C. Vann Woodward on “poor whites”

“A term of remarkable elasticity was found useful in identifying this troublesome class and at the same time disposing of the problem of accounting for them. The term consisted of two adjectives, ‘poor’ and ‘white,’ each of which was undoubtedly appropriate, yet which in combination came to possess for the Northerners a sinister, if somewhat elusive, connotation. At times, the habitat of this class was identified as the Black Belt, at others, the pine barrens or the sand hills. The ‘local contempt for them’ was said to be ‘reflected in the names by which they are best known,’ that is such expressions as ‘hillbillies,’ ‘crackers,’ ‘Tarheels,’ terms the average Southerner was likely to apply indiscriminately to any down-at-the-heels countryman. Thus the residue of the frontier riffraff, which still lingered in the South and to which the term ‘poor white’ was originally applied, was multiplied faster than ever rogues in buckram. For Northern intellectuals the poor-white concept became the standard means of rationalizing the poverty of an exploited region.”

—C. Vann Woodward, Origins of the New South

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