Its a scorching summer day and the clouds are even more transparent than they were yesterday. Your hands are covered in blisters and your shirt is drenched in sweat. You almost feel like your working harder than your grandfather did as a slave. You look up to the never ending sky, and you say “well… at least I have my freedom.” Then you begin to proceed your plowing, holding on to that statement for daily motivation. The real question is, what is the underlying cost of this so called “free”dom? Let us reflect on the Reconstruction era, when freedom was hardly free.
The scenario above is a possible feeling of an African American share cropper. Now before we get into what share cropping is, I will like to provide some basic background information on what life was like during the Reconstruction era. If you are familiar with some history you may already know that during this time African Americans were proclaimed to be free. What is free? Nowadays when we think of free, we connect this with no charge. In the late 1800s free meant you were not the property of another man.
Being that African Americans were the primary workers of many southern farms, you can assume that farm work was in high demand when slaves were freed. Well whos gonna run these darn farms now, landowners must of thought? I say this because someone came up with this bright idea to hire the most experienced, cheap, and desperate workers… the freed African Americans.
Instead of inquiring ones ability to do a job and paying them a fair wage for the labor provided, landowners made some pretty unfair “deals”. They provided land for farmers in exchange for a share of the crop raised on the land. So crops were used as cash, and in other words rent. What farmers didn’t realize is like most farming there is a risk. The risk is that crops can become insufficient during harvest season. It is a very unpredictable form of cash and usually this cash turns in to credit.
You can assume that this happened for years and it was almost like a trap. And if you are in a trap, you cannot possible be categorized as free. Land owners made it very difficult for African Americans to get out of this outstanding debt, especially by using the share cropping contract. This contract was in place to ensure that share croppers were buried in debt. I say this because it was illegal for farmers to sell crops to others, and it was also very possible landowners ended up with the highest percent of the share. In additional to that, this system deprived African Americans freedom by making it impossible to leave land with remaining debt, and also keeping them responsible to a list of commands. Even though in the 1940s share cropping began to decease, this still left a lasting effect on African Americans. They were forced to live in poverty and some of them never got to see the free in “free”dom.
Sharecropping. (n.d.). Retrieved September 12, 2017, from http://www.pbs.org/tpt/slavery-by-another-name/themes/sharecropping/