African Americans in the
The most abject of America's rural people were not Okies. They were the African Americans who farmed in the South, especially the lower Cotton South; they lived in the poorest region in the United States and were the poorest people living there. But beyond this, again unlike the Okies, they were ensnared in a comprehensive and exceptionally hostile racial system, designed and enforced to perpetuate their poverty. Rural African Americans in the Cotton South epitomized these disadvantages since the onus of the caste system fell heaviest on them. The fact that most of them remained positive about the future, especially in the decade of depression, is one of history's important legacies to the strength of human spirit.
In the 1930s, most American blacks still lived in the South and most of them in its cotton-growing black belt, stretching from the Carolinas through the lower South to the rich delta lands of Mississippi and Louisiana. Only a small number there, perhaps 10 to 12% of all blacks who farmed, owned their own land, usually small plots that produced smaller income than lands held by white landowners. 1 Even their independence was illusory because, on account of their mortgages, they often remained hostage to discriminatory practices of white bankers and moneylenders. They might "sacrifice morning til night, cradle to the grave and yet be busted." 2 Black tenants were slightly more numerous; they owned their own mules and equipment and paid fixed rates of cash or shares to farm an owner's land. Their incomes varied, but they usually extracted less income than independent farmers and more than sharecroppers. The latter comprised the typical black farmer, especially in the states of South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Arkansas, the location of two-thirds of the South's sharecroppers. Indeed, while white sharecroppers were more numerous than their black counter