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

KansasFreestater

1st Lieutenant
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.
I'm happy for you that you got to go and make all these tangible connections to your own past -- there's something very satisfying about that, even if the stories are sad and painful.
 

8thFlorida

First Sergeant
Joined
Nov 27, 2016
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.
This story is very heart wrenching. I can say from my family history that many Southern whites were just as poor but they did not have to contend with race because they were white. Now to hear your story it reminds me of visiting our graves and they wouldn't even allow blacks to be buried in the same side of the cemetery. I remember this and it has always haunted me. The sins of the Fathers. But we all must pay for them. Forgiveness is key for our society to keep on progressing.
 

WJC

Major General
Judge Adv. Genl.
Thread Medic
Answered the Call for Reinforcements
Joined
Aug 16, 2015
I know - I also mentioned that in my original post. And I don't think I claimed or implied that in any of my post.

I referenced "Black" - because I am Black and this is my personal story - based on my ancestors and lineage.

Thanks. :smile:
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.
It appears you had a very meaningful experience. Even with the bad conditions and lack of opportunity, it must have been difficult for your father to leave. Thank God he- and others like him- did.
 

BillO

Captain
Joined
Feb 2, 2010
Location
Quinton, VA.
I know - I also mentioned that in my original post. And I don't think I claimed or implied that in any of my post.

I referenced "Black" - because I am Black and this is my personal story - based on my ancestors and lineage.

Thanks. :smile:
No problems, I mentioned it as my maternal grandfather was a sharecropper for a good part of his life and we aren't black.
 

Drew

Major
Joined
Oct 22, 2012
Interesting thread. I've shared mostly of my grandmother's family during the War Between the States, so here we go.

She was born in 1907 near Natchitoches, LA. Her family were not sharecroppers (the poorest of the poor) but 'small holders' with 40-60 acre plots of land. That was enough in that time to eke out a living without being (too) beholden to others, barely.

"Poppa" learned carpentry at a very early age and was accomplished at it. Married in 1906, he was willing to move and seek out opportunity. I'm aware that he and great grandmother had at least tentative social networks to support this (really important).

It was with the El Dorado oil strike in the 1920's that he broke out of Natchitoches Parish with his young family and moved to Arkansas, to help build the great oil derricks of the time. Poppa put his children in the newly-formed schools there and made enough money to put his children through junior college. His eldest daughter met my grandfather in Arkansas, who'd been sent to Arkadelphia to college. And here I am.

There are standing churches today in ArkLaTex that "Poppa" built and he would go on to build a part of today's Patuxent River Air Naval Station in Southern Maryland. He died in 1953, winning and working a contract to build housing outside of Chicago, Illinois.

It's danged hard for anyone to leave a comfortable, known place, but when times are tough, leaving is the only way to move up. I didn't know "Poppa" but Mom named me for her grandfather and I'm proud of him.
 

uaskme

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 9, 2016
Location
SE Tennessee
My Grandfather was a sharecropper for much of his life. I didn't bring it up because I didn't want to equate his situation with the posters family experience. Which surely it was not. Slavery wasn't fair. The economic experience of Blacks Post Slavery wasn't fair. Land distribution has been discussed. Pretty much no way to make it fair.

The Black Community don't get enough credit for the Progress they have made. We are all better off because of it.
 

Bruce Vail

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 8, 2015
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.

Agreed that Natchez is one of the nicest towns in the region. I enjoyed my stay there very much.

But I was pretty young then and had not traveled very much around the U.S., so the rural poverty in some of the areas just outside Natchez proper was a little shocking to me. Of course, I learned (as the years went by) there is a lot of rural poverty all across the country that goes largely unnoticed by most of us.
 
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Bruce Vail

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 8, 2015
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:

Immigrant laborers from Mexico/Central America are doing a lot of agricultural work formerly done by Black sharecroppers or Black farmworkers in many parts of the rural South. I saw this pretty clearly in central North Carolina a couple of years ago when visiting other relatives. The wages for this kind of work are so low that the long-time residents, black or white, won't take the jobs.
 

Dedej

Retired User
Joined
Mar 17, 2017
My Grandfather was a sharecropper for much of his life. I didn't bring it up because I didn't want to equate his situation with the posters family experience. Which surely it was not. Slavery wasn't fair. The economic experience of Blacks Post Slavery wasn't fair. Land distribution has been discussed. Pretty much no way to make it fair.

The Black Community don't get enough credit for the Progress they have made. We are all better off because of it.

Thanks for responding. :smile: I want to let you know - NEVER feel like you can't share your story. And - I would say this to all.

Yes, my story is different, but I do know that there were white sharecroppers and others who were also poor and struggling. I am just now really learning about the system of Sharecropping and Tenant Farming - so to hear other sides and viewpoints only adds to learning more about it - as a whole.

And thanks :smile:
 

Dedej

Retired User
Joined
Mar 17, 2017
This story is very heart wrenching. I can say from my family history that many Southern whites were just as poor but they did not have to contend with race because they were white. Now to hear your story it reminds me of visiting our graves and they wouldn't even allow blacks to be buried in the same side of the cemetery. I remember this and it has always haunted me. The sins of the Fathers. But we all must pay for them. Forgiveness is key for our society to keep on progressing.

Thanks for responding :smile: The cemetery where some of my ancestors in Union Springs are buried in is Black only. It's all weird to me - but it was a different time - so I understand.

Overall, It was sad -- but I am happy I got to see where my daddy and his family lived. More than anything - it just made me miss him - he's been gone since 2002 - but he remains in my thoughts/mind daily. It helped me understand some of his ways and viewpoints on life.

More than anything, it helped me see why generational poverty is very real in many families.

And -- yes on forgiveness. :smile: I totally agree.
 
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Dedej

Retired User
Joined
Mar 17, 2017
Agreed that Natchez is one of the nicest towns in the region. I enjoyed my stay there very much.

But I was pretty young then and had not traveled very much around the U.S., so the rural poverty in the some of the areas just outside Natchez proper was a little shocking to me. Of course, I learned as the years went by there is a lot of rural poverty all across the country that goes largely unnoticed by most of us.

I totally understand what you are saying. I remember my first trip to Union Springs in Middle School with my parents. I remember getting a good spanking for not wanting to get out the car - because my dad's family member had wild hogs (or maybe they were pigs?) and other animals roaming around in the front yard. The wild hogs didn't look too friendly. Plus, dirt roads, no malls, no cable, no air and the living conditions was nothing I had ever seen.

It was overwhelming for a young person who has never experienced that. When you are young, you really don't care about how beautiful trees and scenic a place is. But, as a adult - you finally notice the beauty and uniqueness -- and can appreciate it.
 

Dedej

Retired User
Joined
Mar 17, 2017
Immigrant laborers from Mexico/Central America are doing a lot of agricultural work formerly done by Black sharecroppers or Black farmworkers in many parts of the rural South. I saw this pretty clearly in central North Carolina a couple of years ago when visiting other relatives. The wages for this kind of work are so low that the long-time residents, black or white, won't take the jobs.

VICE has a great expose on that last year. It was eye-opening. I guess Farmers HAVE to have immigrants now to survive.

 

Will Carry

First Sergeant
Joined
Jun 1, 2015
Location
The Tar Heel State.
My Father's family was from near Union Springs Alabama. I remember driving through there as a child in the 1960s. It was a totally segregated society. Two different worlds existing in the same place. Thank you for posting.
 

Dedej

Retired User
Joined
Mar 17, 2017
My Father's family was from near Union Springs Alabama. I remember driving through there as a child in the 1960s. It was a totally segregated society. Two different worlds existing in the same place. Thank you for posting.

The crazy thing is it's still like that today. Well at least, that's what I experienced from my time there.
 

Lusty Murfax

Sergeant
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Location
Northwest Missouri
As an active farmer, I am drawn to threads related to agriculture. I own and operate a farm once owned and farmed by my GGG-Grandpa and he was a slave owner. They had only three field hands, according to my Grandma. I have never rented farm land owned by outsiders / non-family. Sharecropping is an arrangement where the tenant farmer must share a portion of the total yield of the farm with the landowner. I have no idea of the particulars of these arrangements during reconstruction. I suspect it was something along lines of a traditional 50%-50% split with the tenant paying all of the crop inputs and the landlord providing a house and exclusive use of the land. I suspect the economics of farming didn't often favor the tenant farmer, regardless of his color. They aren't particularly favorable now to the tenant. The tenant or sharecrop farmer needed a home and a source of income and there would have been ample competition from area renters for the property. In farming, it is better to own your land and machinery and when possible operate with family members supplying the labor. Its better yet to have inherited the farm land and operate without the weight of a mortgage or borrowed operating capital hanging over your head to have to service out of the production of the farm. I suspect most AA former slaves had very little to bring to the table beyond the value of their labor. Considering the disadvantages they must have faced starting out, it must have been extremely difficult to build personal relationships with white landowners that are so necessary in small rural communities. Don't blame them one bit for fleeing all that for the Northern Cities.
 

Lusty Murfax

Sergeant
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Location
Northwest Missouri
The crazy thing is it's still like that today. Well at least, that's what I experienced from my time there.
I think to at least an extent, this might also be due to the farm/non-farm separation of a small rural community. We no longer have a native black population in northwest Missouri. However, the non-farm families are generally at a distinct disadvantage to the established farm families in almost every way.
 

Dedej

Retired User
Joined
Mar 17, 2017
As an active farmer, I am drawn to threads related to agriculture. I own and operate a farm once owned and farmed by my GGG-Grandpa and he was a slave owner. They had only three field hands, according to my Grandma. I have never rented farm land owned by outsiders / non-family. Sharecropping is an arrangement where the tenant farmer must share a portion of the total yield of the farm with the landowner. I have no idea of the particulars of these arrangements during reconstruction. I suspect it was something along lines of a traditional 50%-50% split with the tenant paying all of the crop inputs and the landlord providing a house and exclusive use of the land. I suspect the economics of farming didn't often favor the tenant farmer, regardless of his color. They aren't particularly favorable now to the tenant. The tenant or sharecrop farmer needed a home and a source of income and there would have been ample competition from area renters for the property. In farming, it is better to own your land and machinery and when possible operate with family members supplying the labor. Its better yet to have inherited the farm land and operate without the weight of a mortgage or borrowed operating capital hanging over your head to have to service out of the production of the farm. I suspect most AA former slaves had very little to bring to the table beyond the value of their labor. Considering the disadvantages they must have faced starting out, it must have been extremely difficult to build personal relationships with white landowners that are so necessary in small rural communities. Don't blame them one bit for fleeing all that for the Northern Cities.

Exactly. Coming out of slavery - one had nothing but the clothes on their back. So, they couldn't afford equipment, seed, feed, I am guessing some type of animal to work the land -- and the Farmer knew that and most likely used that to his advantage.

It was called Debt Peonage/Debt Slavery.

Slavery by Another Name covered this issue as well - fast forward to around 1:04:20


Slavery v. Peonage
http://www.pbs.org/tpt/slavery-by-another-name/themes/peonage/

Peonage, also called debt slavery or debt servitude, is a system where an employer compels a worker to pay off a debt with work. Legally, peonage was outlawed by Congress in 1867. However, after Reconstruction, many Southern black men were swept into peonage though different methods, and the system was not completely eradicated until the 1940s.

In some cases, employers advanced workers some pay or initial transportation costs, and workers willingly agreed to work without pay in order to pay it off. Sometimes those debts were quickly paid off, and a fair wage worker/employer relationship established.

In many more cases, however, workers became indebted to planters (through sharecropping loans), merchants (through credit), or company stores (through living expenses). Workers were often unable to re-pay the debt, and found themselves in a continuous work-without-pay cycle.

But the most corrupt and abusive peonage occurred in concert with southern state and county government. In the south, many black men were picked up for minor crimes or on trumped-up charges, and, when faced with staggering fines and court fees, forced to work for a local employer would who pay their fines for them. Southern states also leased their convicts en mass to local industrialists. The paperwork and debt record of individual prisoners was often lost, and these men found themselves trapped in inescapable situations.

I also read that Black sharecroppers couldn't just leave and the contracts were far from 50/50. Here's a great article: http://www.hamptoninstitution.org/sharecropping.html#.WQo_wlPysn0

Sharecropping, while influenced by black autonomy, was overall negative for black farmers as such a system "allowed the exploitation of the small farmer by the monopolistic financial structure dominated by the local merchant." The farmer (in this case the black family) was unable to access alternative sources of credit to acquire needed supplies and, thus, the farmer was forced to use his future crop as collateral to finance the loan, which "bound the farmer to the merchant and restricted his options to buy elsewhere or dispose of his crop in the most advantageous manner." [11] Due to his need to pay back the loan, the farmer focused on growing a cash crop such as cotton, to the neglect of food production, thus forcing the farmer to borrow even more money from the merchant as to feed himself. This created a cycle where the farmer was constantly behind in his paying his debt. It also didn't help that the credit prices which the farmer was charged so he could purchase food "were exorbitant, reflecting not only the local merchant's inefficiency, but his exploitative powers as the sole source of rural credit." [12] Thus, the farmers stayed in perpetual debt and slavery perpetuated itself; but rather than a physical slavery, it was an economic bondage that held black people to the land.
 

Lusty Murfax

Sergeant
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Location
Northwest Missouri
Exactly. Coming out of slavery - one had nothing but the clothes on their back. So, they couldn't afford equipment, seed, feed, I am guessing some type of animal to work the land -- and the Farmer knew that and most likely used that to his advantage.

It was called Debt Peonage/Debt Slavery.

Slavery by Another Name covered this issue as well - fast forward to around 1:04:20




I also read that Black sharecroppers couldn't just leave and the contracts were far from 50/50. Here's a great article: http://www.hamptoninstitution.org/sharecropping.html#.WQo_wlPysn0

Sharecropping, while influenced by black autonomy, was overall negative for black farmers as such a system "allowed the exploitation of the small farmer by the monopolistic financial structure dominated by the local merchant." The farmer (in this case the black family) was unable to access alternative sources of credit to acquire needed supplies and, thus, the farmer was forced to use his future crop as collateral to finance the loan, which "bound the farmer to the merchant and restricted his options to buy elsewhere or dispose of his crop in the most advantageous manner." [11] Due to his need to pay back the loan, the farmer focused on growing a cash crop such as cotton, to the neglect of food production, thus forcing the farmer to borrow even more money from the merchant as to feed himself. This created a cycle where the farmer was constantly behind in his paying his debt. It also didn't help that the credit prices which the farmer was charged so he could purchase food "were exorbitant, reflecting not only the local merchant's inefficiency, but his exploitative powers as the sole source of rural credit." [12] Thus, the farmers stayed in perpetual debt and slavery perpetuated itself; but rather than a physical slavery, it was an economic bondage that held black people to the land.
Then, it should come as some surprise that farm operating loans in this day and age are typically structured in much the same manner. Modern competition forces more friendly terms. It is routine that the borrower be required to pledge both livestock and growing crops/future harvest in order to secure operating credit on an annual basis. Farm machinery loans usually require some level of down payment and are secured by mortgage on the item purchased, much like real estate loans. In the farm sector operating money might be borrowed by a community bank, a cooperative farm credit bank or in some cases from the merchants of farming inputs. For instance, I might take out an operating loan from the local bank, a machinery loan from the equipment manufacturer, a seed loan from the seed company and the seller typically carries the mortgage on the farm land.

Also, we try to grow the crops with commercial value. Here in the Midwest, its the major commodity crops like corn, soybeans, wheat, hogs and cattle. We raise a considerable truck patch to supplement the foodstuffs we buy from The WalMart.
 
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