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After the Civil War, America debated how to handle the millions of freed slaves. The eventual outcome was a system of sharecropping, in which plantation owners retained possession of their land and allowed freedmen to farm small parts of it. In return, the landowner received a percentage of the crop. The documents below include a photograph of sharecroppers and a sharecropping contract. As you examine them, compare the sharecropping system to the Radical Republican’s plan to give each freedman “40 \;\mathrm{acres} and a mule.” Which would be better for the freed slaves? Which would be better for the landowners? Which would be fairer?

Black Sharecroppers Picking Cotton in Georgia

Source: Black sharecroppers picking cotton in Georgia, photograph by T.W. Ingersoll, 1898. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.(Figure below).

Question:

  1. Describe what you see in this picture. What is this a picture of? Why do you think that?

A Sharecropping Contract: 1882

Source: A sharecropping contract from 1882, from the collection of Grimes Family Papers held in the Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

To every one applying to rent land upon shares, the following conditions must be read, and agreed to. To every 30 and 35 \;\mathrm{acres}, I agree to furnish the team, plow, and farming implements, except cotton planters, and I do not agree to furnish a cart to every cropper. The croppers are to have half of the cotton, corn, and fodder (and peas and pumpkins and potatoes if any are planted) if the following conditions are complied with, but-if not-they are to have only two-fifths (2/5)....

For every mule or horse furnished by me there must be 1000 good sized rails... hauled, and the fence repaired as far as they will go, the fence to be torn down and put up from the bottom if I so direct. All croppers to haul rails and work on fence whenever I may order. Rails to be split when I may say.... The rails must be split and the fence repaired before corn is planted....

[N]o cotton must be planted by croppers in their home patches.... No cropper is to work off the plantation when there is any work to be done on the land he has rented, or when his work is needed by me or other croppers....

Every cropper must be responsible for all gear and farming implements placed in his hands, and if not returned must be paid for unless it is worn out by use....

Nothing to be sold from their crops, nor fodder nor corn to be carried out of the fields until my rent is all paid, and all amounts they owe me and for which I am responsible are paid in full....

I am to gin & pack all the cotton and charge every cropper an eighteenth of his part, the cropper to furnish his part of the bagging, ties, & twine....

The sale of every cropper's part of the cotton to be made by me when and where I choose to sell, and after deducting all they owe me...

Questions:

  1. Sourcing: When and where was this contract written?
  2. What did the sharecropper have to do in order to use the plantation owner’s land, farming tools, and mules?
  3. Do you think this is a fair contract? Why or Why not?
  4. Close Reading: What parts of this contract do you think caused the sharecroppers to be in debt to plantation owners?
  5. Does this contract seem more or less extreme than the impression you had of sharecropping after you read the textbook? Explain.

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CK.SOC.ENG.SE.1.History-U.S.-Basic.5.6

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