Boll weevils near eradication in fields but live on in songs

The Memphis Commercial Appeal is running a dandy series of articles on the 100-year, $100 billion effort to kill off these snout-nosed parasites of the cotton plant. Boll weevils came to this country from Mexico in 1892 and began laying their eggs in cotton plants, thus preventing the boll of cotton from developing.

In the days before living better through chemistry, the only way to reduce the effect of these insects was to not plant cotton for a season. Farmers looked to other crops for income and King Cotton thus became dethroned across the South.


Boll weevils had social effects as well. For black and white sharecroppers, no cotton meant no work, and boll weevil damage was often the final straw in families deciding to pull up their roots and move to northern cities as jobs in industry became available. Songs about the boll weevil were written and recorded by artists such as Leadbelly, Odetta, Charley Patton, Brook Benton, and Woody Guthrie.

One Commercial Appeal article discusses how Delta Airlines owes its origins to dusting cotton fields with poison to kill boll weevils.

This blog is part of a much larger website, also entitled Tennessee Guy, that contains travel and cultural information about Tennessee. Visit it here.

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