In the late nineteenth century, industrialization was making its way into rural America. In an agricultural region of Kentucky and Tennessee called the Black Patch for the dark tobacco grown there, big business arrived with a vengeance, eliminating competition, manipulating prices, and undermining local control. The farmers fought back. Night Riders tells the story of the struggle that followed, and reveals the ambiguities and complexities of a drama that convulsed this community for over two decades.
Christopher Waldrep shows that, contrary to many accounts, these wealthy tobacco planters did not resist these new forces simply because of a nostalgia for a bygone time. Instead, many sought to become modern capitalists themselves--but on their own terms. The South's rural elite found their ability to hire and control black labor--the established racial practice of the community--threatened by the low prices offered by big companies for their raw materials. In response, farmers organized and demanded better prices for their tobacco. The tobacco companies then attempted to divide the farmers by offering higher prices to those willing to break with the others. When some cultivators succumbed, their betrayal awakened a deeply rooted vigilante tradition that called for the protection of community at all costs. Waldrep analyzes the spasm of violence that ensued in which horsemen, riding at night, destroyed tobacco barns and the warehouses where the companies stored their tobacco. But despite this fierce upheaval, the Black Patch community endured.
The most thorough treatment ever given to the Black Patch war, Night Riders illuminates a moment in history in which the traditional and the modern, the rural and the industrial, fought for the future--and past--of a community.