“A Long Silence” Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

This diary entry by Kate Stone represents the perspective of a young Southern woman who believed in the Confederate cause, opposed abolition, and was forced to adjust to the realities of the post-Civil War South. The entry illustrates the common experience of many landowners of the South who had returned home after the war to find their property destroyed. Like Stone's family, many were faced with the burden of having to reconstruct their land with fewer financial and physical resources than they had before the war. Her family, like many landowners during the Reconstruction period, produced cotton for investors instead of focusing on producing food for their own household. Stone describes the common practice of receiving credit from a merchant. The financial drain of paying wages to laborers prevented Stone and her family from affording the luxuries they had enjoyed before the war.

Summary Overview

This diary entry by Kate Stone represents the perspective of a young Southern woman who believed in the Confederate cause, opposed abolition, and was forced to adjust to the realities of the post-Civil War South. The entry illustrates the common experience of many landowners of the South who had returned home after the war to find their property destroyed. Like Stone's family, many were faced with the burden of having to reconstruct their land with fewer financial and physical resources than they had before the war. Her family, like many landowners during the Reconstruction period, produced cotton for investors instead of focusing on producing food for their own household. Stone describes the common practice of receiving credit from a merchant. The financial drain of paying wages to laborers prevented Stone and her family from affording the luxuries they had enjoyed before the war.

Defining Moment

The years following the Civil War, known as Reconstruction, were a time of political, economic, and social transition for United States citizens living in the South. Landowners and their families struggled to recover from the physical destruction that took place as a result of the war. Many men were killed in the war, leaving their families to fend for themselves. The lucrative plantation lifestyle that was dependent upon slave labor was no longer feasible for most landowners when slavery was abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment. Plantation ownership became much more costly, and luxuries had to be sacrificed in order to compensate laborers. In addition to higher expenses, landowners had less control over their laborers as African Americans began taking advantage of their freedoms. Former slaves now had the option to send their children to school rather than into the fields. African American women could devote their time to their families, focusing on responsibilities in the home. The harsh Black Codes imposed by many Southern states promoted racism, and fostered an environment of racial inequality.

Kate Stone's diary entry was one of many written by her between the years of 1861 and 1868. She documented her experiences, presumably with only herself as her intended audience. This particular entry describes the difficulties of adjusting to the unfamiliar life of poverty. Stone also discusses natural threats to what remains of her family's livelihood, such as cotton worms and flooding. She describes the African American workers as out of control and expresses an intense fear of them. What may have been more frightening for Stone than the behavior of the African Americans was her understanding of the justification they would have in seeking retaliation for the many years of mistreatment they endured. Stone's diary entry highlights the many challenges, feelings, and attitudes that were shared by Confederates like her during the Reconstruction era. She mentions, at the end of her entry, that attending social events and being among others who are similarly affected makes her struggles more bearable. This demonstrates the commonality of her circumstances in the South at this time in history. The hardships described by Stone were the same that caused many landowners to go into debt, and prompted alternative labor systems, such as sharecropping.

Author Biography

Sarah Katherine Stone, who was known as “Kate,” was born in Mississippi in 1841. She began keeping a diary when the Civil War began in 1861. Stone was educated, and enjoyed a privileged childhood growing up on a large 1,260 acre plantation in Louisiana called “Brokenburn.” At the time of the diary entry, Stone was living with her mother, Amanda Susan Ragan Stone. Stone had five brothers and one sister, with whom she also lived at Brokenburn. Her family owned about 150 slaves. In 1863, Stone and her family relocated to Texas after a Union Army presence became apparent in their neighborhood. From late 1863 until the end of the war, Kate Stone and her family resided in Tyler, Texas. It was in Tyler that she met the man who would later become her husband. They returned to Brokenburn after the war ended. Stone firmly believed in the Confederate cause, and demonstrated her ongoing loyalty through activism long after the Civil War. She married Henry Bry Holmes in 1869, with whom she had four children. Kate Stone died in 1907.

Document Analysis

Kate Stone's diary entry provides an intimate portrait of the life of the daughter of a plantation owner in Louisiana following the events of the Civil War and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery. Growing up on the Brokenburn plantation, Stone enjoyed luxuries such as carpets, furniture, and curtains. She was educated and literate. Her family depended upon slave labor to operate their plantation. When Union soldiers began to occupy her neighborhood, she and her family fled to Texas, where they stayed until the war ended. Natural factors including flooding and cotton worms threatened the family's crops. Abolition had eliminated free slave labor, and provision of wages to laborers caused Stone and her family to face financial hardships they had previously never experienced. Stone's diary entry describes the dramatic shift to an impoverished lifestyle from one of luxury, means, and financial stability.

As with Stone and her family, many landowners faced this new financial burden. Stone states, “All in this section have suffered in the same way, and for awhile they seemed stunned by their misfortunes.” The sudden necessity of paid labor was incompatible with the slave-dependent plantation model that had been so common and successful in the South before the war. Stone laments the loss of the many luxuries, and expresses resentment toward the African Americans for their role in her family's poverty. She complains of the high wages and accommodations expected by the African American laborers. Stone further expresses her dissatisfaction with having to pay for labor, writing, “What most distresses me is that none of that money went for our personal comfort. All of it went to the Negroes.” Although the African American laborers clearly worked for their earnings, Stone perceives it as an injustice. Her attitude represents the reigning white supremacist view among whites in the South in the years following the Civil War.

Kate Stone was certainly not alone in her feelings of fear and disgust for African Americans. Beliefs such as those held by Stone played an important role in the South's threat to secede, which sparked the Civil War. Although legislation interrupted their way of life, the values and beliefs of the Confederacy remained strong. These values and beliefs became evident through the assembly and actions of the extreme white supremacist group, the Ku Klux Klan. The Black Codes were passed in Southern states, including Mississippi and Louisiana (incidentally, the state in which Stone was born and the location of Brokenburn, respectively). These Codes limited the rights and employment options of African Americans; resulted in labor contracts that were unfair to African Americans; and, in some cases, permitted slavery through vagrancy laws. Vagrancy laws allowed homeless African Americans to be arrested and punished with unpaid labor. Stone also describes examples of power struggles that took place between African American laborers and her brother. Such disagreements were common as African Americans sought to assert themselves as employees rather than property, and landowners intended to maintain the same dynamic they had maintained as slave owners.

Essential Themes

One of the most significant themes of Kate Stone's diary entry is the fall of the plantation lifestyle as it existed before the Civil War. Dramatic economic and social changes took place as a result of the war and the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment. Like many wealthy plantation owners in the South, Kate Stone and her family were forced to suddenly adjust to paying wages to laborers. The success of plantations had hinged on free slave labor, and abolition represented the loss of the most crucial resource of plantation owners. Plantations could no longer yield nearly the profits they had, and many landowners resorted to alternative labor systems, such as sharecropping.

Kate Stone's diary entry illustrates her fear of African Americans, as well as her resentment toward them. She embraces Confederate values and perspectives, including racial inequality. Another important theme of Stone's diary entry is the attitude she expresses toward African Americans. Common viewpoints of Confederates included the belief that African Americans were inferior to whites, as well as widespread opposition to abolition. Such viewpoints were essential in the establishment of the Ku Klux Klan, the Black Codes, and Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation for nearly a century. Attitudes, such as those of Confederates, created a lengthy and difficult struggle for African Americans. The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, which granted to African Americans citizenship and voting rights, respectively, were met with much opposition from Southern whites. As African Americans were granted more rights and had reason to view themselves as equal to whites, such views were challenged by the enforcement of Jim Crow laws and the violence of the Ku Klux Klan. While the frustrations of a young woman, whose lifestyle had recently been dramatically altered for the worse, seems to barely represent such extremes as racial segregation and violence, the attitudes and beliefs are not far removed from one another.

Bibliography and Additional Reading
  • “America's Reconstruction: People and Politics After the Civil War.” Digital History. Eds. S. Mintz & S. McNeil. University of Houston, 2013. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.
  • “Constitution of the United States: Amendments 11–27.” National Archives. National Archives and Records Administration. n.d. Web. 29 Mar. 2014.
  • Kennedy, Stetson. Jim Crow Guide to the U.S.A.: The Laws, Customs and Etiquette Governing the Conduct of Nonwhites and Other Minorities as Second-Class Citizens. 2nd ed. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2011. Print.
  • Rubin, Anne Sarah. “Stone, Sarah Katherine ‘Kate’ (1841–1907).” Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2000. Credo Reference. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.
  • Stone, Kate. “All Have Suffered” Reconstruction: America's Second Civil War. PBS.org. 19 Dec. 2003. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.
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