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331 Thomas, Norman Mattoon 

?355p The plight of the . share-. croT>per. 

of the 

Share -Cropper 



Report of Survey 

made by Memphis Chapter L.I.D. 
and the Tyronza Socialist Party 
under the direction of 





Tte Pligki of ih 

Norman 1 lioinaafi 


made by the Memphis Chapter LJ,D. 
and the Tyronza Socialisi Party 
under the direction of 

William R. Amberson 

The League for Industrial Democracy 

112 East 1 9th Street, New York City 


It is a satisfaction to learn that the interest in the pamphlet ^ "The 
Plight of the Share-cropper f grows and continues to an extent to 
warrant its publication in a second edition* The facts as stated in 
the pamphlet standi hut time most emphatically has fnarched on 
sifice the pamphlet was written, and ttjfie has been crowded with 

Today there is an interest in America in the problems of the 
share-cropper which scarcely existed at the time the pamphlet was 
written. There is a gallant and exceedingly hopeful organization of 
agricultural workers j the Southern Tenant Farmers' Union, with 
locals in Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma and, to a less extent, in three 
other states. It 7tmnbers some 23,000 members. Alabama also has 
a share-croppers* union with an heroic record of struggle against 
persecution and actual murder. This union is on friendly terms al- 
though not in organic union with the Southern Tenant Farmers' 
Union. Its story and a summary of events up to February I, 1936 
are told in a postscript to the pamphlet. 


Copyright, 193+ 

by the 


112 East 19th Street, New York Ciy 

Manufactui-erl In the U.S.A. by the Marstln Pi-ess, New York 

University o-' " 
Austia, Texst3 


The Plight of the Share-^Croppeir 

By isroKMA:Nr Thomas 

DONER OR LATHR any scafch among the millions of exploited 
_ Americans for those most truly forgotten, to whom the 
advance of a machine age has meant the least, will bring you to the 
country where cotton is still king, a king who rewards his humblest 
subjects and his most loyal workers with poverty, pellagra, and 
illiteracy, I have seen much of the misery of city slums and some- 
thing of the poverty of mountain farmers and the dreary little towns 
which coal barons or textile manufacturers own. In none of tliem 
is life on the average so completely without comfort for the present 
or hope for the future as among the share-croppers of the South. 
Schools, hospitals, and labor unions, in varying degrees and in their 
own ways, have meant something in these other communities, but 
almost nothing to the plantation workers in the cotton country. The 
; New Deal did at least give the order to take the children out of 
: Southern textile mills. It has done nothing for the children of the 
f share-croppers. It is a question whether even the migratory fruit, 
. vegetable, and cotton pickers of the Western coast or the beet 
^^7 sugar workers are worse off in respect to diet and educational op- 
^iUJortunity for the children. I have seen a California tent school set 
i up on the borders of a camp of striking cotton pickers in the San 
Joachim Valley, and I have seen a great area in Arkansas where the 
f^ schools were first consolidated and then busses for collecting the 
(P children were dropped in the interest of economy! 
«^ But comparisons in degrees of exploitation and misery are un- 
^ profitable. The important thing for our purpose is that workers in 
the cities, and the American public generally, should know some- 
thing of the plight of the share-cropper, the effect of the New Deal 
upon him, and in general what tenant-farming means at its worst. 
Tenant farming is, of course, not peculiar to the cotton country. 
It is an outstanding problem of American agriculture, though one 
would never guess it by any measures yet taken by the Govern- 


f farmers, or indeed from the pr. 
such national farm organizations as the Grange, the Farm Fed- 
eration or even the Farmers' Union. Today more than half the 
fertile lands of Iowa are tenant-farmed. Even the practice of 
paying rent in shares of the crop is by no means confined to the 
cotton country. But share-cropping as the previiiling method of land 
tenure and cultivation is peculiarly characteristic of the cotton 
states of the South including Texas and Oklahoma. It is to be 
found in tobacco and sugar-cane country, but it presents itself most 
impressively as a social phenomenon on the cotton plantations. 

Who is the share-cropper and what is the system under which 
he works? He is a man who owns, on the average, as near to 
nothing as any man in the United States. He has no mule, no farm 
tools, no land. He may possibly possess a dog or a cow or more 
often a few scrawny chickens. He has nothing but the labor of 
himself and his family. Usually he farms a twenty to thirty acre 
tract, part of a plantation which may run from a couple of hundred 
to thousands of acres in size. The landlord stakes him, or, in local 
parlance, "furnishes" him. That is to say, he supplies seeds, a mule, 
tools, and food, directly through his own commissary or by arrange- 
ment with some merchant. Of course the landlord also furnishes 
the house, usually a shack of the meanest possible description. The 
share-cropper with his family then do all the work of planting, 
raising, and picking cotton. For this he gets at the end of the year 
lialf the price which the landlord receives for the ginned cotton. 
The tenant has nothing to say about the time or the place of the 
sale of the cotton he has grown. Out of his half he must repay all 
the advances that the landlord has made him through the company 
or plantation owned store. Moreover the landlord or the store 
keeper does the figuring, often times, as the tenant will tell you, 
with a "crooked pencil." If the tenant is illiterate it is hard for him 
to check up on this reckoning and often, especially if he is a Negro, 
he dare not protest, 

A share-cropper may live on the same plantation all his life and 
acquire no rights outside the terms of his contract. He has no such 

rights as peasants had acquired, even in the middle ages under feu- 
dalism. In England, notoriously a country of landlordism, the tenant 
farmer has, by law and by custom, rights and dignities unheard of 
in the cotton states. If a share-cropper makes any improvements in 
the house he lives in or on the place they are the landlord's without 
compensation the minute the share-cropper moves. No wonder, 
then^ that the average tenant makes no improvements and that he 
is frequently on the move in the hope of bettering himself. As a 
partial check on this continual turn-over of labor, landlords make 
it a rule not to take a share-cropper who has not paid up his debts 
on the last plantation w^icre he lived. This, of course, means 
peonage, even for the white tenant, a peonage made deeper and 
more inescapable if the tenant is further disadvantaged by being 
a Negro and therefore, in the dominant opinion, a member of an 
'^inferior" race. 

What this means to the individual and the community is fairly 
apparent even to the superficial observer if he will use his eyes at 
all. Cotton country is not all of one pattern in climate or physical 
conditions but its villages wear a common mark of poverty. In 
the rolling country of Georgia or Alabama the soil has long since 
been mined out. What cotton has not taken out of the soil the 
rains have washed away. There are few drearier sights in the world 
than the old cotton fields in January or February. On gentle slopes 
corrugated by the rain the land cries aloud to be restored again 
to the white pine forests which once it bore, but instead, along in 
March, broken down mules, yes, and broken down men, must 
prepare the land again without the benefit of fertilizer or at any rate 
of enough fertilizer, for another crop so small as to mock the 
labor of citizens of "the richest country in the world," But then 
these share-croppers aren*t really citizens. Many of the white ones 
are disfranchised as effectively as the Negroes by the poll tax. Ex- 
cept in years of unusual good fortune they subsist on food that 
nourishes not men, but pellagra. E^ven on the rich Mississippi bot- 
tom lands or the fertile plains of Texas conditions are but little 
better. The telephone poles in Eastern Arkansas carry advertise- 

m^nts of a malaria cure. Men, women, and children bear on them 
the marks of insufficient food or an unbalanced ration. To see a 
share-cropper moving with all his goods — no more than a few 
rickety chairs and a bed and his children piled into a rickety wagon 
—is to make one wonder whether he is still in the land of the 
airplane and the skyscraper. 

How many are there of these share-croppers? In the ten prin- 
cipal cotton growing states of the South there were, in 1930^ about 
a million and a half. The following table shows the different 
classes of farm operators. 



FitU Fart Tenants All 

State Omners Owners Managers Cash Others Kinds 

North Carolina USJG5 35,030 64S 9,237 128,878 279 JOS 

Soutll Carolina 45,515 8.035 an 18,370 64,498 157,931 

Georgia 70,5m y,20lJ 1,400 27,iS33 14U,85T g55,5S8 

Tennessee ..10&,S53 21,073 611 12,316 101,304 245,fi5T 

Alabama 7.'i,144 15,228 003 4fl,707 117,713 257,395 

Mississippi 77,383 8,005 SSS 27,103 198^514 = S12,4]€3 

Arkansas 72,.5fl7 , 1S,413 034 14,961 137,730 242,884 

Louisiana 40,893 S,200 ran 12,880 04,695 151,445 

Oklahoma 53,647 24,067 823 17,598 107,791 g03,866 

Texas ..,153,852 37,003 3,St4 10,874 284,7S0 495,489 

Total 10 States 820,241 178,815 10,[60 205,3fl5 1,402,170 2,612,080 

Source: Fifteenth Census of the iJiiltccI States, 1930, Vol. II, Part 3, the Soul-hern 


It mu-st be remembered that this table applies to all types of farming 
and that the tenant farntiers who do not pay in cash are well over 
50% of the total for all types of farming. It has been estimated 
that over 60% of cotton farmers are share-croppers. The individual 
or corporation owning a great plantation may lease some land for 
cash to a tenant who will himself farm part of it and sublet another 
part of it to a share-cropper. Sometimes the tenant will be a man 
who has his own mules and tools and pays the landlord, not in 
cash, but with a quarter of the crop. If he "furnishes" the share- 
cropper he collects 50% from him, passing on, of course,, 25% 
to the landlord. 

Now let us see in a little more detail how the share-cropper lives, 


His year begins in March at which time he signs or accepts a 
contract, the general nature of which I have already outlined. I 
have seen a contract in use near Tyronza, Arkansas, which con- 
tains provisions making conditions even more stringent and unfav- 
orable to the share-cropper. Curtis A. Betts, a sta£f correspondent 
of the Sl Louis Post Despatch, in an article published in that paper 
on March llth succinctly summarizes some of these additional 

"The owner reserves the right to employ any extra labor he 
deems necessary and charge its cost to the cropper*s account. 

"The cropper agrees to furnish the necessary labor to keep ditches 
open, to pay ten cents per acre for maintaining roads and ditches on 
the plantation, and to pay a supervision and management fee, which 
custom has fixed at ten cents on the dollar of advances at the store. 
The latter is not a ten percent interest charge, as none of the advances 
is for a period of as much as a year. Some may be for only a few 
weeks." The Amberson Committee's Survey (see Part II) ac- 
tually discovered a case where an advance of 25 cents on the dollar 
was charged although settlement was made the next day. In this 
case the charge was at the rate of over 9,000% interest! 

On this basis what does a share-cropper get in November or 
December when his crop is sold ? Around Tyronza, in the rich bot- 
tom lands, the crop runs, as many farmers told me, about one bale 
or 500 pounds to the acre. But this, they said, was exceptional. Mr. 
Betts reports the average in Arkansas as 188 pounds to the acre. 
The average price at the end of the 1933 season was nine and four- 
tenths cents per pound. Mr. Betts works this out in terms of the 
income to a farmer working twenty-five acres. He would produce, 
on the average 4700 pounds of cotton, the sales price for which 
would be $441.80 of which the share-cropper's half would be 

But theoretically the share-cropper, under the terms of a contract 
which the Government made with his landlord, was obliged to plow 
under 40% of this land or eight acres. He made a crop then, only 
on 17 acres which means that for his share of the crop he got only 

$150.00. Theoretically, however, he got, in addition to this, half 
of the money paid to tlie landlord for cotton plowed under. This 
half would amount to another $60.00 which would make the total 
annual income, of our average share-cropper for 1933 $210.00. 
(Please note that I emphasize the word theoretically. For reasons 
wliich will later appear we are not justified in assuming tliat the 
reduction of acreage was 40% or that it was evenly divided, or its 
benefits equally shared among tenants by landlords.) Assuming 
that in Arkansas the average share-cropper got $210.00 for his 
work m 1933, he was somewhat better off than in 1932^ when the 
price of cotton got down to five cents a pound. This $210 is for a 
whole years work ?tot of the 7Jian alone but of the entire family. 
Even children si.x years old help with the picking, if not with tlie 
chopping or hoeing of the cotton. 

Against this $210.00 that the average farmer got along in 
December had to be charged all his advances at the company store 
and the other extras already referred to. On the remainder, the 
farmer and his family had to live until late February or early 
March when tiie new contracts were signed and new advances 
begun. A share-cropper near Tyronza, whose yield was far above 
the average in the state, and whose cash income was therefore be- 
tween $375,00 and $400.00 instead of $210,00, reported that after 
settling his bills lie had less than $100.00 to support his family of 
six through the entire winter. 

This matter of income is well brouglit out in the Ambcrson 
report published in this pamphlet. There it will be seen that there 
was not a uniform reduction of acreage and nothing like a uniform 
enforcement of contracts, tliemsclves loosely drawn, which the Gov- 
ernment made with the landlord and presumably with the tenant 
and share-cropper. Hence there were variations in income. The 
Amberson report fixes the average income, on the basis of a study 
of some 300 cases, at $262.00 for the entire year. To reach this 
sum it estimates the rental value of a shack, usually unfit for human 
habitation, at $50.00. 

In cases where the contract provisions were honestly carried out 

in favor of the share-croppers they were probably a little better off 
than the year before. At least this is the opinion of Professor Calvin 
B. Hoover of Duke University wlio, following the charges which 1, 
among others, made concerning the plight of the sliare-croppers 
under AAA, was asked by the Agricultural Department to make an 
independent study of the problem. He writes: "While tlie per- 
centage of increase in cash income which a share-cropper receives 
is thus far less than that of the land-owner, it is nevertheless true 
that the cash income of the share-cropper lias not been reduced if 
the provisions of the contract are actually followed, but is Instead 
increased somewhat." This, be it noted, is the best that can be said 
for the attempt to restore prosperity by the return to scarcity, in 
so far as the man who docs tlie real work of cotton farming is 

The share-cropper then, is a man who raises cotton but cannot 
possibly afford proper underclothes for his children or sheets and 
towels for the family. He lives in the country but rarely has what 
most farmers would regard as a decent garden. A St. Louis social 
worker, at the time of the great migration of Negro workers from 
tlie plantations to tlic cities, told me that it was a common thing 
to find Negro women who did not know what so ubiquitous a 
vegetable as the carrot was or how to cook them. In his admirable 
book, Human Factors in Cotton Cultttre, Dr. Rupert Vance gives 
various tables showing the consumption of food. The range in dif- 
ferent parts of the South and in different years is considerable. 
Recently some valuable educational work has been done on the 
diversification of crops and the use of vegetables. Nevertheless, 
Dr. Vance writes: *'In tenant areas during hard times tlie cotton 
farmers' diet tends to be restricted to the * three Ms', meal, molas- 
sas, and white meat." White meat means an inferior order of pork 
or bacon. Medical studies show that this diet is pellagra producing. 

The houses match the diet. A "reasonably good" shack has two 
rooms and a lean-to. It is un painted and often tlie roof leaks. Inhere 
is the most primitive sort of out-house and a dug well It goes 
without saying that windows arc unscreened and the yard around 

the house is a hot little patch of dirt. The amusenientSj the religion, 
and the culture, which go with this economic condition are about 
what one would expect. The conditions under which cotton is cul- 
tivated mean long hours of monotonous labor from plowing time 
to picking time or about eight to nine months a year, with nothing 
mucli to do or any money to do it with during the months of leisure. 

This system of land tenure and cultivation and the way of life 
which goes Avith it have a long history behind them. As Dr. Vance 
points out, the Colonies, particularly the Southern Colonies, were 
founded on the plantation system. The King granted the land 
originally to some proprietor or great scale landlord. The idea was 
contagious. Before the Civil War cotton was a crop cultivated on 
plantations by Negro slaves. The war freed the slaves without giv- 
ing them a foot of land on which to make a living. The United 
States did far less for her freed men than at about the same time 
Russia did for her serfs. After the war the land owners had the 
land but no money to hire labor with cash. Negroes and poor whites 
had no money to buy land. Hence the transition from slavery to 
share-cropping was natural as it involved little outlay in cash. 
There was a time in the 'seventies when a break in the price of 
cotton, and hence of land, encouraged the growth of small farms 
tilled by their owners, but tiiat period passed, and from around 
1880 on, the percentage of tenantry steadily increased. So, too, did 
absentee landlordism. 

All single crop farming country is relatively poor and cotton 
has been subject to many vicissitudes of weather, price, and boll- 
weevil Along with the rest of American agriculture it has suffered 
from a high tariff policy, primarily in the interest of manufacturers 
— a policy which became popular in the South itself as the South 
got its own textile mills. This is an historical explanation for the 
abominable share-cropping system, nor is that system easily to be 
changed on any satisfactory basis into one of peasant proprietorship. 

Ever since my speech in Memphis in which I criticized the 
system, I have been reminded In editorials and in letters that 
some landlords are decent and take a benevolent interest in 

their tenants, that many landlords, especially since cotton, after the 
war boom fell to such low prices, have been harrassed men with 
troubles of their own and that the money they have advanced to 
share-croppers they also have had to borrow. But what some of tlie 
editors and my personal correspondents forget is that It does not 
justify a system to explain it historically, and that the landlord- 
tenant relation is not made right because some landlords are honest 
and conscientious and many landlords In recent years have been on 
the verge of bankruptcy. Obviously not all landlords are suffering 
or some of them would not be adding to their holdings as fast as 
are certain landlords in Eastern Arkansas. 

With a curious uniformity newspaper editorials and letters from 
landlords speak of the share-cropper system as "the best and fairest" 
that can be devised in the cotton country* It is a type of defense 
similar in tone to the old defense of slavery. One of the men who has 
used it in writing to me Is none other than Mn Oscar Johnston, 
manager of the Delta and Pine Mine Company plantation at Scott, 
Miss,, and a high official in the enforcement machinery of AAA. 
The Amberson committee gives Mr. Johnston credit for administer- 
ing the contracts on his own plantation better than in other cases 
studied although even here they found a reduction in the number 
of families employed. Yet, however conscientious an official Mr. 
Johnston may be, his enthusiastic support of the old system does 
not argue much of a New Deal in cotton growing. 

Atypical defense of this indefensible system is voiced by The Mem- 
phis Commercial Appeal; it would appear from its editorial argu- 
ment that share-croppers are ''shiftless," otherwise they would buy 
the land and fix up their homes. An extreme form of the argument 
runs to the effect that what the Negro gets is plenty good enough 
for him and probably also for the white share-cropper. Here again, 
the whole tone of this argument is reminiscent of old arguments 
in support of slavery. A Government investigator who white- 
washed conditions near Tyronza called upon the most active So- 
cialist in town and requested that there be "no more complaints 
or disturbances," adding this word of advice to the Socialist who runs 



a small dry-cleaning establishment: *'The landlords are all your 
friends and these share-croppers are a shiftless lot. There is no 
use of being concerned about them as they really don't count. They 
are here today and gone tomorrow." No wonder then, that in 
most of the cotton country to try to organize these share-croppers, 
especially if they are Negroes, is regarded by ttie dominant class 
much as the same class would regard a servile insurrection in a 
slave society. Yet as a matter of fact the share-cropper is a human 
being, neither more nor less sliiftless tlian the system makes him, 
and conceivably his very lack of landed property may make it 
easier to organize him, despite his present individualism, in support 
of the cooperative commonwealth. 

Unquestionably the share-cropper is waking up and the Roose- 
vent Administration's agricultural policy is partly responsible for 
it. It is manifestly impossible for any long period, by any device to re- 
duce cotton production and to retire 40% of the cotton acreage from 
use for cotton without driving an immense number of share-croppers 
ofF the land or changing their status on it. Already under the 
voluntary agreement the tenant got the little end of the deal. The 
government's contracts gave him inadequate protection and the 
contracts were enforced, if at all by county committees, recruited 
from the owning class or their sympathizers from whicli of course 
Negroes who are almost entirely share-croppers were excluded. 
The same situation is bound to prevail and may indeed be intensi- 
fied under the Bankhead Bill for the compulsory reduction of the 
crop. Til is is the way the matter has worked out and will work out. 

In this statement I am not dealing in generalities however logical. 
It is supported by the careful inquiry of the Amberson committee 
and also in substance by Dr. Hoover's report, to both of which 
documents I have previously referred* The Amberson committee 
was set up by the Memphis chapter of the League for Industrial 
Democracy and a local of the Socialist Party in Tyronza, Arkan- 
sas. It was headed by Professor William R. Amberson of the 
Medical School of the University of Tennessee. Tlie report is so 
valuable a document that it is published in full in this pamphlet. 


It entirely bears out the contention that there will not be a 40% 
reduction in acreage without driving a large number of families 
off the land or reducing them to the status of day laborers at 50 
to 75 cents a day witliout any right even to such miserable "ad- 
vances" as the share-cropper gets. The Amberson report illustrates 
the dubious honesty with which acreage reduction was carried out 
and the still more dubious honesty and the inequality with which its 
alleged benefits were passed on to share-croppers. You who read it 
will certainly find no reason to think that compulsory reduction, 
under the Bankhead Law, a reduction still sweetened by govern- 
ment subsidy, will be more honestly carried out. What, however, is 
immediately to the point is the conclusion of the Amberson com- 
mittee that "at least 15%, and probably 20%, of all share-cropper 
families have lost their opportunity to make a living on the land by 
the only labor which they know." It is precisely this tliat Mr. C. A. 
Cobb, chief of the cotton production of AAA, and his associate 
Mr. Oscar Johnston, denied when I first made the charge that there 
were wholesale evictions and reductions of share-croppers to the 
even more precarious plight of day laborers. 

The matter could be temporarily helped a little if the Govern- 
ment contracts were more strictly drawn with fewer loop-holes, 
such a loop-hole, for example, as the provision that the landlord 
shall "m so far as possible, maintain on this farm the number of 
tenants and other employees/' (italics mine.) Still further help 
would come if the enforcement committees were not of the land- 
lord class or if the share-croppers had organization or money 
enough to invoke the help of the courts even on the basis of an 
unsatisfactory contract. But, in the long run, important as is 
action by the Government for the better protection of share- 
croppers and organization of share-croppers to help themselves, the 
compulsory reduction of cotton production will mean the removal 
of literally hundreds of thousands of families from their normal 
employment without as yet any other work remotely in sight. 

What I have been saying about the e£fect of the law is born 
out by certain conclusions which Dr. Calvin B. Hoover reached in 



his independent study made at the request of the Agricultural 

Department. I quote: 

"1. There have been a considerable number of cases in which 
tenant farmers have not received the full amount specified by the 
1933 cotton contract. 

'*2, The operation of the acreage reduction program creates a 
motive for reducing the number of tenants on farms. The acreage 
reduction contracts have within them provisions designed to pre- 
vent this motive having effect but the system of enforcement of 
these provisions has been inadequate. 

**3. The percentage of the rental payments paid to share tenants 
and share-croppers for land withdrawn from cultivation in ac- 
cordance with the 1934 cotton contracts is less than in other con- 

*% The way in which the 1934 cotton contracts have been drawn 
has produced considerable confusion in the classification of types 
of tenantry^ Upon this classification the division of benefit pay- 
ments by Government between landowner and tenant depends." 

Assuming that the Department of Agriculture will want to 
do what it can to remedy concrete evils how far can it go and 
how far will it go especially when one remembers that the sup- 
porters of the share crop system are historically members of the 
party now in power. I shall not attempt to answer all the question 
in detail but some things are clear: 

It is quite obvious that so -desperate a situation of poverty and 
exploitation admits of no easy cure, indeed I cannot see that it 
admits of any cure at all, under the price and profit system of 

There are certain immediate things of importance that can and 
should be done. The Secretary of Agriculture should not only make 
the most stringent possible regulations to see to it that at least the 
half of the benefits of not cultivating the land, to which half the 
share-cropper would have been entitled had he cultivated the land, 
should go to him. If the present status quo is to be frozen into 

law for a year's experiment that status quo should also include a 
definite provision for the experimental period to keep all the present 
share-croppers on the land and to restore to the land those who have 
been driven out by the policy of eviction which we have reported. 

In enforcing the Banfchead Law and any other pertinent legis- 
lation and regulations under it, the Secretary of Agriculture should 
do three things: ( 1 ) He should himself take the intiative before the 
courts to enforce by law all contracts and provisions for the pro- 
tection of the share cropper. (2) He should see to it that repre- 
sentatives of the share-croppers, Negro as well as white, are on 
whatever local boards are set up. In the past all local enforcement 
authorities have been recruited from the landlord class and its sym- 
pathisers. (3) He should definitely encourage organization of the 
share-croppers in their own interest. This is far and away the most 
important protection the share-croppers can have now or in the 
future* The most friendly official cannot present organization to 
these forgotten men on a silver platter; it can be achieved only by 
their own struggle in the face of bitter opposition. But conceivably 
tlie Secretary of Agriculture can do much to smooth the way for 
organization. This organization to be efFective must be of white 
and Negro share-croppers together. 

Beyond this the share-croppers are bound up with the fate of 
agriculture in general and cotton culture in particular. They are 
now the principal victims both of an abominable system of land 
tenure and the lack of effective demand for cotton in a world 
which needs far more than it can afford to buy. Tomorrow they 
may be the victims of the mechanization of agriculture which has 
been long delayed in the cotton country. One trembles to think of 
the immediate effect of the sudden introduction of a successful and 
economical mechanical cotton-picker. It would effect the lives of 
millions of workers as could no political revolution. Yet this final 
application of machinery to cotton culture cannot and should not 
be indefinitely delayed. There is no virtue in compelling whole fam- 
ilies, down to five year old children, to indulge in such arduous 
and monotonous toil as cotton picking, if and when, machinery can 



do it better. There are enough other and better things for human 
beings to do in a properly organized society. These other and better 
things will be in the field of industry rather than in agriculture be- 
cause there is more room for expansion in the field of manufactured 
articles which men need and desire than in the provision of food 
stui¥s and cotton. The profit system can never manage this shift 
in occupations without enormous suffering nor can it indefinitely 
stabilize a backward and inefficient method of cotton culture for the 
sake of those engaged in it. 

With the problem of mechanization, Tomorrow can deal. The 
problems of landlordism and limited markets Today must face. 
Bad as landlordism in the cotton country is, it would not be a 
satisfactory solution simply to divide up the plantations among the 
working farmers. The peasant culture of Europe has shown itself 
far more responsive to Fascism and nationalism than to the ideal 
of a federation of cooperative commonwealths. Superior as a gen- 
uine peasant culture is to the plight of the share-cropper it is not 
t^ood enough for today's needs and it is too late to try to apply it in 
the dominion of King Cotton. Ideally, share-croppers should be 
assured security of tenure of their homes and the lands they cul- 
tivate, but the ultimate title to land should be vested in government 
as the agent of society. The cotton cultivator should belong to a 
cooperative which would get the benefit of expert guidance and 
a comprehensive plan. The exact degree of collectivism in agri- 
culture which may be wise is likely to vary with different crops, 
and possibly with different soils,, climate, and social backgrounds. 
It is not necessary to envisage a ruthless application of the factory 
system to farm lands in order to assert the necessary social con- 
trol. This control may be brought about, among other ways, by the 
principle of expropriating the rental value of the land by a land value 
tax; it can be carried on through the encouragement of coopera- 
tives. Under it those who love farming as a way of life may, if 
they desire it, dwell all their days in their own homes. Indeed the 
amount of functional control necessary in agriculture, planned for 
use and not profit, will be less rather than more than will be re- 

quired under the Bankhead Law which can only be enforced for 
any considerable length of time by turning the army of unemployed 
into an army of snoopers. 

It will be clear from what I have been saying that the case against 
the Bankhead Law is not a case for returning to the bad old days 
under which a system grew up which seemed to honest men to 
justify so extraordinary a measure for an enforced return to 
scarcity as the Bankhead brothers persuaded Congress and the 
Administration to accept. It is, as we have seen, not likely to be any 
more successful than the so-called voluntary reduction of acreage 
in controlling the size of the cotton crop, or if it is successful it 
will be at a terrific social price. Yet the fault lies less in this 
extraordinary piece of legislation than in the dilemma in which 
agriculture and especially cotton production finds itself under the 
price and profit system of capitalism, and a nationalistic capitalism 
at that. It is true enough that there is not, today, a market for all 
the cotton that America can produce in terms of any reasonable 
reward to workers. Yet this lack of market is not due as yet to 
the fact that the world does not need more cotton. Clearly if it were 
not for the poverty of immense sections of mankind plus the further 
handicap of well nigh prohibitive tariff barriers against trade, there 
would be an immense demand for cotton, and the United States 
would not have to fear the competition of cotton culture in the 
Soudan or certain provinces of Russia and of India. Cotton grow- 
ers must be particularly interested in that choice between economic 
nationalism and internationalism or some reasonable compromise 
between them, which Secretary Wallace has rightly insisted Amer- 
ica must make. 

What Secretary Wallace has not explained with equal clarity 
and vigor is the tragedy of an American domestic market, sup- 
posedly glutted with cotton at a time when the average use of 
cotton in the homes of America works out at a little over eleven 
pounds per capita each year. This means a little over nine pounds 
in finished goods. 

Suppose you try an experiment* Count up how many articles 


of common household use and wearing apparel are made of cotton. 
The list would include underdotlies, shirts,- overalls^ many kinds of 
dresses, some cloth suits in which cotton is mixed with wool, towels, 
sheets, pillow slips, curtains and many kinds of rugs. Now weigh 
up these articles and see how few of them make nine pounds per 
capita. Then consider the growing industrial uses for cotton and 
answer for yourself how true or how false is the statement that 
America has an over-production of cotton. It has over-production 
only in terms of effective demand, not of need. 

Capitalism and its price system were both born of scarcity. We 
shall never overcome the economy of scarcity and truly accept the 
economy of abundance until we think not in terms of what people 
can now pay, but of what collectively we might have in terms of 
our needs and our resources. This is a principle which we have 
begun to apply to a greater or less extent in supplying ourselves 
with roads and water and our children with schools. It is the 
principle which must be applied to economic production and dis- 
tribution. A degree of social control which is dangerous, hurtful, 
and of doubtful success in guaranteeing private profits to individual 
owners or producers may logically become a blessing and an 
emancipation when applied by experts under a system of social 
ownership in order to produce for use and not for private profit. 

It is to this conclusion that we are compelled to come when we 
face the impossibility of finding any cure for any of our great 
economic ills under capitalism. It is certainly a conclusion wliich 
provides the only real answer or condition of answer to the wretched 
conditions of those forgotten men, the share-croppers, who are prob- 
ably worse pinched and starved in all that ministers to life than 
any large class of American workers, except, perhaps, those who are 
chronically unemployed. For these men Socialism is the answer 
and the specific remedies suggested in the Amberson survey or in 
this pamphlet are at best but steps along the road. 

Part II 


made by Memphis Chapter L.LD. and 

ike Tyrottza Socialist Party under 

direction of PFm. R. Amberson 



The authors of the 1934 Cotton Acreage Reduction Contract, foreHeeing 
the possibility of economtc and social disorder in connection with the 
operation of their program wrote into the document a section which waa 
presumed to be a sufficient charter for the defense and protection of the 
rights of agricultural laborers. This section states that the producer shall 
"endeavor in good faith to bring about the reduction of acreage contem- 
plated in the contract in such a manner as to cause the least possible 
amount of labor^ economic and social disturbance, and to this end, Insofar 
aa possible he shall effect the acreage reduction as nearly ratably as prac- 
ticable among tenants on this farm; shall, insofar as possible^ maintain on 
this farm, the normal number of tenants and other employees; shall permit 
all tenants to continue in the occupancy of their houses on this farm, rent 
free, for the years 193+ and 1935, respectively ..." 

In spite of several ambiguities, and two loopholes, the general intention 
of the government is clear. It ts proposed to maintain the status quo on 
the cotton farms for the years 1934 and 1935. Insofar aa the number of 
employees and the conditions of their labor are concerned. All persons 
previously engaged in cotton culture, down to the humblest share-cropper, 
are to be retained, and are to share in the benefits which it is presumed 
will flow from the expected increase in price. Less labor on the part of all 
is to lead to an increased economtc security for all. 

We are not at present concerned with the validity of the basic nssump- 
tion that by such an economy of scarcity the ills of our depressed agri- 
cultural populations can be rectified. Suffice it to say that the members of 
thia committee entirely and absolutely dissent from any such proposition, 
and believe that the whole program is unsound. We are here concerned, 
however, in the study of the actual operation of the program in the field, 
and with an analysis, however rough and preliminary, of some of the 
major social effects as seen particularly in the lives of the tenant farmers 



and share-croppers, who constitute at least 90% of those affected by the 

Our cancliisions are based upon a survey of about 500 tenant and share- 
cropper families in the states of Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mis- 
sissippi, Further data has been secured in a study of transient farm famll- 
ies now resident in the city of Memphis as a result of eviction or dis- 
possession from the land which they formerly cultivated. 

A study of this type must obviously encounter very great difficulties. 
Essential records, such as the base acreage figures for the 192S-1932 
period, chosen for the purposes of calculation of 1934 acreage, and so 
specified in the contract, have not been available to us. Few share- 
cropping families have held the same land continuously over this period, 
and it seemed useless to attempt to assemble data by personal interviews 
with them. We have determined, therefore, the acreage planted in 1933, 
before the plow-up, and are able to compare the acreage for this year^ 
with that held last year. For the whole United States the original 1933 
planting, 40,929,000 acres, is only about 3% less than the 1928-32 average 
of 42,174,000 acres. For the states involved in the present survey about 
the same percentage holds. These figures are from the reports of the U. S. 
Department of Agriculture, 

The share-cropping population is constantly shifting about from one 
plantation to another, and its tenure of land has been short and uncertain. 
These people are probably the most depressed body of workers in America, 
exhibiting grave cultural, moral and intellectual deficiencies. This report 
will indicate that a considerable section of them, contrary to the intent of 
the government, are now reduced to an even lower plane than before, 
and, in many cases are being denied access to the land, and to the only 
labor that they know, and are capable of doing. In the midst of much 
uncertainty this fact stands out clearly, and wiH constitute the major 
thesis of this report. 

In the sections which follow we will first of all assemble all of our 
data in a general survey. We will then consider portions of the data, 
and in particular will attempt to analyze the situation on a group of 
plantations^ each one separately. Violations of the letter and spirit of the 
contracts assume so many different aspects that each plantation presents 
a separate problem. 


No evaluation of the present situation is complete without a description 
of the arrangements by which, since the Civil Wat-, the share-cropper, 
the tenant, and the plantation owner have proceeded to work together. 

The plantation system antedated the war, and that great conflict was 
responsible for the elimination of chattel slavery but the economic system 
which superceded it is not so very different from, and in many respects 
distinctly worse than, the pre-war slave society. Emancipation imme- 
diately severed most of the cultural ties which bound the slave to his 
white master, without conferring upon him any economic independence 
to match his new political enfranchisement. As a result vast sections 
of the colored race have never risen above the cultural level of the slave, 
and the lower classes of white labor, forced to compete with the ex-slave 
for economic opportunity, have been forced to remain on his level of 
existence. With the onset of the depression both groups of these agricultural 
laborers have been forced down and down, into an even lower existence. 

The psychology of the slave-owner has survived on many a plantation, 
and the modern riding-boss does not differ very much from his prototype 
of ante-bellum days. On some plantations a vicious system of fraud and 
intimidation has replaced the older system of direct ownership of human 

The outlines of this system may be briefly sketched. With the beginning 
of each new season the share-cropper, having nothing to offer but his own 
manual labor, and that of his family, arranges to "make a crop" wilh 
some plantation owner, or, frequently, with some other person, a tenant 
or renter^ who has contracted for a portion of the plantation. In either 
case the share-cropper, having usually exhausted his meagre returns from 
the last crop, must depend upon "furnishings-' supplied by his renter or 
plantation owner. In better years these advances, made against the grow- 
ing crop, were sometimes in cash, but all too frequently they were made 
only in kind, and consisted in credit at a store, usually one owned by 
the plantation owner. At the present time cash furnishing has practically 

Such a scheme might conceivably work out fairly well, were it not for 
the fact that human greed, unrestrained by social controls, has all too 
often used these arrangements to enrich the plantation owner and his 
agents at the expense of the workers in the fields. It has become the almost 
universal custom in the commissary stores to charge an extra profit on 
credit business, often resulting in prices which are up to 50% above cash 
prices En the same community, hi addition to this original mark-up, a 
flat 10 cents on the dollar interest is charged upon all furnishings when 
final settlement is made. This interest charge, when calculated on a yearly 
basis, amounts to at least 25% more. Some plantation owners, not content 
with this tremendous margin, charge IS, 20, or even 25 cents on the dollar. 
We have the settlement papers on one case in which the last "furnish'' 


was given on the 28th of August and 25 cents on the dollar interest was 
charged at settlement on the next day, August 29th. This figures out to 
the incredible sum of over 9000% a year interest, on this particular trans- 

As a typical instance of the overcharging which is almost universal on 
credit business in commissary stores we submit the following comparative 
figures on groceries purchased in the second week of April in an Eastern 
Arkansas town, the commissary list having been secured by a cropper on 
credit at his supply house, the cash list at an independent store: 

Commissary Price Cash Store Price 

24 lb. Flour ,$1.05 $0.95 

Salt meat, per lb 14 ,11 

4 1b. lard 45 .40 

Corn, per can 12*/^ ,10 

Salmon, per can , , ,15 .izy^ 

5 lb. sugar .34 .35 

Exorbitant commissary charges are only the beginning of the game of 
relieving the cropper of his money. These people will tell you, half humor- 
ously, half bitterly, "the deducts got me." It is well understood that the 
cropper furnishes nothing but his manual labor, and that of his family. 
All else that he needs is to be furnished, tools, mules, seed, picking sacks, 
etc. Concerning fertilizer and poison there is considerable variability in 
agreement, but in no case is the cropper supposed to pay more than half. 
At settlement time, however, many of these items have a way of appearing 
on the sheets, charged against the cropper. The whole fertilizer bill some- 
times appears, and high rents for lands used for corn or garden may be 

Finally, in the most unscrupulous cases share-croppers are denied any 
settlement whatsoever, at the season's end. Out of 333 families upon whom 
the figures pre reasonably clear our records contain Sfi cases who report 
that no settlement was ever made. In such a case the cropper ends the 
season as he began, without cash resources. Even when settlement is 
made cash is frequently not paid. The cropper is furnished with a supply 
of "dodolum" books, containing credit coupons. Such books are widely used 
at all seasons to facilitate the credit business of the commissary stores. 

We are well tiware that in justlficatinn of all these practices the planta- 
tion owner or his agents will contend that he is dealing with dishonest 
and unreliable people who will desert their crops at the slightest excuse, 
leaving him to bear the expense of finishing the harvest. There is no 


doubt that many share-croppers will behave in this manner. Dishonesty 
begets dishonesty, and economic insecurity degrades the morals of many 
of these people. A vicious atmosphere has been built up through the years 
by long habits of double-dealing on both sides. In these last terrible seasons 

(he class conflict has reached new depths of bitterness and distrust, 


In Tables 1 and 2 we submit an analysis of educational data reported 
by some 375 families. Table 1 gives the highest grade attained by men 
and women in both white and colored racial groups. Table 2 gives the 
educational status of 665 share-cropper children now of school age. 

The educational preparation of the white families is decidedly superior 
to that of the colored group. Colored illiteracy ia nearly double that for 
the whites, But neither group has succeeded in reaching that level of 
education which is found among urban populations. 

The outstanding fact about the educational data for the new generation 
is the high percentage of children who are not now attending school. 475 
children out of the 665 are reported to be out of school. Lack of school 
books, clothing and shoes, failure of bus service, and closing of schools 
are given as reasons for this situation, which is particularly serious in 
Eastern Arkansas. Unless conditions are rapidly changed the new genera- 
tion will be decidedly less well educated than its parents, poorly prepared 
though they are. 

Reports of sickness appear frequently on our cards, although medical 
data was not particularly sought. Tuberculosis, malaria, pellagra and 
venereal diseases are wide-spread. 

Information as to the net income of share-cropper families for the 
1933 season has been collected. Our data are undoubtedly rough, but serve 
to establish the approximate level of economic life upon which these people 
exist. They usually receive, of course, a cabin or shanty to live in, rent 
free. Its rental value, at the most liberal estimate, is never more than 
$50 a year. Many of these buildings are literally falling to pieces, having 
had no repairs for years. They also received their "furnish" and a cash 
or credit settlement at the season's end, provided, of course, that settle- 
ment is ever made. 

The average "furnish" reported by 302 families is $70.70 and the aver- 
age payment at settlement comes out at $62.30. In addition an amount 
must be added in for cotton picking. We can here give only approximate 
figures, calculating from the known productivity and average acreage, to 
be later discussed. Our average family raised about 10 bales, the whites 



somewhat more, the colored somewhat less, than the average, and re- 
ceived about $8.00 a bale for picking (50 cents a hundred for 1600 pounds 
of seed cotton to make one bale lint cotton) . Small amounts were also 
received in some cases as "rebate" on the value of the cotton seed after 
ginning. These items add together as follows: 

"Furnish" ,....,.. ,$70.00 

Cotton picking SO.OO 

Settlement 62.00 

Value of cabin . , , 50.00 

Total value of cotton crop .$263.00 

In addition to this money there is also occasionally some income from 
the sale of milk and eggs. Chickens constitute the only live-stock owned by 
most of these families; many of them report good fl.Dcks, Very few cows 
and pigs are owned, and practically no mnles or horses. Furniture, stoves 
and the like are of the flimsiest description and the value assigned is 
rarely as much as $50,00. Life and fire insurance are almost never held. 
Out of 331 families 6 report life insurance policies, 1 reports a sick and 
accident policy, none have fire insurance, while 83 hold burial insurance, 
with policies ranging from between $50 and $1000, average about $250, 

Occasiional odd jobs and day labor also swell the family income in 
some cases, but such work has recently been very difficult to get except 
insofar as day labor is now replacing share-cropping, in a manner later 
to be discussed. Occasionally government pensions are reported, 

Out- best share-cropper family, white, and consisting of man^ wife, and 
six children able to work in the fields, reports a furnish and settlement 
total of $?50.00. Its net income may have been as much as $1200.00. 

Our average family from all sources must have received somewhere in 
the neighborhood of $300, We thus see these people, representatives of 
a class of workers who constitute more than 50% of the population of 
some Southern states, existing in 1933 on an economic plane so low that 
its buying power was completely exhausted in obtaining the most basic 
necessities of life, food and shelter. But even so it must be recognized 
that their present predicament is no worse than that confronting thousands 
of industrial workers in the Southern cities, where low code wages, and 
part time employment are widely prevalent. 



A. THE "plow-up" IN 1933 

In making our survey we have asked each family, not only how many 
acres they had in cotton at the beginning of the 1933 season, but how many 
acres they plowed up, in fulfillment of the 1933 contract. In Chart I 
we give a summary of the data supplied by 378 families. 

In this graph it will be observed that the plow-up affected individual 
families in radically different ways, from those who plowed up none to 
those who plowed up all. 140 families or 37% plowed up no land at all, 
and 18 families or 5% plowed up all their land. 98 families or 26% 
plowed up some land, but less than the 25% specified by the contract, 103 
families or 27% plowed up more than 25%, only 37 families or 
10% plowed up the agreed 25%. The total plow-up acres were reported 
as 1647 out of an original total of 7859 acres; the plow-up percentage is 
therefore 20.9%. 

The sample is small, but there is the distinct suggestion that less land 
was actually plowed-up than was specified in the contract. Practically all 
of the families who plowed up no cotton at all worked on plantations 
which are known to have signed the 1933 contract. Graphs of individual 
plantations are essentially similar to the composite picture given in Chart I. 
There ivas undoubtedly a high degree of selection of land to be plowed up. 
We have had frequent testimony that where a whole crop was plo%ved 
under it was so handled because it was poor, and we have even had one 
well attested case where corn was plowed under in lieu of cotton. In 
some cases the "no-crop" families of the 1934 season really lost their crop 
in 1933, being at that time persuaded or forced into plowing up all of 
their cotton, where the stand was poor. Iti many cases the families report 
that no settlement for the plow-up was ever made. In a few cases families 
were evicted from their homes and denied all compensation. 

We are aware that some selection in the land to be plowed-up was 
allowed by some county committees. The high degree of selection indicated 
by our data suggests that in all probability a worse than average sample 
of cotton land was plowed under in 1933, 

The question may well be asked as to whether the testimony of the 
share-croppers is reliable on such matters as original and plow-up 
acreages. In a number of cases we have been able to compare the figures 
giving us orally by share-croppers with the written settlement sheets 
showing the credit allowed them for the plow-up ; in all cases where we 
have so checked there has been a complete, or very close, correspondence 
on the acreage figures, 


One final factor affect! [^g our figures may be mentioned. On some plan- 
tations part of the 1933 acreage was cultivated an a day labor basis, and 
a large part of this land was plt>wed-up, instead of plowing the acres 
worked by share-croppers. We cannot estimate this factor quantitatively 
but it will appreciably raise the plow-up percentage. It was sometimes 
thought to be to the advantage of the plantation owner to plow-up in this 
manner since he could thus retain all of the plow-up payments. 


In Chart II we present a graphical analysis of the data for 257 families; 
both white and colored^ who are farming land upon the same plantation 
this year as last. In moat cases these families occupy the same land as 
before ; in a few cases they have been moved to another plot on the same 
plantation. In every case the 1934 acreage is definitely known^ or has at 
least been definitely named by the plantation owner, or his agent. 

The land held by these 257 families in 1933 comprised 475+ acres. For 
1934 these famllfes report a total allotment of 3585 acres, a reduction of 
1169 acres, or 24.6% from last year. It must be emphasized that a part 
of this reduction is due to a change in the type of labor, from share- 
cropping to day labor. In spite of the inclusion of a number of such cases, 
the total reduction is very much less than the contract specifies. It has 
become very clear that the "no-crop" cases described in the next section 
are in good part due to violations of contract, and that the acreage re- 
duction has not been made "as nearly ratably as possible." The families 
retained have not been reduced as the contract specifies, hence other famil- 
ies have been thrown out of employment. 

We must recognize that in some cases there has appeared the phenom- 
enon of "big acres," and that the same land, rated at 14 acres last year, and 
actually 14 acres, has now shrunk to 10 for the 1934 season (an actual 
case in which the land in question was measured by a member of this 
committee). Insofar as this subterfuge is entering into the problem some 
of our data must be in error, but the error is in such a direction as to 
make the real acreage reduction per family less than that which we 

An inspection of Chart II will show that, out of 257 families involved 
only 32 or 12.4% have had their acreage reduced to within the 55-65% 
limits specified by the contract. 31 families, or 12.1%, have actually re- 
ceived more land than in 1933; 49 families, or 19,1% have the same 
land this year as last; 87 families, or 33.8%, have received reductions to 
between 95 and 65% of last year, while 58, or 22.6%, have been given 
less than the amount specified in the contract. 



In these latter cases it must be emphasized that there is no such reduc- 
tion in the total acreage on the whole plantation, as the individual family 
is being made to suffer. In most instances these reductions beyond the 
limits specified in the 1934 contract are associated with a partial elimina- 
tion of the share-cropping system, and the substitution of tractor cultiva- 
tion and day-labor on a large part of the plantation. This trend is very 
marked and will be discussed in a separate section below, 

c. "no-crop" families 

Our records cover 103 white families and 13 colored families, who, 
having had crops in 1933, have been unable to keep, or get any land what- 
soever in 1934. It has been one of the main objectives of this committee 
to determine, beyond any possibility of doubt, whether the acreage reduc- 
tion program has created a new agricultural unemployment, contrary to 
the plain intent of the government, and both spirit and letter of the 1934 
contract. We can state with authority that it has so operated, and can 
assert that, at a conservative estimate, at least 15%, and probably 20%, 
of all share-cropper families have lost their opportunity to make a living 
on the land by the only labor which they know. White share-croppers 
have had to bear the brunt of the reduction program, as we shall see. 

When we first discussed this problem with the AAA officials at Wash- 
ington we were assured by Mr. C. A. Cobb, Chief of the Cotton Production 
Section, in a letter as follows: 

"No case of eviction has come to our attention that in any way 
involved our contract, or has been caused because of the contract, and 
we have no evidence of wholesale evictions for any cause anywhere." 

Since that time we have interviewed dozens of families who have been 
evicted, or in whose hands there are eviction notices. (See special sections 
below for details). Many other families have been forced to move by 
pressure and intimidation, without service of papers. Most of these people 
are still living in the country, some in tents, some in abandoned houses, 
a few in such miserable shelters as corn-cribs and cotton houses* Many of 
them have drifted into the cities and towns, where they are dependent 
upon direct federal relief. We know of dozens of such cases in Memphis, 
and we have information that a similar movement is underway even to 
the smaller towns. Violations of contracts drawn by AAA, one branch 
of government, are throwing new burdens upon FERA, another branch of 
government, and until recently, neither branch appears to have been 
informed as to how its work was being affected by the other. 

Practically all of the "no-crop" families on our records are white. 
Indeed more than half of all white families covered in this survey are 


found in this group. They have lost their crops for various reasons. In 
most cases the acreage reduction program is basically responsible, but the 
high percentage of whites who have lost out is mainly due to a shift from 
white to colored labor, and in part to a simultaneous shift from share- 
cropping to day-labor. These two trends will be discussed in the following 


The acreage reduction program has operated in several ways to make 
a radical change in the condition of agricultural labor. The chief factors 
in this change appear to be as follows; 

1. By restricting production the program haa practically guaranteed a 
higher and approximately predictable price for cotton raised in 1934. The 
risks of the new season need no longer be shared with share-tenants and 


2. By throwing agricultural laborers out of employment the program 
has created such competition for the work which remains that many labor- 
ers are now forced to accept working conditions which are appreciably 
worse than they have ever heretofore endured. 

As a consequence of the operation of these and other factors there is at 

present a strong movement toward the abolition of the share-cropping 
system. Such a trend has been detectable in previous years but the move- 
ment has been greatly accelerated by the acreage reduction program. From 
all dirctions we have received reports of large plantations entirely aban- 
doning share-tenants or share-cropping, with the substitution of day-labor 
in their stead. (See case reports for details). 

Day-labor represents a lower stage of economic existence for a number 
of reasons as follows: 

(1) No "furnish" is alloived at regular intervals throughout the grow- 
ing season. Cash is rarely paid, but the laborer must take his pay in 
credit at a commissary store, at prices which are frequently exorbitant. 
He is given credit only when he works> and there are many periods of 
idleness as the crop matures. He is paid from 50 cents to 75 cents a day 
in Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas, for labor from sun-up to sun- 
down ; in Missouri the usual rate is $1.00 a day. 

(2) He has no equity in the crop when grown, and can hope to receive 
no benefit from the expected increase in price, 

(3) He cannot claim any part of either rental or parity payments under 
the 1934 contract. Indeed he is not protected in any way by that contract. 

In part because of unwillingness of white families to accept farm work 


on such a basis, in part because of a definite preference by plantation 
owners and managers for colored day laborers, many white families have 
been squeezed out of employment, to join the "no-crop" group. The shift 
from white to colored labor has often been accomplished by methods of 
brutality and deceit. In some instances white families have been moved 
out by the sheriff, on eviction writs, and replaced by colored families who 
are brought in on the promise of a share-crop. Once installed the latter 
are denied a crop, but are forced to accept day labor instead. 

Our cards contain cases of white families with long records of produc- 
tive labor on the same plantation, who have suddenly been cut off from 
all continuation of their usual farming arrangements, and either served 
with eviction notices, or offered day labor only. Even managing share 
tenants are not immune. We hold contracts so drawn that the share-tenant 
is forced to admit that he is not a managing tenant, and to give up his 
rights to rent and parity payment under the 1934 contract; he is denied 
all land unless he agrees thus to sign away his rights. 

We have made a study of the productivity of the "no-crop" families, 
as compared with that of the families which have remained. In some 
local districts there is evidence that families have been denied a crop 
because the land which they held yielded poorly in 1933, and has not 
been rented to the government; but when a large enough group is con- 
sidered we do not detect any significant difference between the produc- 
tivity of "no-crop" families, and of those who have held their lands. 
Thus 67 Arkansas families, without a crop in 1934, produced 772 bales 
on 1168 acres, an average of .66 bales to the acre, whereas 111 families 
in the same state, who remain for 1934, produced 1183 bales on 1966 
acres, an average of .60 bales to the acre. No justification for the dis- 
missal of the "no-crop" families appears in these figures. 

When we compare the performance of the two racial groups we find 
that 102 white families raised 1291 bales on 1846 acres, or an average 
of ,70 bales per acre, whereas 76 colored families raised 664 bales on 
128S acres or an average of .52 bales per acre. These figures show a 
distinctly superior productivity for the white share-cropper, and give no 
justification whatsoever for his elimination from the scene. 

I'hese production indications as to the quality of the dispossessed famil- 
ies have been confirmed in other ways. Our investigators have frequently 
reported that the "no-crop" case is well recommended by his neighbors, 
or former plantation head. These families are frequently of obvious 
character and ability above the average. 

We have attempted to confirm these Indications of superior quality in 
"no-crop" cases by asking various landlords for testimonials as to the 


character of the displaced workers. We have received a group of replies 
in which the testimony has been favorable in the great majority of cases. 

All in ail we are confident that the white families which have been 
displaced, are distinctly of superior quality in comparison with the rest 
of their groups In many cases they are losing out because of this very 
fact, either because they refuse to accept degrading conditions of tabor, 
or because their former plantation heads do not wish to suffer the em- 
barrassment of forcing white people into those conditions. In most cases 
the dispossessed white families have been given no option in the matter, 
and have not even been offered day labor. Undoubtedly some of our "no- 
crop" cases will ultimately secure day labor on the plantations, but this 
expectation cannot make amends for the loss of that higher economic status 
which, as share-croppers, they have previously held. 

We consider that this whole change in the conditions of labor is in 
flagrant defiance of both spirit and letter of the 193+ contract. It remains 
to be seen whether the AAA will recognize this type of abuse. Six weeks 
ago members of this committee called the attention of Mr. E. A. Miller, 
sent by the AAA to investigate conditions in Eastern Arkansas, to the 
existence of the shift from white to colored share-croppers, and were 
prepared to lay before him a number of cases of white families evicted 
or dispoasessed by this change. He refused to consider such a change as 
coming within his field of interest, and was concerned only with the total 
number of families on each plantation, without regard to their previous 
history or conditions of labor. Such an interpretation of the labor clause 
of the 1934 contract robs the agricultural laborer of what little defense 
he might originally have hoped to secure in that document. 

On some plantations the shift to day labor is partial only. Thus one 
large farm in Eastern Arkansas has reduced the share-cropping acreage to 
ZYs acres per adult worker, irrespective of the amount held last year. The 
rest of the farm is being operated on a day labor basis. This type of situa- 
tion is responsible for most of those cases, in Chart II, where reductions 
in acreage of more than 40% are observed. In some cases the withdrawal 
from cultivation of land handled on a day-labor basis in 1933 hag per- 
mitted a plantation to effect the reduction without reducing its cropper 
families by 40%. 


We have frequently interviewed local representatives of state and fed- 
eral governments. Many of these officials, including several sheriffs and 
deputies, have been sympathetic toward an attempt to analyze the present 
dilemma, and they have frequently aided ug; such aid has often been 
given in confidence, with manifest fear of social or poUtical reprisals if 


the assistance should be publicly known. Relief adraintsrators have been 
uniformly sympathetic and helpful. From some officials, and particularly 
from the county agents, we have had opposition and criticism, with an 
unwillingness even to discuss the problem. Plantation owners, with sev- 
eral notable exceptions, have been almost universally hostile. Many of 
them, long accustomed to feudal practices on their farms, take the position 
that no outsider is free to enter the homes of their tenants and croppers. 
In many cases county committees and county agents have given no aid 
whatsoever when appealed to by evicted or defrauded families. These 
agencies, are, in our experience, absolutely dominated by the larger 
plantation owners, and refuse even to recognize the problem, Action must 
come from Washington, 

Members of our own group have not escaped entirely unscathed. One 
investigator has been jailed. Several others have su fleered severe loss of 
business as a result of their interest; one has been forced to sell out. 


In brief recapitulation of the information contained in the preceding sec- 
tions we may state that: 

The acreage reduction program has operated to reduce the number of 
families in employment on cotton farms. In good part this is due to a 
failure, on the part of plantation owners, to reduce the acreage ratably 
among all tenants, thus forcing some tenants into the "no-crop" class. The 
number of these latter cases, according to our survey indications is at least 
15% and probably 20%, of all share-cropping families. The keen com- 
petition for places, plus the assurance of a stabilized price, has permitted 
many plantation owners to eliminate the share-cropping system, in whole 
or in part, forcing the former share-croppers to accept day labor instead, 
a. lower economic status. Associated with this change in the condition of 
labor there has been widespread replacement of white by colored labor, 
so that the white families constitute the great majority of the "no-crop" 

It is our opinion that these trends are in violation of both spirit and 
letter of the government's contract and program. It is seen that the labor 
clause of the 1934 contract has in many cases failed to protect the 
humbler laborers from dismissal or exploitation on a lower scale of labor. 
These abuses are so wide-spread that a rectification of the situation 
through legal action is impossible. It must now be recognized that the 
adoption of an economy of scarcity, through reduction in acreage and 
production, must inevitably lead to agricultural unemployment^ particularly 


when the products of the rented acres may not be sold upon the open 

It appears to us that no contract can be drawn which will prevent 
this contraction in employment nnder such circumstances, and that the 
framers of the 1934 contract were exceedingly naive in assuming that 
they could prevent such consequences by the insertion of such pro- 
visions as those of Section 7. 

Accepting the commitment of the Administration to this program as 
irrevocable, at least for 19U and 193S, we must search for ways and 
means ta mitigate^ as far as poHsible, the blow which is falling upon the 
lower classes of agricultural labor. We advance the fallowing recom- 

(1) That, through its representatives and county agents the Depart- 
ment of Agticulture examine the working conditions of all cotton farm 
laborerSj and insist that, wherever a former share-cropper has been forced 
to accept day labor against his will, he be given the option of returning to 
his former arrangement. If immediate action is taken this trend may be 

(2) That the Department assume direct control of enough of its rented 
acres to accommodate the "no-crop'^ families who should be returned to 
the soil Bn quickly as possible. Subsistence farming as a very minimum, 
and the development of new agricultural pursuits as a possible maximum 
program should be immediately considered. 

(3) That in such a program it be recognized that most of the laborers 
under consideration are poorly prepared to work individually and Inde- 
pendently. "Forty acres and a mule," is not the slogan to adopt. Par- 
ticularly if new forms of agricultui-al production are to be attempted 
expert guidance will be necessary in a broad program of education and 
technical direction, preferably, we believe, in co-operative efforts in- 
volving groups of workers, 

{4} For their own protection and economic education we consider that 
the right of these and nil other agricultural laborers to organize and 
bargain collectively should be proclaimed by the Administration, in a 
manner entirely similar to the policy already adopted for industrial 

In conclusion we may state that our findings ace in agreement with the 
predictions made by Powell and Cutler, (^'Tightening the Cotton Belt/' 
liarpei-Sj February, 1934). They clearly saw most of the consequences 
which we have here discerned on the basis of case studies. The present 
report is admittedly an emergency study, designed to outline a situation 


and call attention to certain major abuses. Our sample is small, but 

we believe it to be representative. However we can only assert that we 
have secured an approximately true picture for the regions covered, ac- 
cording to the testimony of the families which we have interviewed. 

l^Is study has been carried through by committees of the Memphis 
members of the League for Industrial Democracy, and of Local Tyronza, 
Socialist Party of Arkansas, working in collaboration with Norriiian 
Thomas, Executive Director of the League for Industrial Democracy, 









latYr. H.S. 
211.1 Yr, H.S. 
8 Id Yr. H.S. 
4th Yr. H.S. 


Men Women Total 




































3feM IF < 











































Children between Ave and eighteen years of age, of both saxes 































1st Yr. H.S. 


2nd Yr. H.S. 


3rd Yr. H.S, 


4th Yr. H.S. 





Of »l» white children of school age 100 or 31.3% are In school. 
219 or »8.7% are not going to school. 
Of 84a colored children of school age 00 or 28% are in school. 
250 or 74% are not going to school. 



The most important development since this pamphlet was first 
written far exceeding in significance any law, passed or proposed, 
has been the rise and growth of the Soutlicrn Tenant Farmers* 
Union. So much intelligent heroism has gone into the building of 
that union that one mentions particular individuals with hesi- 
tancy. The story of the union is told in some detail in Howard 
Kester's little book "Revolt Among the Sharecroppers" soon to be 
published. Mr. Kester does not say that he himself along with men 
whom he does mention like H. L. Mitchell, J. R. Butler, E. A. Mc- 
Kinney, and others deserve an everlasting place in labor's honor 
role for their leadership in this cause. 

The union was begun in Eastern Arkansas in the summer of 
1934. It took in white and colored share-croppers and agricultural 
workers on a basis of equality of fraternity. It developed moderate 
demands for the immediate improvement of the lot of the casual 
day laborers in the cotton fields and for contracts more favorable 
to the share-croppers. Its growth was met by a first wave of 
terrorism in the winter of 1934-'35. Its organizers were arrested, 
beaten, thrown into jail. Ward Rogers, a young Methodist preach- 
er, who at the time was a teacher in workers' education classes 
under F,E.R.A. was arrested and convicted for anarchy because 
of a speech he made in defense of the right of these people to or- 
ganize. He had previously incurred the hostility of the dominant 
elements of the planting class because in his adult education work 
he had insisted on treating Negroes like human beings. Mr. Rodgers 
case was defended by a brave Southern lawyer, Mr. Carpenter of 
Marked Tree, Arkansas, who also was able to obtain the release 
of some of the people who had been wrongfully imprisoned. The 
Rodgers case as I write is still under appeal and he is out on 
bail. One result of his conviction was the great increase of public 
knowledge of, and interest in, the pliglit of the share-croppers. 
For a time there was an abatement of tlie terror. The government 
sent an investigator, Mrs. Mary O'Connor Myer, to investigate 
conditions on particular plantations. It was generally understood 
in Eastern Arkansas that her report was a severe condemnation of 


the tactics of the planters. Secretary Wallace, however, succcess- 
fully resisted every demand for its publication. 

The abatement of the terror was short lived. In the spring of 
1935, E. A. McKinney, Negro Vice President of the Union who 
had gone North to plead its cause, was prevented on pain of death 
from returning to his little farm in Arkansas, His family fled for 
safety across the Mississippi to Memphis. Two young relatives 
whom he left in charge of the farm were shot by night riders who 
surrounded the little cabin while they slept and opened fire upon 
the house. Another Negro, a local p readier prominent in the affairs 
of the union, Mr. Brookins, had a narrow escape. His cabin also 
was surrounded by tliese gallant white men wJio show the "su- 
premacy" of their race by riding at night. They, after the manner 
of night riders, without warning opened up fire on the house. The 
next morning 32 bullet holes were counted. Fortunately he escaped. 

The small town of Birdsong, Ark., saw two meetings broken 
up by armed mobs of planters. I was a speaker at the second of 
those meetings. I was finally warned by a man who identified him- 
self as a representative of the sheriff but who had previously acted 
as a member of the mob, tliat he could not protect me against 
superior force nor could he protect the innocent people in the 
audience. Therefore he urged me to yield to force. He admitted 
that nothing we were doing or saying was in any way illegal but 
still he advised us to yield. We got into our car and were followed 
by armed men all the way to the county line. 

In spite of terror the union grew. It extended its activities to 
Oklahoma and Texas where there has been less persecution. In 
the late summer and early fall of 1935 it conducted a partially 
successful strike on some great plantations in Arkansas where it 
raised wages for cotton picking from 20 cents a hundred pounds 
to 75 cents. 

By the first week-end of the new year, 1936, tlie union was able 
to hold a convention in Little Rock, Arkansas and to report 23,000 
members. Its work had won the endorsement of the American 
Federation of Labor Convention in Atlantic City and its white 
and colored delegates were therefore addressed by prominent repre- 


sentatives of the labor movement. The convention endorsed in prin- 
ciple a plan for socialization of cotton lands and the cultivation 
of cotton by cooperatives with the advice and direction of govern- 
ment experts. 

It was, perhaps, the very success of this convention which again 
intensified terrorism. The trouble began this time on the Dibble 
plantation. This planter stilled owed many of his tenants on account 
of the cotton settlement and also for their miserable share of parity 
payments from the government. Before these claims were adjusted 
he threatened to evict members of the Southern Tenant Farmers^ 
Union. Suddenly he carried out his threat. On a cold winter's day 
more than a hundred human beings were put out on the road, 28 
of them children under six years of age. They were given no extra 
clothing, no food at all, no shelter. They were even denied the right 
to gather firewood. They were treated as decent men do not treat 

That they stood it at all is perhaps due to a long training in 
slavery. I have myself seen a family put out beside the road at a 
time when there was no particular terror. This family, a white 
family, told a well substantiated story which ran about as follows: 
Their thirteen year old daughter had been abducted by a riding 
boss. After about two weeks the father had recovered her and had 
begun legal proceedings. When he went to the local court on the 
day set for trial the local justice sent him home with the assurance 
that the planter had been in and settled matters! On arrival at the 
miserable cabin he called home he was beaten up by some riding 
bosses on the allegation that he had stolen a couple of eggs, A few 
days later his family was put out by the side of the road. The whole 
proceedings were too usual to arouse much indignation. There isn't 
much difference in the treatment of white and colored. share-croppers 
except that the whites can be called Mister and perhaps that the 
whites are a little less likely to be shot by some planter in cold 
blood with complete impunity. It is this sort of background which 
explains how men and women and children can be put out on the 
road without creating something close to open rebellion. 

There were, however, protest meetings held under the auspices 


of the union which was determined to preserve order. Again plant- 
ers broke up those meetings. At one of them two men were shot in 
the back. At another Howard Kester was almost lynched. No legal 
action was taken except that four union men were sent to jail for 
rioting after a trial which their lawyer was prevented from attend- 
ing by threat of death. Once more the union saw that the publicity 
which had somewhat helped in times gone by. It is certain that 
not forever can these things go on without creating a condition of 
massacre or guerilla warfare. The responsibility for that tragedy 
will rest first of all upon the planters and, second, public oflficials 
from county sheriffs up to President Roosevelt in Washington , 
who find no way to protect the legitimate rights of Americans. 
Finally it will rest upon a public apathetic to such enormous 
wrongs. How can we expect to prevent Fascism in America when 
these things happen under nominal democracy and when they are 
justified even by preachers! It is worthy to note in passing that 
the pastor of the leading Methodist Church in Marked Tree, a 
certain J. Abner Sage, has made himself the spokesman for the 

The course of events which I have just described has been lit- 
tle affected by further developments of A.A.A. Neither A.A.A. 
nor the compulsory cotton reduction law, to which Senator Bank- 
head's name was attach ed, bring blessings to the share-croppers. 
They live on credit and get little money. Those who still had land 
usually found their credit was reduced because the credit goes 
along with the number of acres cultivated, and the number of acres 
was reduced. They were cheated much as before and the Federal 
government did little or nothing to help them. It should be made 
plain that this Administration is as devoted to states' rights as the 
strictest constructionist on the Supreme Court bench as we have 
discovered whenever the Administration is asked to help the share- 
croppers under a cotton economy which has been so profoundly 
affected by Federal action. 

Of course the plight of the share-croppers goes deeper than the 
question of A.A.A. It will not be materially affected for better by 
the death of A.A.A. and compulsory cotton reduction. Certainly it 


will not be affected for the better under the states' rights dogma to 
which the majority of the Supreme Court delivered over the farm- 
ers of America. The unnumbered families driven out by the cotton 
reduction program will scarcely be put back to work under any 
substitute. No substitute the government will devise can alter the 
relentless march of the cotton picking machine. The Rust Brothers 
who have perfected a machine which is bound to replace hand 
picking on the rich flatlands of the Mississippi Valley, Oklahoma, 
Texas and the irrigated country of Arizona, New Mexico and 
California, are by no means unsocial. They made the surprising 
offer to trustee their profits for the benefit of workers displaced by 
the machines if a labor union or cooperative would advance work- 
ing capital on which, it would get a limited return. They argue 
with force that if we know no other way to deliver men from 
unemployment than to make work for them why not abolish the 
cotton gin and let hand labor take out the seeds. That can be done 
all through the winter whereas cotton can only be picked in a 
short season. It is not the abolition of the machine but the con- 
trol of the machine for human good that is required. 

No such social control of the machine or of the land is envisaged 
in a second bill to which Senator Bankhead^s name is attached. This 
is the bill which sets up a government fund of one billion dollars 
to be used to acquire land, which land is to be sold in small farms 
to tenants and agricultural workers. They will make repayment at 
the rate of interest at which the government gets this money plus 
a small charge for administration through a period not to exceed 
sixty years. The argument for such a bill is largely based on experi- 
ence in Denmark and Ireland where conditions are very difficult 
than they are in the cotton country with the coming of the machine 
age. It will provide at best a subsidized peasantry which is not the 
way to deal with agriculture at this stage of our development. 
Despite the kind of unthinking liberal support which the bill has 
got it will be positively dangerous unless at the very least it is 
amended in certain particulars. These are: 

1. The expenditure of government funds must be regulated so 
that the real purpose of the bill will not prove to be, as it probably 


is today, a desire to bail out banks, mortgage companies, landlords 
with surplus lands by taking inferior land oflF their hands at a high 
price. The protections even in the second writing of the bill are 
grossly inadequate. 

2. A great deal more protection must be given to the man who 
sets up farming under this bill. At present the only advantage he 
gets is the difference between the rate at which he could get money 
from the government and from private companies. There is also 
some vague promise of government help by supervision. This does 
not spell the difference between success and failure for the small 
landowner in the cotton country where small land holdings have 
progressively declined in the last decade. 

3. There is no provision against race discrimination which is 
openly practiced by local committees. 

4. There is no adequate provision to build cooperatives for the 
solution of the cotton problem rather than to try to throw it into 
the lap of the hard pressed small farmer. 

The reader will recognize that in this running narrative of 
developments since the original pamphlet was written I am writing 
a continuing story. Even before this edition of the pamphlet is pub- 
lished some new crisis or new emergency may develop. But the basic 
facts of the plight of the share-cropper will not suddenly be 
changed. The history that has been written since the first appear- 
ance of the pampliletj a history briefly summarized in this post- 
script, emphasizes the need of action to protect and encourage the 
organization of share-croppers and to end the plantation system. 
There is no development on the horizon that can do more than 
underscore and reiterate this emphasis. The average American 
citizen who is interested can do no single thing better than to give 
help and support to the Southern Tenant Farmers' Union its strug- 
gle. It cannot finance itself owing to the desperate poverty of the 
members. Funds for organization, relief,- and legal action have in 
some measure been raised by the Emergency Committee for Strikers 
Relief, 112 East 19th Street, New York City, which will be glad 
to see that any gifts sent it are properly used for this tremendously 
vital and encouraging work. 

Norman Thomas 



Publications of the League for Industrial Dranocrocy 


Why I Am A Socialist (L.l.D.) 

The Pllffht of the Sharecropper (I.„LD,) '^"'' ' '" ! !^'i;';i."^;^''''"''^" 

Ho-.v America Ltvea (LJ.D.) „„ 

America la the Depreasimi. Supplement to " How" Americii' Lives" ' 

Incentives Under Capitftltam and Socialism (L.I.U.) 

Pubttc Owjierjshlp Here and Ai>rtMKi (L.l.D.) 

UncmpJoyment and Its ileinetifcs (LJ.D.) 

Socialtat I'latinlnR and a Socialifrt I'rog mm— Edited i>y Dr, Laidier 

Ihe ConstJtutioji In a Changing America (L.LD,) , 


Wiwte and the Machine Age (L.l.D J 

Vwjt Old Competition (L.LD.) ....."".^''.r.l!"":".'..;. 


Education and a New SiJcial Order (L.l.D,) 
HAROLD J. LASKI— Kar! Murx (LJ.D.) 

Fascism. A DiaKnosiii of the Causes of Fascbm L!".."7,"" 

ELIZABETH YARD— Strikes Under the New Deal (LJ.D.) 

HOWARD KESTEll—Uevolt Among the Sharecroppera„..„ ..., 

JOSEPH P. LASH-^^-Cnflipua Strikes Against War (L.l.D.) 
JOHN BAUER— America's StruggJe for Electric Power (LJ.D.) 

HELEN ALFRED— Municipal Housing 

Looking Forward, Discuaaion Outlinea, 1M4, lUS. l@3fl '.""I'.I.", 

HERRERT SOLOW— Union Smashing in Sacramento 

^''l^"i??" '^"«y'^*i a»d Moderation— The Case of An^felo Herndon 

IL50 per too or , , . _ _ 

Tampa— Tar and Terror— H. 50 per lf)0 or .... 

The Scottsboro Case— The Scottaboro Defense 'committee 

The Trutli AIx>ut the Waterfront—Iiiternatioiiai Longshoremen's Ass'n 
WALTER WILSON—Militia— Friend or Foe of Liberty 

,, _ BOOKS 


War— No Profit, No Glory, No Need (Stokes, 1085) ....... i so 

Human Exploitations (Stokea) ■"' 275 

The Clioicc Before Us (Macmillan, lfl34) " ' " " ' s'so 

Ag T See It (Macmillan) , 200 

Anierica'a Way Out (Macmillan) '..'^''Z'^'Z'.'ZZI'Z.[ 2.1H) 


A Program for America ^ m 

Socializing our Democracy (Harpers, 1885) ..""'". " am 

, Concentration of Control In American Industry (Crovpeiii aVfl 

The Road Ahead (Crowcll) . . ^'oy 

History of Socialist Thought (Crowell) '...I.Z.Z1Z, also 

(Lower Fvi^^ for QuantiPy Order») 


112 Easi rath Street, New York City