed. Elvis' mom was a nice surprise. I highly recommend.

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