In November 1948, the first Latvian “Displaced Persons” — or “D.P.s” — arrived in the Mississippi Delta. At its peak, perhaps 700 Latvians lived scattered across northwestern Mississippi, with probably a couple hundred more having passed through the area. The Latvians had an impact well beyond their small numbers. When a few of them complained about their living and working conditions shortly after arrival, the Soviet Union seized upon it to embarrass the United States and the international refugee resettlement program, while regional and national media dispatched journalists to investigate, and the U.S. State Department prepared to discuss the matter before the United Nations. The Latvians’ biggest impact, however, was local, for the Delta was unaccustomed to the arrival of hundreds of European immigrants in such a short time. Entire towns turned out to welcome them, and local media devoted front-page coverage to their adjustment. The Latvians went to work on local plantations, mainly as sharecroppers, at burgeoning agribusinesses such as the Delta & Pine Land Company. Black labor had been leaving the Delta for years, and the Latvian D.P.s would provide much needed additional labor. Delta planters hoped that Latvian D.P.s would not only fill a labor shortage, but also form a white bulwark against the rising tide of black civil rights. This required some racial sleight of hand, for the Latvians had to be transformed from racially undesirable aliens to suitably white citizens. The Latvians looked the part, but it was their anti-Communism that proved crucial to their acceptance in the Delta as well as the nation.
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