After Slavery: The Effects of Sharecropping/Tenant Farming in Black Families in Alabama

Dedej

Retired User
Joined
Mar 17, 2017
Yesterday, I visited Union Springs (Bullock County) to finally fill in some blanks on father's side, take pictures, visit my ancestors gravesites -- and just go and see how they lived. It was a humbling and sad experience.

What really made me sad - was to actually see how my father's side of the family was affected by Slavery and then ---- Sharecropping. Like many Blacks during that time - they didn't have anywhere to go - or couldn't afford to leave -- but mostly - was stuck in the mindset of thinking it was truly their home and loved the people that they once were enslaved too. They also didn't know anything but the farm/plantation and working the fields.

I have to admit - after seeing "R"on the Census for my 3Rd Grandfather all the way to my paternal Grandfather -- I wanted to know what "R" meant. I found out it was Sharecropping/Tenant Farming.

And now, after finding out what tenant farming was --- and seeing it's effects on many families in the south -- sharecropping IMO was unfair and unjust -- especially for Blacks in Alabama. As, sharecropping and tenant farming were the dominant economic model of Alabama agriculture from the late-19th century through the onset of World War II. But, it only benefited one side and left the workers in poverty - with no chance of betterment/advancement.

Of course, it was a different time, and I also know that not only Black people were sharecroppers -- but to see how his family and many others families in that area -- worked as sharecroppers/tenant farmers -- all their lives and was left with nothing. Even most of their graves sites didn't have a plot - just a slab of concrete.

To know, someone worked all their lives -- sure for a place to stay - but IMO it was not worth it - the living conditions were not the best - for the amount of work and time that was given to help others maintain/acquire wealth. Ownership of the land that 4 generations of my father's side worked on -- is still owned by the descendants of the original owners. They now have replaced cotton with selling Timber - while the families that worked on their land till their deaths are still in poverty.

All in all - it's all said and done - and there is nothing that can be done - as the past is the past. But, it now answers my question of --- why many if not all -- of my Alabama family members living conditions were so poor. I always wondered that - while visiting as a child.

I also understand why my father left at the age of 13 for a better life.
 

GS

Retired User
Joined
Jan 31, 2017
Alabama's Bullock County is isolated from large cities, has few industries and jobs, thus fewer medical facilities, doctors, quality schools, and still one of the poorest in the State and nation. A great place for growing a pine forest. I applaud your father for taking his family where opportunities were greater.
 

Pat Young

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Featured Book Reviewer
Joined
Jan 7, 2013
Location
Long Island, NY
Yesterday, I visited Union Springs (Bullock County) to finally fill in some blanks on father's side, take pictures, visit my ancestors gravesites -- and just go and see how they lived. It was a humbling and sad experience.

What really made me sad - was to actually see how my father's side of the family was affected by Slavery and then ---- Sharecropping. Like many Blacks during that time - they didn't have anywhere to go - or couldn't afford to leave -- but mostly - was stuck in the mindset of thinking it was truly their home and loved the people that they once were enslaved too. They also didn't know anything but the farm/plantation and working the fields.

I have to admit - after seeing "R"on the Census for my 3Rd Grandfather all the way to my paternal Grandfather -- I wanted to know what "R" meant. I found out it was Sharecropping/Tenant Farming.

And now, after finding out what tenant farming was --- and seeing it's effects on many families in the south -- sharecropping IMO was unfair and unjust -- especially for Blacks in Alabama. As, sharecropping and tenant farming were the dominant economic model of Alabama agriculture from the late-19th century through the onset of World War II. But, it only benefited one side and left the workers in poverty - with no chance of betterment/advancement.

Of course, it was a different time, and I also know that not only Black people were sharecroppers -- but to see how his family and many others families in that area -- worked as sharecroppers/tenant farmers -- all their lives and was left with nothing. Even most of their graves sites didn't have a plot - just a slab of concrete.

To know, someone worked all their lives -- sure for a place to stay - but IMO it was not worth it - the living conditions were not the best - for the amount of work and time that was given to help others maintain/acquire wealth. Ownership of the land that 4 generations of my father's side worked on -- is still owned by the descendants of the original owners. They now have replaced cotton with selling Timber - while the families that worked on their land till their deaths are still in poverty.

All in all - it's all said and done - and there is nothing that can be done - as the past is the past. But, it now answers my question of --- why many if not all -- of my Alabama family members living conditions were so poor. I always wondered that - while visiting as a child.

I also understand why my father left at the age of 13 for a better life.
Thanks for sharing this. Did you get a chance to talk to other descendants of the sharecroppers?
 

Yulie

Corporal
Joined
Jul 31, 2008
Location
Directly North of the Canadian Border
Dedej,

Thanks for sharing.

My ancestry is an opposite to your family. After the Civil War, I find my family owning property in Cuba, Sumter County, Alabama. My 3x/4x granddad had 100 acres and gave land to establish a school (that still exists) and a store (that also still exists). I find him voting in 1870. It's still heir property, still very rural but now little farming taking place. My grandparents bought their own track of land (80 acres) and substance farmed (sugar cane, cotton, vegetables) and trapped. My granddad made moonshine. Nowadays, most of the land is used for timber. Many family members migrated to Chicago, Detroit, and Ann Arbor during the 1960s, but held onto their property and returned during retirement. Electricity and in-door plumbing came through in the mid-1970s. Generations are buried in Cagus Cemetery where many graves with the slab concrete. There are no slabs in the white cemetery. That said, it was hard working and poor living off the land. So poor that they didn't now they were poor until they migrated north.

-Yulie
 

Dedej

Retired User
Joined
Mar 17, 2017
Thanks for sharing this. Did you get a chance to talk to other descendants of the sharecroppers?

I didn't. Just my father's family. It's a pretty small town and my father's side has a really big family. Their children -- well most -- have all passed away - only two are alive - the one I met that showed me around -- and another lives in Chicago.

But some of their grandchildren and great grandchildren are still there.

After looking at the demographics of Bullock/Union Springs - the median HHI is about 20K - and that tells me everything I need to know.

But, one of the farmers -- who owned the land that most of my family worked on after leaving the plantation's --- granddaughter's is still alive and stays on the land. I was told that her family raised my Great Uncle as their own. Her Grandfather even heired land to him apparently. But, some how it was given back to their estate.

The plantations were most of ancestors on his side were enslaved on - "Maytag Plantation" (now "Maytag Estate") and "Sedgefields Lakes Plantation" - are now tourist attractions for hunting.

Overall, everything there looks like it's at a stand still. My cellphone - AT&T didn't even have service there - I had to wait till I got into Tuskegee in order to use the phone / Internet.

Again, I am happy I went - it really helped me understand why my father was so adamant about education and ownership - home and business.
 
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Dedej

Retired User
Joined
Mar 17, 2017
Dedej,

Thanks for sharing.

My ancestry is an opposite to your family. After the Civil War, I find my family owning property in Cuba, Sumter County, Alabama. My 3x/4x granddad had 100 acres and gave land to establish a school (that still exists) and a store (that also still exists). I find him voting in 1870. It's still heir property, still very rural but now little farming taking place. My grandparents bought their own track of land (80 acres) and substance farmed (sugar cane, cotton, vegetables) and trapped. My granddad made moonshine. Nowadays, most of the land is used for timber. Many family members migrated to Chicago, Detroit, and Ann Arbor during the 1960s, but held onto their property and returned during retirement. Electricity and in-door plumbing came through in the mid-1970s. Generations are buried in Cagus Cemetery where many graves with the slab concrete. There are no slabs in the white cemetery. That said, it was hard working and poor living off the land. So poor that they didn't now they were poor until they migrated north.

-Yulie

That's great Yulie! My daddy made moonshine too! We still have some he made at home YEARS ago. No one wants any though..lol.

But, I think at one point - they may have owned a portion - but for some reason - it was sold back. Maybe, debt or not being able to maintain, etc -- made them have too? I really don't know.

On the same side - another set 3rd Great Grandparents in Bullock - owned land in the early 1900's -- but via the Census -- looks like he lost or sold it as well. I truly think it's something with Insurance and how it was sold/set-up back then.

I also think it was a lack of communication and a lack of land ownership knowledge - that placed them in that situation.

All of them had less than a 3rd grade education - and I truly believe they really trusted a lot of the wrong people. Now, I am sure that they may have been really good people in general - but maybe they were only untrustworthy in terms of the financial side of things. Who knows?

I do know - when I was a child - for some reason, I noticed that asking lots of questions - was looked down upon -- and inappropriate. So, maybe they felt like they really couldn't ask the questions they needed too? Or it wasn't their place too.

My family from Union Springs all migrated to Michigan and Ohio. When my father left at 13 years-old -- he moved to New Jersey to follow his mom. His mom left him with his dad in Union Springs - but I guess - he and his step-mom - didn't get along. So, he went to New Jersey to try to stay with her - but I don't think that went well either.

It also helped me understand why my daddy really didn't talk about his parents. And why he wasn't really big on showing his emotions. It all sounds very sad. I can't imagine being 13 and my mom leaving me with my dad. And then my dad's new wife being mean to me. So mean - I save up and leave at the age of 13. It must have been bad.

Then he ended up going to the Navy - I think he served in the Vietnam war - cause he has a lot of pictures of Vietnamese women in one of his photo books - LOL. And he is buried in the Veteran's section of the cemetery back home.

After my daddy came back from the Navy he moved to Michigan. He was able to become an electrician, get his degree, and work/retire from GM as a Master Electrician + own rental properties and a contracting company - and not only built my mom her dream home - but built many others - before he passed.

Because of him - I have never wanted for anything -- and am too successful in my own right - as well as my siblings. So, I am thankful and very grateful to him and my Union Springs ancestors.
 
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Dedej

Retired User
Joined
Mar 17, 2017
Alabama's Bullock County is isolated from large cities, has few industries and jobs, thus fewer medical facilities, doctors, quality schools, and still one of the poorest in the State and nation. A great place for growing a pine forest. I applaud your father for taking his family where opportunities were greater.

I noticed this. They only had 2-3 fast food restaurants and a few stores. I stopped at McDonald's to use their free Internet - and it didn't work well. Plus, the overall condition of the food chain wasn't the best.

I wonder what communities like this can do? Lack of employment and education in towns like that -- leads to many issues with crime. It also hinders the youth in those communities.

I also noticed lots of Mexicans in the area. My thoughts maybe they were brought in to do the work for cheaper labor/undocumented work - which cuts back on the employment opportunities for Bullock residents (Black and White).

And thanks :smile:
 

Southern Unionist

First Sergeant
Joined
Apr 27, 2017
Location
NC
There was no transition plan for getting anyone from slavery (with no education) to a decent life as a free person who could feed their family and afford a decent place to live. For a lot of Southerners (including Lee) this was their major problem with Lincoln. Slavery had to go away at some point, but the transition to freedom ended up being anything but humane or compassionate. We could have and should have done better.
 

GS

Retired User
Joined
Jan 31, 2017
I noticed this. They only had 2-3 fast food restaurants and a few stores. I stopped at McDonald's to use their free Internet - and it didn't work well. Plus, the overall condition of the food chain wasn't the best.

I wonder what communities like this can do? Lack of employment and education in towns like that -- leads to many issues with crime. It also hinders the youth in those communities.

I also noticed lots of Mexicans in the area. My thoughts maybe they were brought in to do the work for cheaper labor/undocumented work - which cuts back on the employment opportunities for Bullock residents (Black and White).

And thanks :smile:

Bullock is one of many struggling counties in the South. Historically, the Southern governments have never put much of their focus on rural economic development, and improving educational opportunities, for white or black or tan people. Some areas have been aided by governors who bring in big automobile manufacturing, and improving education. My grandparents struggled as sharecroppers in North Alabama, my parents also, for a time. My grandparents finally got a loan and managed to own a small farm before their death. My parents left the farm, and found work in the city, which led to their children getting college educations, and having economic success. The rural areas will always have pockets of the poor. It's a choice. There, in the country, families can live life unhindered by building codes, and homeowners association rules, police monitoring, but that choice comes at a price. Today, I would love to live in a rural setting, but the drugs dealers and pot heads have taken over.
 

uaskme

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 9, 2016
Location
SE Tennessee
There are Pockets of Poverty everywhere and the Cities are not exempt. Being poor has its handicaps, speaking from experience.

The Timber and Ag Industry is Mechanized to the point 1 machine can do things no amount of manual labor can do. Whites and Blacks have been replaced. These areas did have a high concentration of Blacks during the Civil War and still do. The country still needs the Ag and Timber, it just don't take the same amount of people. Development isn't going to change that. You can't force people to migrate. Government support has taken the place of a paycheck for many.

Other parts of the South have been a beacon for
Job Growth and Education. We have a health population of Yankees in our Job Market and Universities. Oh I forgot, it's the lack of Snow they come?
 

Southern Unionist

First Sergeant
Joined
Apr 27, 2017
Location
NC
I spent time visiting relatives on the outskirts of Natchez, Miss., back in the 1970s. Its sounds a lot like Union Springs. It was my first exposure to the Deep South, and I definitely felt like I had traveled back in time.

Natchez is one of the nicest places in Mississippi, if not the best of all. It has a good bit of tourist money and rich retired people who like to restore houses. A few miles up the road, Fayette is a much more typical example of rural Mississippi poverty. Jackson and Vicksburg have plenty of bad areas too. And when passing through Port Gibson, get a block over from highway 61 and check out their main street. The town has declined horribly since I first saw it.
 

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