Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Adrienne M. Petty
Clear-cut Blues: Violence, Culture, and Labor in the Jim Crow Piney Woods, 1870-1925, addresses a severe lack of scholarship on southern forests and the people who lived and worked in them during the South’s transition to industrial capitalism. This examination of the Piney Woods’ working class seeks to explain how the environment, business, and culture of the Deep South’s lumber industry helped shape this class as well as the physical environment in which it existed during the early decades of the twentieth century. Understanding the South’s lumber industry during the early decades of the twentieth century is central to comprehending the large processes that shaped American society in the twentieth century, including the Great Migration, industrial capitalism, race relations, environmental degradation, Progressivism, and even cultural movements such as the Blues. More than an accounting of the past, this work seeks to provide useful examples of how ecological tumult shapes societies and how the responses of the public, business, and government can either further or limit the consequences of ecological devastation. The timber industry is crucial to our understanding of the South in the post-Reconstruction period through the mid-1920s. Much like the people I study, this dissertation is not limited to one field of history. I made a decision to stay with the land, but to follow the people and sources. This study argues that it is necessary to uncover the world in which the Piney Woods working class labored, lived, laughed, loved, fought, and died in order to understand the decisions these workers and farmers made, decisions that led to the rare circumstance of an interracial union with many thousands of members and supporters in the Deep South during the Jim Crow Era. Central to this analysis is the theory that the violence surrounding these workers’ daily lives—from the destruction of the surrounding forests, to the racialized violence of Jim Crow, the intraclass violence of the sawmill towns as well as the bosses’ violent opposition to organized labor, and the bombing campaign that followed deforestation—was a central feature in motivating those who could not leave, to align themselves against the mill owners and timber companies. This is not a glorification of violence, rather an acknowledgment of the processes of violence unleashed by deforestation.
© The Author
Marquis, David, "Clear-Cut Blues: Violence, Culture, And Labor In The Jim Crow Piney Woods, 1870-1925" (2022). Dissertations, Theses, and Masters Projects. William & Mary. Paper 1673281592.
Available for download on Wednesday, May 20, 2026