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Frederick Law Olmsted – The Cotton Kingdom

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From: Genius of Place by Justin Martin  (Recommended Reading)

“During the 1850s, Mr. Olmsted traveled throughout the American South as a reporter for the brand-new paper, the New York Daily Times (now the New York Times). His mandate was to approach the region almost like a foreign correspondent. In the course of his travels, Mr. Olmsted interviewed both white plantation owners and Black slaves and produced a series of extraordinary dispatches – balanced, penetrating and humane. As a consequence, Mr. Olmsted managed to lay bare the evils of slavery in ways that other more polemical works of the era often did not.  For the Northerners anxious to understand the South in the years right before the Civil War, Mr. Olmsted’s dispatches were one of the best windows.

In the early life of the New York Daily Times (NYT), Mr. Olmsted’s series were a key to establishing the papers’s journalistic identity.

The Cotton Kingdom – Edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger (1953)

The Cotton Kingdom, the abridged version of Mr. Olmsted’s trilogy, first published in 1861, remains in print to this day.  While in (Charlestown, MA) prison (1946 to 1952), Malcolm X read The Cotton Kingdom and later credited Mr. Olmsted with providing a startling unvarnished look at the institution of slavery.”

From: A Clearing in the Distance by Witold Rybczynski (A Must Read)

“In his condensed form of The Cotton Kingdom, Mr. Olmsted’s Southern writing has survived to the present day as a minor classic.  Arthur M Schlesinger, Sr., who edited the 1953 edition, described it as ‘the nearest thing posterity has to an exact transcription of a civilization which time has tinted with hues of romantic legend.’  He praised Mr. Olmsted’s account as ‘an indispensable work in the process of recapturing the American past.'”

Further Reading

Olmsted’s Southern Landscapes by Louis P. Masur  – Chair of the American Studies program at Trinity College and author of “The Civil War: A Concise History. Opinionator – The New York Times,  July 9, 2011


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