AUSTIN, Texas — Neil Foley, an associate professor of history at The University of Texas at Austin, has been named winner of the 1998 Frederick Jackson Turner Award for his new book titled, The White Scourge: Mexicans, Blacks, and Poor Whites in Texas Cotton Culture.
The award, which is given each year by the Organization of American Historians for an author’s first book on some significant phase of American history, will be presented at the organizationÌs 1998 annual meeting April 3 in Indianapolis, Ind. Foley is to receive $1,000, a certificate and a medal.
The book, which unravels the complex history of ethnicity in the cotton culture of Central Texas, spans the period from the Civil War through the collapse of tenant farming in the early 1940s, and bridges the intellectual chasm between African American and Southern history on one hand and Chicano and Southwestern history on the other. “Writing this book has reminded me of how the rigid boundaries of black-white race relations fail to account for groups, like Mexicans, located somewhere in the ethnoracial borderlands between whiteness and blackness,” Foley says in the preface to his book, published by the University of California Press. “In choosing central Texas as my laboratory for examining race relations, I explore how Mexicans, blacks and poor whites negotiated and manipulated the racial space in this borderlands province between the South, the West and Mexico.”
In Texas, which by 1890 had become the nationÌs leading cotton-producing state, the presence of Mexican sharecroppers and farm workers complicated the black-white dyad that shaped rural labor relations in the South. With the transformation of agrarian society into corporate agribusiness, white racial identity began to fracture along class lines, further complicating categories of identity. Foley explores the “fringe of whiteness,” an ethnoracial borderlands comprising Mexicans, African Americans and poor whites, to trace shifting ideologies and power relations. By showing how many different ethnic groups are identified in relation to “whiteness,” Foley redefines white racial identity as not simply a pinnacle of status, but the complex racial, social and economic matrix in which power and privilege are shared.
Weaving archival material with oral history interviews, Foley provides a richly detailed view of everyday life in the Texas cotton culture. His multiracial narrative touches on many issues central to our understanding of American history: labor and the role of unions, gender roles and their relation to ethnicity, the demise of agrarian whiteness, and the Mexican American experience.