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Agricultural Tenancy: Sharecropping in the 20th Century

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

Tenant farming and sharecropping began after the Civil War. Landowners allowed the former slaves to stay on the land and farm 20 or 40 acres. Since the ex-slaves didn’t have money, the landlords funded them, and bought the equipment and supplies they needed for farming. After harvest, when the crops sold, the landowner took back the amount he forwarded, and split the proceeds. Generally, the split was fifty-fifty.

Tenant Farming and Sharecropping

Tenant farming started in the South, but variations spread to the Northern states and West as the country grew. The practice came to include white farmers. Tenant farming definition would be a landowner sharing crop proceeds with a tenant for land use. If the farmer had equipment, animals and seed the split would be the amount of the harvest because the landowner didn’t have to advance any money. Another version of agricultural tenancy would be cash rent. The tenant could pay cash rent for the land and keep the proceeds of the crop for himself. Paying the rent early in the year is front payment. Late in the year is back payment

The Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act

The Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act was another bill passed during the great depression. The Bankhead-Jones acts purpose was to conserve land, stop erosion, promote reforestation, conserve resources and start wildlife and fishery preserves. Oklahoma was the site of the dust bowl and one of the reasons for the bill. John Steinbeck’s book, The Grapes of Wrath is about Oklahoma at the time of the dust bowl.

Another 1930s depression program paid landowners to not plant some of their land. The object of this program was to cut the supply of crops with the intent of raising prices. This program hurt the sharecroppers because the property owner would release the tenant from the land. The tenant would be out of work and have to find land to farm or get some other kind of job.

The Grapes Of Wrath - Steinbeck Centennial Edition
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Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men is a book written by James Agee with photographs by Walker Evans. During the late 1930s Agee and Evans lived with three sharecropping families in the Deep South. It is somewhat of a mess. It rambles, jumps around and gets off topic. With all that it’s still a terrific book, and used in college classes. Agee gives lots of detail, the texture of a towel to dry your face and hands, the photos and drawings torn out of magazines to put on the wall and the texture of the wooden walls. It is this detail and his description of the farmers hardships during the depression that make it worth reading.



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