Sharecropping comparable to slavery?

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Sep 17, 2011
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mo
I have seen remarks such as it was just a continuation of slavery.

Recently a modern figure compared poor whites to slavery, not exactly in the context I'll ask. We wont go to who, but try to stay on what I ask which somewhat stems from his remarks.

But there were numerous poor white sharecroppers well into the 1900's. If a comparison of sharecropping to slavery is accurate or appropriate, would it be fair to likewise compare poor white sharecroppers to slaves or slavery? Wouldn't they be in effect held in place in social and economic status as much as any other sharecroppers? Because to some degree, ones social status is seldom seperate from ones economic status, why their were terms such as "cracker"
 
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Philip Leigh

formerly Harvey Johnson
Joined
Oct 22, 2014
I have seen remarks such as it was just a continuation of slavery. But there were numerous poor white sharecroppers well into the 1900's.
As late as 1938 two-thirds of the South's tenant farmers were white as were half the region's sharecroppers.*
If a comparison of sharecropping to slavery is accurate or appropriate, would it be fair to likewise compare poor white sharecroppers to slaves or slavery?
A report prepared for President Roosevelt in 1938 stated that white sharecroppers were "living under economic conditions almost identical with those of Negro sharecroppers."*

*Source: page 46
 
Joined
Sep 17, 2011
Location
mo
Well, if you decided not to be a sharecropper any more, and walked away, they wouldn't send bloodhounds to hunt you down and force you to come back. Other than that, there were certainly similarities.

So when you see some say it was just a continuation of slavery, do you feel its an accurate or justifiable comparison? And if so, wouldnt all those suffering under it be equal in how they were being limited economically and socially?

I think what held most slaves or sharecroppers in place, was fear of starving as they had little money or opportunity if they walked away. Especially if they had a family or dependents to provide for.
 

Philip Leigh

formerly Harvey Johnson
Joined
Oct 22, 2014
So when you see some say [Reconstruction] was just a continuation of slavery, do you feel it's an accurate or justifiable comparison?

Reasonably, though not exactly. It was a replacement for slavery, extended to poor whites -- to the benefit of the large land owners (aka "planters").

No. It benefitted Northerners by providing cheap cotton for New England and for the North's maritime trade, particularly in New York's.

According to abolitionists, slavery enabled the antebellum South to be the World's low cost producer of cotton. The postbellum South remained the low cost producer because Northerners impoverished the entire region, black and white.
 
Joined
Sep 17, 2011
Location
mo
No. It benefitted Northerners by providing cheap cotton for New England and for the North's maritime trade, particularly in New York's.

According to abolitionists, slavery enabled the antebellum South to be the World's low cost producer of cotton. The postbellum South remained the low cost producer because Northerners impoverished the entire region, black and white.
It does seem one of the primary reasons of the Freedmans Bureau was to get/keep cotton production going. As they were pushing contracts for former slaves to work on the plantations.
 

Philip Leigh

formerly Harvey Johnson
Joined
Oct 22, 2014
It does seem one of the primary reasons of the Freedmans Bureau was to get/keep cotton production going. As they were pushing contracts for former slaves to work on the plantations.

Moreover, it was the chief reason that Congress discontinued the cotton tax in 1868. In order to get a two-way cargo balance across the Atlantic, New York (and New England's maritime industry) needed more cotton to export.
 
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Joined
Aug 4, 2019
After the War ended, cotton prices were high leading to somewhat of a short Cotton Rush by speculators. Very soon, the prices of cotton collapsed due to a flood of cotton from World markets. This caused a severe depression within the South plus the old planter class had no currency. Their currency was drained away during the War, in their support for the Southern Planter Insurrection. Due to no money to pay wages and with slavery system dead, the Planters were compelled to engage in a comprise with poor laborers (former slaves and poor whites) which the idea of sharecropping was agreed by all parties. To the former slave this was a victory and an upgrade from their former status of a slave and mere property of the Planter. To the poor white it was some stability in an economic depression. Northern interest in southern cotton was greatly reduced due to the World markets and their investments interest went elsewhere. The old Planter class were pleased, and the racial caste system was maintained. I would call this somewhat of a new form of labor servitude but an improvement over the old slavery system for the Negro. The Negro is now about equal to the Poor White as far as labor
 

DanSBHawk

1st Lieutenant
Joined
May 8, 2015
Location
Wisconsin
No. It benefitted Northerners by providing cheap cotton for New England and for the North's maritime trade, particularly in New York's.

According to abolitionists, slavery enabled the antebellum South to be the World's low cost producer of cotton. The postbellum South remained the low cost producer because Northerners impoverished the entire region, black and white.
No, according to your report, Cotton was the crop chosen by the wealthy former slave-owning landlord and the tenant share-croppers were forced to plant cotton by their landlord. It was a foolish single-crop method of agriculture with much risk. And the share-croppers also depended on the wealthy landlord to extend credit. So the sharecroppers were doubly controlled and screwed by the former slave-owners.

The south created this system on their own.
 
Joined
Sep 17, 2011
Location
mo
No, according to your report, Cotton was the crop chosen by the wealthy former slave-owning landlord and the tenant share-croppers were forced to plant cotton by their landlord. It was a foolish single-crop method of agriculture with much risk. And the share-croppers also depended on the wealthy landlord to extend credit. So the sharecroppers were doubly controlled and screwed by the former slave-owners.

The south created this system on their own.
The primary task of the Freedmans Bureau was to get the newly freed slaves to sign "contracts" with the plantation owners.

The Freedmans Bureau created to aid millions of former slaves in the postwar era, had to inform the freedmen and women that they could either sign labor contracts with planters or be evicted from the land they had occupied. Those who refused or resisted were eventually forced out by army troops. So wouldnt say exactly on their own at all........when its do it, or be forced out by Union troops.
 

ForeverFree

Major
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Feb 6, 2010
Location
District of Columbia
I have seen remarks such as it was just a continuation of slavery.

Recently a modern figure compared poor whites to slavery, not exactly in the context I'll ask. We wont go to who, but try to stay on what I ask which somewhat stems from his remarks.

But there were numerous poor white sharecroppers well into the 1900's. If a comparison of sharecropping to slavery is accurate or appropriate, would it be fair to likewise compare poor white sharecroppers to slaves or slavery? Wouldn't they be in effect held in place in social and economic status as much as any other sharecroppers? Because to some degree, ones social status is seldom separate from ones economic status, why their were terms such as "cracker"

I also have heard people say this. But sharecropping was not slavery, nor comparable to slavery. I make the comment to people that, slavery was exploited labor, but not all exploited labor is slavery. Throughout time there have been innumerable types of exploited and oppressed labor, but not all were slavery.

An essential aspect of US slavery was mastery. A master was someone who owned a slave and controlled, or could control, the social and economic life of a slave. Sharecroppers did not have owners.

Another key aspect of US slavery was the slave trade. I have seen estimates that as many as a million enslaved people changed owners in the British American colonies and the US. Sharecroppers were not bought and sold.

Some might find this interesting. It's an excerpt from the Digital History website:

Nevertheless, the abolition of slavery did not mean that former slaves had achieved full freedom. Throughout the western hemisphere, the end of slavery was followed by a period of reconstruction in which race relations were redefined and new systems of labor emerged. In former slave societies throughout the Americas, ex-slaves sought to free themselves from the gang system of labor on plantation and establish small-scale, self-sufficient farms, while planters or local governments sought to restore the plantation system. The outcome, in many former slave societies, was the emergence of a caste system of race relations and a system of involuntary or forced labor, such as peonage, debt bondage, apprenticeship, contract laborers, indentured laborers, tenant farming, and sharecropping.​

...During Reconstruction, former slaves--and many small white farmers--became trapped in a new system of economic exploitation--sharecropping. Lacking capital and land of their own, former slaves were forced to work for large landowners. Initially, planters, with the support of the Freedmen's Bureau, sought to restore gang labor under the supervision of white overseers. The freedman, who wanted autonomy and independence, refused to sign contracts that required gang labor. Ultimately, sharecropping emerged as a sort of compromise.​
Instead of cultivating land in gangs supervised by overseers, landowners divided plantations into 20- to 50-acre plots suitable for farming by a single family. In exchange for land, a cabin, and supplies, sharecroppers agreed to raise a cash crop (usually cotton) and to give half the crop to their landlord. The high interest rates landlords and merchants charged for goods bought on credit transformed sharecropping into a system of economic dependency and poverty. The freedmen found that "freedom could make folks proud but it didn't make 'em rich."​
Nevertheless, the sharecropping system did allow freedmen a degree of freedom and autonomy greater than that experienced under slavery. As a symbol of their newly won independence, freedmen had teams of mules drag their former slave cabins away from the slave quarters into their own fields. Black wives and daughters sharply reduced their labor in the fields and instead devoted more time to childcare and housework. For the first time, black families could divide their time between fieldwork and housework in accordance with their own family priorities.​
Chattel slavery had been defeated. The gang system of labor, enforced by the whip, was dead. Real gains had been won. But full freedom remained an unfulfilled promise.​

Two important aspects of post-mastery were that, one, freedpeople could get an education, which many said was crucial. Also important, freedpeople and their descendants had mobility. They could move about, and they did. There were great migrations of millions of mainly rural southern African Americans to the north and west in the 20th century, as we know. This was impossible under mastery.

- Alan
 
Joined
Sep 17, 2011
Location
mo
I also have heard people say this. But sharecropping was not slavery, nor comparable to slavery. I make the comment to people that, slavery was exploited labor, but not all exploited labor is slavery. Throughout time there have been innumerable types of exploited and oppressed labor, but not all were slavery.

An essential aspect of US slavery was mastery. A master was someone who owned a slave and controlled, or could control, the social and economic life of a slave. Sharecroppers did not have owners.

Another key aspect of US slavery was the slave trade. I have seen estimates that as many as a million enslaved people changed owners in the British American colonies and the US. Sharecroppers were not bought and sold.

Some might find this interesting. It's an excerpt from the Digital History website:

Nevertheless, the abolition of slavery did not mean that former slaves had achieved full freedom. Throughout the western hemisphere, the end of slavery was followed by a period of reconstruction in which race relations were redefined and new systems of labor emerged. In former slave societies throughout the Americas, ex-slaves sought to free themselves from the gang system of labor on plantation and establish small-scale, self-sufficient farms, while planters or local governments sought to restore the plantation system. The outcome, in many former slave societies, was the emergence of a caste system of race relations and a system of involuntary or forced labor, such as peonage, debt bondage, apprenticeship, contract laborers, indentured laborers, tenant farming, and sharecropping.​

...During Reconstruction, former slaves--and many small white farmers--became trapped in a new system of economic exploitation--sharecropping. Lacking capital and land of their own, former slaves were forced to work for large landowners. Initially, planters, with the support of the Freedmen's Bureau, sought to restore gang labor under the supervision of white overseers. The freedman, who wanted autonomy and independence, refused to sign contracts that required gang labor. Ultimately, sharecropping emerged as a sort of compromise.​
Instead of cultivating land in gangs supervised by overseers, landowners divided plantations into 20- to 50-acre plots suitable for farming by a single family. In exchange for land, a cabin, and supplies, sharecroppers agreed to raise a cash crop (usually cotton) and to give half the crop to their landlord. The high interest rates landlords and merchants charged for goods bought on credit transformed sharecropping into a system of economic dependency and poverty. The freedmen found that "freedom could make folks proud but it didn't make 'em rich."​
Nevertheless, the sharecropping system did allow freedmen a degree of freedom and autonomy greater than that experienced under slavery. As a symbol of their newly won independence, freedmen had teams of mules drag their former slave cabins away from the slave quarters into their own fields. Black wives and daughters sharply reduced their labor in the fields and instead devoted more time to childcare and housework. For the first time, black families could divide their time between fieldwork and housework in accordance with their own family priorities.​
Chattel slavery had been defeated. The gang system of labor, enforced by the whip, was dead. Real gains had been won. But full freedom remained an unfulfilled promise.​

Two important aspects of post-mastery were that, one, freedpeople could get an education, which many said was crucial. Also important, freedpeople and their descendants had mobility. They could move about, and they did. There were great migrations of millions of mainly rural southern African Americans to the north and west in the 20th century, as we know. This was impossible under mastery.

- Alan
The only aspect not sure I'd agree with totally is the mastery aspect. If one has no viable alternative to go to and may be also bound by debt......for all practical purposes would think the employer has mastery.
 

Philip Leigh

formerly Harvey Johnson
Joined
Oct 22, 2014
The only aspect not sure I'd agree with totally is the mastery aspect. If one has no viable alternative to go to and may be also bound by debt......for all practical purposes would think the employer has mastery.
A Fortune Magazine article from the 1930s shows what sharecropping was really like when it was nearly the same as the immediate postbellum decades. The tools were the same, cotton stilled had to be picked by hand and everyone used mules instead of tractors.

A British company, Delta & Pine Land (D&PL), owned the largest Southern cotton farm during the first half of the twentieth century. It eventually totaled almost forty thousand acres and was located in the delta near Greenville, Mississippi. After confessed bribe taker and former Grand Rapids, Michigan, District Attorney, Lant K. Salsbury, moved to Mississippi, he became a cotton farmer. In 1911, he journeyed to England, where he persuaded a British cotton textiles consortium to acquire the inactive D&PL and use its charter to purchase large tracts of Mississippi cotton land. The British sent over a delegation to investigate. Local planters, who would sell the Brits some of the land, charmed the buyers with hospitality and entertained them with goose hunting.

After completing the purchase, the British quickly discovered how difficult cotton growing could be. Floods in 1912 and 1913 took a toll, as did the persistent boll weevil. The company did not earn a profit until 1917 and did not pay a dividend until 1920. Nonetheless, in the 1920s, the plantation grew from twelve thousand acres to eighteen thousand. Due to overproduction, the cotton market crashed in 1926. The disastrous 1927 flood, however, led to a cotton shortage the following year from which D&PL benefitted primarily by speculative buying early in the futures market. In the ensuing years, the company’s operating efficiency steadily improved. It also pioneered the breeding of superior cotton types that could better withstand insect infestations and provide higher yields.

black.jpg


By the time of the Great Depression, D&PL was not only America’s largest cotton farm, it was also perhaps the most efficient at utilizing its sharecroppers, who were almost entirely blacks. In 1937, the company was the subject of a Fortune magazine article, “Biggest Cotton Plantation.” In 1936, it produced 15,000 bales at a yield of almost 640 pounds per acre, whereas the typical cotton farmer obtained a yield of only about 190 pounds per acre. Due to its superior qualities, D&PL cotton sold on the market at an average price premium of 10 percent. Its cottonseed was in demand throughout the world, and three thousand five hundred tons were exported. Net income in 1936 was $153,000.

The company provided farms and homes to a dozen managers who were paid a salary of $150 monthly with the potential for a 10–15 percent year-end bonus. Each supervised about 100 sharecropping families with an average of three children. In order to maximize production, managers gave croppers detailed cultivation instructions obtained from the company’s scientific research and experience. For example, croppers were provided D&PL’s high-yield cottonseed, which matured about six weeks earlier than normal. Managers commonly rode through their respective territories daily to look for problems and provide assistance. Crop-dusting airplanes applied insecticides. D&PL also distributed a half ton of yeast annually to worker families in order to prevent pellagra, which was a common ailment among malnourished Southern farmers of the era.

Sharecropper-family-on-front-porch-Southeast-Missouri-by-Photographer-Russell-Lee-1938.jpg


Southeast Missouri Sharecroppers Pictured Above

Beyond these advantages, however, working conditions were little different from those of the earliest post-Civil War sharecroppers. A farmer who used one of the company’s one thousand mules was entitled to a half share at harvest time. If he provided his own mule, the share was typically three-quarters. However, D&PL often did not permit three-quarter shares, because management did not believe that most sharecroppers cared properly for their mules. Each farmer was provided a dwelling unit, free fuel, and a half-acre parcel for growing fruits and vegetables. D&PL also paid for half of the fertilizer costs. The entire cultivating season totaled only 125 days. At other times, croppers might work for cash wages of a dollar a day on other company projects, if available.

D&PL offered croppers a company-owned store to provide food, clothing, and other essentials. The currency of the store was company scrip because of, as Fortune put it, the sharecropper’s tendency to “blow [cash] rapidly for unnecessaries such as whisky.” Assuming the potential for captive stores to charge high prices and impose steep interest rates, Fortune concluded that D&PL’s success partly resulted from the “intangible . . . treatment of [its] labor,” which included reasonable terms at the company store. The company also provided a school and hospital for the blacks. The school operated five months annually at no charge. The hospital had a doctor on staff and was available for a fee of $9 a year.

In 1936, the average cropper consumed $200 in store credits and was paid $320 in cash, resulting in total earnings of $520. If one ended the year with a deficit at the store, D&PL normally canceled the debt. The cash was typically paid on “settlement day” at the end of the harvest. Almost immediately thereafter, used car salesmen, prostitutes, and bootleggers arrived in the neighborhood from Greenville. A cropper’s entire year’s earnings might be wasted in a single day. Black-on-black homicides averaged four or five annually.

Between 1930 and 1932, D&PL reported one thousand cases of syphilis. The best treatment available at the time cost $14,000, which was shared by D&PL and the nonprofit Rosenwald Foundation. Thus, over a two-year period, D&PL invested more than twenty-two times its 1936 income to treat venereal disease among its sharecroppers. Assuming only $320 of clear cash income a year as in 1936, the average cropper would have otherwise required forty-four years to pay for the treatment costs alone.

D&PL’s presence was generally regarded as benevolent to African-Americans of the region. Even though labeling sharecropping as a “national disgrace,” Fortune concluded, “[A]ny practical solution . . . is hard to see and, even if seen, hard to preach. . . . It is possible that at Delta and Pine, you see sharecropping at its best, or say, its least objectionable.” An independent 1939 Harvard University study added scientific evidence to support Fortune’s opinion. It stated that the good diet and excellent medical care encouraged by D&PL lowered the death rate among the croppers. In response to the study, the New York Times wrote, “The Harvard experiments not only teach a valuable physiological lesson but [also] point to the sociological moral that working for an enlightened company on a sharecropping basis need not be another form of slavery.”

According to Fortune, Delta & Pine supplied “better than average cabins with tight-fitting walls [and] grooved and tongued floors.” Tenants were not, however, provided window and door screens, because “the croppers normally punch holes in the screens to let the dogs in or throw trash out.”

When Fortune asked local whites why D&PL’s black sharecroppers failed to use their earnings to purchase lands and improve their economic status, the whites replied that the croppers earned enough money to do so but most were not thrifty and lacked initiative. They compared such blacks unfavorably to Italian families who had migrated to the area after the Civil War to become cotton workers. Some second generation Italians, they said, “had become Memphis doctors and lawyers . . . or otherwise improved themselves.” At the time, however, black sharecroppers occupied such a low social rank that it may have seemed impossible to many—even among the young and ambitious—to improve their position. There were few examples to serve as role models. Those who tried likely faced obstacles from racial discrimination as the tiny number who succeeded often claimed.

Presently, Delta & Pine Land is a subsidiary of Monsanto Chemical. It is the world’s largest developer of cottonseed and controls about 70 percent of the market. Its breeding, gene-splicing, and selection technologies provide seeds that are setting new records in terms of yield, infestation resistance, and fiber quality. The genetically engineered seed is reducing the need for pesticides. It is also hugely profitable for Monsanto because insecticide costs about $150 per acre, whereas conventional seed is priced at about $8 per acre. D&PL can earn a generous profit margin by pricing its transgenic seed at $32 an acre and still lower a farmer’s overall cultivation costs. The company sold most of its cotton lands in 1978 and no longer operates the plantation.

The 1939 claim by the New York Times that D&PL’s methods indicated that sharecropping “need not be another form of slavery” warrants analysis. Sharecropping was not a choice freely made by Southerners after the Civil War. It was compelled by a regional capital shortage when the only alternative was starvation. Federal aid, or investment by outside capital, might have enabled more satisfactory arrangements, but neither was forthcoming. The South’s economic recovery was to be by its own bootstraps. Moreover, it would need to be accomplished within an environment of injurious federal policies such as protective tariffs, unfair freight rates, industrial monopolies, and discriminatory banking rules that favored the Northern states. There were consequences.
 
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Philip Leigh

formerly Harvey Johnson
Joined
Oct 22, 2014
The primary task of the Freedmans Bureau was to get the newly freed slaves to sign "contracts" with the plantation owners.

The Freedmans Bureau created to aid millions of former slaves in the postwar era . .

The $68 million collected as a federal cotton tax from 1862-68 was enough to cover the entire federal spending for the Freedman's Bureau.
 

zburkett

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 21, 2015
Location
Orange County, Virginia
The discussion of "Sharecropping" should include the circumstances of the times. The English Cattle Companies bought up much of the Western United States and their treatment of Cowboys was economically similar to the treatment of Sharecroppers. The exploitations of Miners was often worse. Many Yankee manufactures created near enslavement of their workers as explained by Ernie Ford. Chinese rail workers were certainly horribly exploited. In many ways it wasn't until after WW II that the explosion of the Great Middle Class came.
 

Philip Leigh

formerly Harvey Johnson
Joined
Oct 22, 2014
The discussion of "Sharecropping" should include the circumstances of the times. The English Cattle Companies bought up much of the Western United States and their treatment of Cowboys was economically similar to the treatment of Sharecroppers. The exploitations of Miners was often worse. Many Yankee manufactures created near enslavement of their workers as explained by Ernie Ford. Chinese rail workers were certainly horribly exploited. In many ways it wasn't until after WW II that the explosion of the Great Middle Class came.
1. America's biggest lynching was in Los Angeles during President Grant's second term. The victims were nineteen Chinese Americans. Californians detested the Chinese. That's why the state did not ratify the 14th Amendment until 1959. Chinese Americans could not even become naturalized citizens until 1943. President Grant's treatment (Page Act, 1870 Naturalization Act) of Chinese Americans suggest that he really was not interested in racial equality because he only wanted voting rights for the solitary racial minority that would be reliably Republican.

2. When reading a narrative about the settlement of the West I recall an incident about a visiting English absentee owner who approached a cowboy to ask where the visitor might find the ranch manager. "Young man," said the Englishman, "would you kindly direct me to your superior?"

"He ain't been born yet," answered the cowboy.
 

DanSBHawk

1st Lieutenant
Joined
May 8, 2015
Location
Wisconsin
The primary task of the Freedmans Bureau was to get the newly freed slaves to sign "contracts" with the plantation owners.

The Freedmans Bureau created to aid millions of former slaves in the postwar era, had to inform the freedmen and women that they could either sign labor contracts with planters or be evicted from the land they had occupied. Those who refused or resisted were eventually forced out by army troops. So wouldnt say exactly on their own at all........when its do it, or be forced out by Union troops.
I was referring to the report linked by the poster, which laid out the reasons for the system in the 1930's involving poor blacks and poor whites. The reasons I cited are given in the report, and it certainly wasn't a system that was being imposed by the north. Blaming the north is just an excuse.
 

DanSBHawk

1st Lieutenant
Joined
May 8, 2015
Location
Wisconsin
The 1939 claim by the New York Times that D&PL’s methods indicated that sharecropping “need not be another form of slavery” warrants analysis. Sharecropping was not a choice freely made by Southerners after the Civil War. It was compelled by a regional capital shortage when the only alternative was starvation. Federal aid, or investment by outside capital, might have enabled more satisfactory arrangements, but neither was forthcoming. The South’s economic recovery was to be by its own bootstraps. Moreover, it would need to be accomplished within an environment of injurious federal policies such as protective tariffs, unfair freight rates, industrial monopolies, and discriminatory banking rules that favored the Northern states. There were consequences.
This is wrong. According the 1938 report:
Some of the South 's credit difficulties have been slightly​
relieved in recent years by the extension of credit from​
Federal agencies — to the business man by the Reconstruc-​
tion Finance Corporation, to the farmer by the Farm Se-​
curity and Farm Credit Administrations, to municipalities​
by the Public Works Administration. Many other agen-​
cies, ranging from the Works Progress Administration to​
the Soil Conservation Service, have brought desperately​
needed funds into the South.​
Also, the system was not compelled primarily from a regional capital shortage. The report details the land ownership problem, with former slave-owners controlling large tracts of land, while the small farms were growing smaller by being split up for use by family descendants.
 
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