This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Building a Black Belt Empire: Charles H. Miller in Marengo County, Alabama, 1870-1917




Gibbons, Charlie

Type of Degree

Master's Thesis




The life of planter, merchant, and politician Charles Houston Miller of Miller, Marengo County, Alabama exemplified the powerful elites who ruled the Black Belt in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Through kinship ties that provided him access to networks of financial and political power, he controlled land and credit, created a community, and reshaped the landscape of southern Marengo County. As a merchant, Miller operated within the crop lien and credit system that drove the region’s cotton-dependent economy. Using general store ledgers, this thesis reconstructs the lives of his customers, including African American tenant farmers, landowning African Americans, and poor whites through their experiences in the Miller Store. Miller’s financial power provided a base on which to build his political career. Throughout the turmoil of Marengo’s Populist Revolt, the 1901 Constitutional Convention, and his tenure in the Alabama Senate, Miller fought to maintain white supremacy and the power of the Black Belt. He faithfully guarded the interests of the Democratic Party, Marengo County, and his white constituents. Examination of Miller’s small empire allows for understanding of the economic and political systems at work in the Alabama Black Belt as well as inclusion of the stories of local people and places.