The Cotton Pigue Mentality lives!

Actually, this is NOT The Cotton Pigue mentality. It's The Bog Trotters Band. I just needed a Bluegrass picture that was old-timey.

Actually, this is NOT the legendary Cotton Pigue Mentality. It’s The Bog Trotters Band, back in 1937. I just needed a Bluegrass picture that was old-timey.

This is a way, way inside joke, but I thought I’d share it as an illustration of how things don’t change much.

Back in the late ’70s or early ’80s, when I was working at The Jackson (TN) Sun, a judge in a nearby county had a case before him that seemed designed to reinforce every right-winger’s nightmare stereotype of the Welfare Queen. A poor black woman had a houseful of kids, and a couple of her daughters had several of their own. All told, there were about 20 people in the household, if I remember correctly — all women and children.

I forget why they were before him. What I recall is that this old white guy (he was not much older than I am now, but back then he seemed ancient) decided to lecture these women and tell them they needed to stop having children out of wedlock. The judge’s name was “Cotton” Pigue.

It caused a bit of a sensation in West Tennessee when that was reported, and as you might imagine, while some had a “You tell ’em!” reaction, others were quite critical of the judge having overstepped the bounds of his job description.

We were discussing it in the tiny editorial office of the paper, as I recall, when a woman said something disparaging about how certain people needed to get over this “Cotton Pigue mentality.”

My good friend Richard Crowson, the paper’s editorial cartoonist and the best bluegrass picker I’ve ever known, got excited: That was the perfect name for a Bluegrass band! The Cotton Pigue Mentality! I don’t think he actually ever named any of the groups he played in that, but it was a memorable inspiration.

Anyway, after not having been heard from in years — no albums, no tours — it seems the Mentality has made a comeback. In Tennessee, appropriately enough:

Judge to inmates: Get sterilized and I’ll shave off jail time

A judge in central Tennessee is hoping to help repeat offenders “make something of themselves” by offering them a highly original and probably unconstitutional deal: reduced jail time in exchange for sterilization operations.

Under a standing order issued by General Sessions Judge Sam Benningfield, inmates in White County, Tenn., can receive 30 days credit toward their jail time if they volunteer for vasectomies or contraceptive implants, as NewsChannel 5 reported Thursday.

The order came down quietly in May, and already dozens of inmates have sought to take advantage of it. Thirty-two women have received implants of the hormone device Nexplanon, and 38 men have signed up to receive vasectomies, according to NewsChannel 5….

The Cotton Pigue Mentality lives! I can’t wait for to hear them when they come to town — just for old times’ sake…

The real "Cotton" Pigue.

The real “Cotton” Pigue.

5 thoughts on “The Cotton Pigue Mentality lives!

  1. Richard

    I see no problem with this, it’s a voluntary option for the inmates. The fact that 32 female inmates have already signed up tells you something.

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    OK, I might be remembering this wrong, and if someone remembers the Tennessee system back in the day better than I do I’d appreciate a correction, but this is the way I remember it…

    The “county judge” office wasn’t exactly what you might think it was. It was really a sort of county administrative official — I seem to recall them presiding over county commission meetings — who also, on the side, presided over what we would call family court.

    I don’t think they were necessarily lawyers, although some were.

    Then, while I was at the paper, things changed. The elected position of “county executive” was created to handle the administrative duties and deal with the county commission (the local legislative body, like county councils in SC). And I THINK separate family court judges came into being.

    But it’s been a long time.

    By the way, the guy in the current story is a General Sessions judge. When I was there that was the most basic level of the system — in some ways, kind of like magistrate’s court here. Whatever the crime, you first appeared in general sessions. I’d go there for a murder case and have to listen to shoplifting and similar cases before we got to what I was there for (which was actually kind of interesting to sit through — you saw a nice cross-section of the community’s seamier aspects).

    In the murder cases, the judge would decide whether to bind the defendant over to the grand jury. If the grand jury indicted, the case went to circuit court, which was the trial court.

    Yeah, I know… more than you wanted to know…

  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    By the way, before some Tennessean notes the radical difference in the two cases…

    Yes, this new guy is in White County, which is in Middle Tennessee, which as we all know is like a whole other country from West Tennessee, which is where Gibson County — where Cotton Pigue presided — is located.

    In fact, White County can almost be said to be in East Tennessee, which is such an alien place that it stuck with the Union during the Recent Unpleasantness…

  4. Chuckie

    There’s another name for the ”Cotton Pigue Mentality“:


    It wants us to believe we’ll be better off if “those people” don’t reproduce.
    It’s no prettier now than it was a century ago.

  5. Dave

    Among the other obvious problems with this judge’s action, it also discriminates against inmates on religious grounds. Catholic inmates who wish to stick with their church’s objection to sterilization wouldn’t be able to take part in this program. Though I’m not surprised that a judge in Tennessee would discriminate against Catholics.


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