Sharecropper Plantations

In 1864, after the Civil War (or War between the States as Southerners call  it), planters no longer had slaves as their guaranteed work force. The freed ex-slaves wanted their independence and many moved away to other plantations. In order to keep blacks on their farms, planters developed tenant farming, of either the sharecropping or cash rent kind. Black farm "hands" provided their labor, while the owners provided the land that they had kept from before the Civil War/War between the States and the necessary inputs, such as mules, tools, and seeds. The black farmers and white owners "shared" in the harvest in varying ratios, frequently 1:3 or 1:4, respectively. Income was frequently inadequate to survive throughout the year so planters would "give" their black families credit at their commissionaires (planter-owned stores on or near the plantation). Poor white farmers also participated in sharecropping, an institution particularly associated with the South although also found in the Midwest. [Sharecropping was and still is used in other parts of the USA as well. For a particularly nasty form associated with strawberry production in California, read Eric Schlosser, Reefer Madness (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003), pp. 83-88.]

Two examples of changing land holdings:


Black families were assigned plots of land, where they built their cabins, and provided with a mule by their respective landlords, who continued to live in the "Big House." This practice of  "40 acres and a mule" resulted in a dispersed rural settlement pattern of

In 1995 and 1996, small rural black churches
were the target of arsons throughout the South.
Source of map: USA Today.

Sharecropping was very distinctive to the South after the Civil War until the 1940s.
As late as 1936, about 60 percent of plantations were organized into sharecropper units.


What has changed on this plantation since the War between the States?

Answers:

Plantations changed from sharecropping to neo-plantations during the 1940s.


Source for the different forms of plantations: Merle Prunty, "The Renaissance of the Southern Plantation," Geographical Review, Vol. 65, No. 4 (October 1955), pp. 459-491.

 

Created by Ingolf Vogeler on 1 February 1996; latest revised on 09 March 2005.
Thanks to Greg Nelms for suggesting improvements for this page.