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Description of Sharecropping

This short essay describes the sharecropping system that supported the agricultural economy of the South after slavery.

Sharecropping is a way of farming in which a landowner allows a tenant to use his land in return for a share of the crop produced on the land. This system developed in the South after the end of the Civil War. The freed slaves were not given any land by the government and most only knew how to farm cotton. The white landowners needed workers to continue raising cotton on their land. African-American families (and many white families as well) became sharecroppers on the white-owned land.

Each family began the agricultural cycle in the spring by getting seed, supplies, and food on credit from the landowner. They planted the seeds, tended the cotton plants as they grew, and picked the cotton when it was ready to be harvested. The landowner decided on a price and paid them for the crop, but first took out the amount they owed him for the seeds, supplies, and food they had bought on credit.

Even in the best of times, the family’s share might not be enough to cover these expenses. When the price for cotton was low, this became more and more the case. Sometimes landowners cheated the African-American sharecroppers. The result was more and more debt and dependency for sharecroppers in the 1880s and 1890s. The poverty of these families was remarkable even in this generally poor region: the typical African-American sharecropping woman kept house with only a straw broom, a laundry tub, a cooking kettle, and a water pail.

African Americans had no effective way to challenge this unfair system. Many had never learned to read or write. Because they were prevented from voting or serving on juries, they had little chance of fair treatment in the court system, which was dominated by whites.

Source | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, 2011.
Creator | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning
Rights | Copyright American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Item Type | Article/Essay
Cite This document | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, “Description of Sharecropping,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed October 14, 2019, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1885.

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