Born in New Orleans on 16 October 1870, Alfred Holt Stone at various times was a planter, lawyer, scholar, legislator, and administrator in the Mississippi government. He served as president of the Mississippi Welfare League, president of the Mississippi Historical Society, founder and editor of the publication of the Staple Cotton Cooperative Association, and a member of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation. He received a law degree from the University of Mississippi and spent much of his early adulthood on Dunleith Plantation in Dunleith.
He is most famous as the author of books and articles that defended plantation life. He argued that as long as planters operated as kindly paternalists, African Americans would find more happiness and security on the plantation than away from it. He wrote positively about slave law in antebellum Mississippi, praised the way slavery and plantation labor brought together whites and African Americans in friendly relations that helped identify the making of a good crop as a mutual concern, and argued that segregation laws minimized conflict and potential violence. Studies in the American Race Problem (1908) was one of the most aggressive attempts in the early twentieth century to defend segregation and especially planter control over southern life. In this long work of scholarship, Stone raised and then responded to real or potential northern criticisms of southern racial discrimination. He began with the argument that racial discrimination existed throughout the country and that the demographic dominance of African Americans in parts of the South led to the desire for more aggressive forms of control.
At least two points distinguished Stone from the many other wealthy white southerners who shared his conservative perspective. One was an experiment with a new type of plantation labor in 1899. He rejected sharecropping and rented land to African American workers, refused to give credit or favors through the plantation store, and retained complete control over day-to-day work. Stone was surprised by the failure of this effort, and that surprise inspired his respect for sharecropping as a kindly system of labor control.
More distinctive than his labor experiments was his intellectual curiosity about African American life. Stone collected an extraordinary range and number of materials on the subject, including speeches, newspapers, religious publications, minutes of societies, and scholarly works. The topics varied widely, but he seems to have concentrated on materials involving Africa, slavery and abolitionism, Booker T. Washington, labor, education, and migration. Stone viewed himself as a thoughtful scholar who wanted, as he wrote in his most ambitious book, “to learn what and how the Negro thinks and feels.” Stone’s most recent biographer describes him as a “scientific racist.” Stone’s research materials are now located in the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in Jackson and at the University of Mississippi.
From 1932 until his death on 11 May 1955 Stone served as Mississippi’s tax commissioner.
- James G. Hollandsworth Jr., Portrait of a Scientific Racist: Alfred Holt Stone of Mississippi (2008)
- Mississippi State Tax Commission, Service Bulletins 1–48
- John David Smith, in The Human Tradition in the New South, ed. James C. Klotter (2005)
- Alfred Holt Stone, “The Assessing of Public Utilities by the State Tax Commission: An Informal Discussion” (1935)
- Alfred Holt Stone, Studies in the American Race Problem (1908)