Ben Tillman and the Reconstruction of White Supremacy

Ben Tillman and the Reconstruction of White Supremacy

by Stephen Kantrowitz

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Through the life of Benjamin Ryan Tillman (1847-1918), South Carolina's self-styled agrarian rebel, this book traces the history of white male supremacy and its discontents from the era of plantation slavery to the age of Jim Crow.

As an anti-Reconstruction guerrilla, Democratic activist, South Carolina governor, and U.S. senator, Tillman offered a vision of reform that was proudly white supremacist. In the name of white male militance, productivity, and solidarity, he justified lynching and disfranchised most of his state's black voters. His arguments and accomplishments rested on the premise that only productive and virtuous white men should govern and that federal power could never be trusted. Over the course of his career, Tillman faced down opponents ranging from agrarian radicals to aristocratic conservatives, from woman suffragists to black Republicans. His vision and his voice shaped the understandings of millions and helped create the violent, repressive world of the Jim Crow South.

Friend and foe alike--and generations of historians--interpreted Tillman's physical and rhetorical violence in defense of white supremacy as a matter of racial and gender instinct. This book instead reveals that Tillman's white supremacy was a political program and social argument whose legacies continue to shape American life.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781469625553
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date: 01/01/2015
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 432
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Stephen Kantrowitz is associate professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Ben Tillman, Agrarian Rebel
1 Mastery and Its Discontents
2 Planters and "the Gentleman from Africa"
3 The Shotgun Wedding of White Supremacy and Reform
4 Farmers, Dudes, White Negroes, and the Sun-Browned Goddess
5 The Mob and the State
6 Every White Man Who Is Worthy of a Vote
7 The Uses of a Pitchfork
8 Demagogues and Disordered Households
Epilogue: The Reconstruction of American Democracy

Map of South Carolina in the 1880s
Tillman in his thirties
"Leaders of the Farmers' Movement"
Tillman as a U.S. senator
Sallie Starke Tillman
"Senator Tillman's Allegorical Cows"
"Senator Tillman to tell the difference between black and white"
Montage of Tillman
Photograph from which the image of Tillman in the montage was cropped
Tillman before an audience
"The 'Three Joes'"
Tillman in his last decade

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Well researched. It shows how demagogues in a leadership role can manipulate the public's mind in such a twisted manner so as to cause havoc throughout an entire area.—Rapport

White supremacy and patriarchy created Ben Tillman, a son of the Old South who went forth to create the New South. Stephen Kantrowitz's meticulous research breathes life into Pitchfork Ben and rebuilds his world. And a meaner, rougher world it is. Kantrowitz's skillful analysis of the connections between gender, race, and the polling place represents the best of the new southern history. His eloquent narrative will make everyone who reads this book stand in awe of hatred's power.—Glenda E. Gilmore, Yale University

Kantrowitz's excellent new book is a study of Tillman's thinking on white supremacy and patriarchy. It is also a look at the environment that spawned such ideas: the South Carolina of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.—Review of Politics

Mr. Kantrowitz writes well, argues coherently, and has a strong point of view.—Washington Times

This is state-of-the-art political history. . . . Kantrowitz's biography of South Carolina's leading political figure in the age of populism, disfranchisement, and lynching is exceptional for the depth of its understanding of the period, its ever more nuanced interpretations, and especially its intricate narrative about the changing meanings of white supremacy. . . . If this book is indeed state-of-the-art, the art of political history today is in good shape.—North Carolina Historical Review

Stephen Kantrowitz's new book merits serious attention. Based on broad research in primary sources, including an impressive array of manuscript collections, it has immense strengths. Most important, Kantrowitz takes Tillman seriously, recognizing that he was far more than some country rube and race baiter. . . . I commend Professor Kantrowitz for giving us a first-rate book.—Journal of American History

Many of us preach the need to place political history in its social context, with emphasis on the themes of race, class, and gender that have become central to the genre of social history. In this superb biography of the white supremacist 'Pitchfork Ben' Tillman, Stephen Kantrowitz practices what we preach. Tillman created the model for two generations of Southern 'demagogues'; this biography offers a model of how to write about them.—James M. McPherson, Princeton University

[A] thoughtful biography. . . . Thoroughly researched, brilliantly argued. . . . A rich and insightful dissection of the rise of American racism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Kantrowitz has given us the best study we have of Benjamin Tillman, but he has also given us a way to understand how racism took hold in the post-Civil War South and gradually spread its tentacles to the rest of the country.—Charles B. Dew, New York Times Book Review

Kantrowitz's major achievements [are] in relocating Tillman in the southern social structure, and in underscoring the violence that he and his ilk used to regain political ascendency after the Civil War.—American Historical Review

Kantrowitz's engaging stories and meticulous research offer a brilliantly gendered explanation of white supremacy. This book is a must for anyone interested in Southern history or American democracy. A first-rate book by a first-rate author.—Orville Vernon Burton, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign




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