Sharecropping Essay

Essay 1: The history of black-white relations in the United States from Reconstruction to the Progressive era. 600,000 Americans died in the Civil War. With this the 13 th Amendment was established, abolishing slavery. The Freedman’s Bureau was established, to help African Americans receive an education and rights. Slaves began to move out, look for family, or work for their ex.Masters. Slaves tried to gain control over their lives. From Reconstruction to the Progressive era, Blacks struggled to find their new place in American, gaining rights, but in the end, losing their rights as America’s necessity to become whole out prioritized their rights. Basic rights given to Africans Freedman’s Bureau was made to reform black life, and represent them against the South. Thousands of schools were founded, and idealistic northerners came to the South to help Africans attend school and get used to their new lives as freedmans. Blacks and Northerners raised money for schools and teachers. The effort that the Northerns and freedmans showed in educating freedman was impeccable. Since Blacks could not afford land, they had to go through the process of sharecropping with white landowners. They were able to work and live on the land, but had to pay a majority of their crop in order to sustain this policy. Sharecropping ends up an economic disaster, putting Black people into debt due to the price of the land, tools, and crops. Andrew Johnson’s period of Reconstruction When Andrew Johnson replaced Lincoln as president, Reconstruction took a turn for the worse. Andrew Johnson was a Southern Democrat, and was very lenient towards the Southerners. He did not allow Congress to make any form of reconstruction, saying they had no power to legislate upon that subject. He was in favor of Blacks being emancipated, but did not support Black political and Civil rights. He thought of them as inferior, and did not believe they did not deserve any major rights past being free. He denied Africans the rights to vote. He was also very lenient to the South, not punishing most of the Rebels and giving them the time and options to fight against the idea of

Sharecropper contract, 1867

A Spotlight on a Primary Source by Isham G. Bailey

Immediately after the Civil War, many former slaves established subsistence farms on land that had been abandoned by fleeing white Southerners. President Andrew Johnson, a Democrat and a former slaveholder, soon restored this land to its white owners, reducing many freed slaves to economic dependency on the South’s old planter class.

The freedmen, who wanted autonomy and independence, refused to sign contracts that required gang labor, and sharecropping emerged as a compromise. Landowners divided plantations into 20- to 50-acre plots suitable for farming by a single family. In exchange for the use of land, a cabin, and supplies, sharecroppers agreed to raise a cash crop and give a portion, usually 50 percent, of the crop to their landlord. Landowners extended credit to sharecroppers to buy goods and charged high interest rates, sometimes as high as 70 percent a year, creating a system of economic dependence and poverty.

This 1867 contract between landowner Isham G. Bailey in Marshall County, Mississippi, and two freedmen stipulates different arrangements for each man’s family. Both Charles Roberts and Cooper Hughs were to raise cotton and corn and give more than half of the cotton and two-thirds of the corn they raised to Bailey, but the Roberts family was to receive 487 pounds of meat to the Hughs family’s 550 pounds. Additionally, Charles Roberts and his wife agreed to do housework for an additional $50 a year, while the Hughs family agreed to tend the livestock for no additional compensation.

As a symbol of their newly won independence, freedmen had teams of mules drag their former slave cabins away from the slave quarters into their own fields. Wives and daughters sharply reduced their labor in the fields and instead devoted more time to home and childcare. But the exploitative sharecropping system also helped ensure that the South’s economy became almost entirely dependent on a single crop—cotton—and an increasing number of Southerners, white and black, were reduced to tenant farming, working as laborers on land they did not own.

A full transcript is available.


. . . the said Cooper Hughs Freedman with his wife and one other woman, and the said Charles Roberts with his wife Hannah and one boy are to work on said farm and to cultivate forty acres in corn and twenty acres in cotton, to assist in putting the fences on said farm in good order and to keep them so and to do all other work on said farm necessary to be done to keep the same in good order and to raise a good crop and to be under the control and directions of said IG Bailey and to receive for their said services one half of the cotton and one third of the corn and fodder raised by them on said farm in said year 1867 and the said Charles Roberts Freedman with his wife Hannah further agrees and binds themselves to do the washing and Ironing, and all other necessary house work for said IG Bailey and his family during said year 1867 and to receive for their said services fifty dollars in money at the expiration of said year 1867 and the said Cooper Hughs Freedman further agrees and binds himself to give the necessary attention of feeding the Stock of cattle and milking the cows twice daily belong to said IG Bailey, and do the churning when ever necessary during the said year . . .

Questions for Discussion

Read the document introduction and the transcript and apply your knowledge of American history in order to answer the questions that follow.

  1. In what ways did African Americans in the South demonstrate an understanding of their newly gained rights?
  2. Critics of sharecropping claimed it was “slavery with a paycheck.” To what extent do you agree or disagree with this evaluation? Explain your answer.
  3. In what ways did sharecropping perpetuate (continue) the dependence of African Americans on white landowners?
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