Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

M.A. in Southern Studies


Southern Studies

First Advisor

Charles Reagan Wilson

Second Advisor

Kathryn McKee

Third Advisor

Andy Harper

Relational Format



This thesis addresses a turbulent and often violent political environment in Gadsden, Alabama during the Great Depression. Using a theoretical construct called the discursive commons my analysis suggests how very particular ideas such as the trope of the outside agitator, and the idea of the communist radical, were used by the establishment to incite violence against United Rubber Workers union organizers who came to Gadsden to enlist members in the 1930s and early 1940s. It is my contention that these discursive formations had affective power over the people who committed acts of violence against their own class interests. This thesis seeks to demonstrate through discourse analysis how entrenched combinations of political authority conspired to proscribe the freedom and opportunity of primarily Sand Mountain hill people. The Gadsden City Commission government, the local police, publishers of the Gadsden Times, business leaders, and Goodyear Company management all played a part in the attempts to dominate the underclass of former farmers taking up employment on the tire assembly lines. Concerned with maintaining their position in society, and concerned with building a "bigger" and "better" Gadsden, this hegemonic order used mythic ideas such as the sacrosanct idea of rugged individualism against the people. The establishment used the workers' fears about an invisible communist menace against the people in order to foment violent attacks on the outsider union organizers. American violence is unique from European mob violence in the sense that it is usually mobilized as a way to protect the status quo, rather than attacking the upper class in a revolutionary or reformist way. This is what happened in Gadsden during the six-year period between 1936 and 1941.



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