Delta Empire: Lee Wilson and the Transformation of Agriculture in the New SouthJeannie Whayne
Louisiana State University Press
In Delta Empire, University of Arkansas historian Jeannie Whayne uses the history of a powerful plantation owner in the Arkansas Delta to recount the evolution of southern agriculture from the late 19th century through World War II.
In 1870, Robert E. “Lee” Wilson inherited 400 acres of land in Mississippi County, Arkansas. Wilson transformed the landscape. He drained tens of thousands of acres of land, in order to create a vast agricultural empire, a lumber operation and cotton plantation.
Wilson employed the tenancy and sharecropping system to his advantage while earning a reputation for fair treatment of laborers, a reputation Whayne suggests was not entirely deserved. Delta Empire traces the transition from the labor-intensive sharecropping and tenancy system to the capital-intensive plantations of the post-World War II era.
Historian Michael Honey describes Whayne’s book as a “remarkable portrait of how the Lee Wilson family created a plantation empire of over 50,000 acres and 2,500 workers in the eerie sunken lands of white supremacy of the Mississippi River Delta of Arkansas — and how African Americans, poor whites, and plantation owners struggled over the consequences.”