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February 23, 2012

Fairfield County Civil War Roundtable, Stamford (CT) Historical Society, Stamford, CT.

Click here to download the flyer


For more than 130 years from the early 19th century until the mid-20th, cotton was by far the leading export of the United States. The connection between cotton and the African-American experience became central to the history of the republic. The invention of Eli Whitney's cotton gin in the early 1800s made cotton production economically feasible by enabling a single person to separate the lint from the seed at a rate of 50 pounds per day vs. the prior rate of 1 pound per day. The economic, social and political implications of this development were staggering. From a condition of impending extinction in the 1790s, slavery was suddenly rendered economically viable. Slavery only spread where cotton could be grown, and the price of a slave was set by the price of cotton. The South would not have been taken seriously without cotton and no Civil War would have ensued. The power of cotton in the 19th century rivaled that of oil in the 20th century.


Our speaker Gene Dattel is exceptionally well versed in the economic history of cotton production. He grew up in the cotton country of the Mississippi Delta and studied history at Yale and law at Vanderbilt. Gene had a long career as a senior executive on Wall Street, employed by Salomon Brothers and Morgan Stanley. In his much acclaimed book Cotton and Race in the Making of America: The Human Cost of Economic Power, Gene conveys the authority of an historian with a profound knowledge of international finance. The popularity of the book and movie "The Help" has drawn enthusiasts to consult Gene for historical context and scholarship.


The presentation of this important topic coincides with Black History Month, which our Roundtable is pleased to celebrate.


February 18, 2012

Connecticut Civil War Roundtable. Torrington, CT.


February 9, 2012
Berkshire Human Rights Speaker Series: Cotton and Race in the Making of America

PosterCotton, for most, brings to mind benign images of sheets and towels, blue jeans and T-shirts. The health and fashion benefits that cotton produced overshadowed a sinister past we seldom recognize. From 1800, to the Civil War to Civil Rights, cotton played an enormous role in the destiny of the American experience with vast global markings long before globalization became a contemporary, household word. Cotton was a powerful engine of American economic growth and wielded the same authority as oil today.


Gene Dattel's fascinating account, Cotton and Race in the Making of America — The Human Costs of Economic Power, presents an insightful and revealing narrative about economics and race in the entire United States — not just the south. And as cotton shaped the nation's economic landscape, racial oppression and the human suffering of slavery shaped the face of America. Slaves cultivated cotton for sixty years, though free blacks were cotton laborers for nearly a century after emancipation. A people and a crop became inextricably bonded.

Click here to download full-size poster