Sharecropping and Civil Rights

Although the 13th Amendment outlawed slavery, the lack of money in the American South in the wake of the Civil War made wage labor scarce as well. Sharecropping, in which tenant farmers paid a portion of their crop yield in exchange for use of the land, kept plantations running. And it left African American farmers in a state of constant precarity that made it even more difficult for them to challenge Jim Crow system well into the 20th century.

In Search of George Washington Carver’s True Legacy

The famed agriculturalist deserves to be known for much more than peanuts.
How the system of sharecropping discouraged farmers' investment in land that from which they might be evicted at any time, and how Carver's techniques helped farmers to succeed under oppressive conditions.

The Ghosts of Elaine, Arkansas, 1919

In America’s bloody history of racial violence, the little-known Elaine Massacre may rank as the deadliest.
When sharecroppers attempted to unionize in 1919, the sheriff declared it an insurrection and called white vigilantes and federal troops to perpetrate a deadly backlash.
A man sitting on a table.

A More Perfect Union

On the Black labor organizers who fought for civil rights after Reconstruction and through the twentieth century.
Even in the 1930s, in a political climate more open to unionizing, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters could not count on support from white trade unions, so they allied with the farmworkers in the Alabama Sharecroppers Union and the Southern Tenant Farmers Union for advocacy at the intersection of labor and civil rights.
A Japanese mother and daughter, farmworkers in California, photographed in 1937 by Dorothea Lange

Whitewashing the Great Depression

How the preeminent photographic record of the period excluded people of color from the nation’s self-image.
Despite the prevalence of Black sharecroppers, and the existence of many New Deal photographs of people of color, the Farm Security Administration's curation of photography presented the victims of the Great Depression as predominantly white, in images still etched into Americans' collective memory.