African American Life in the Rural South, 1900-1950

African American Life in the Rural South, 1900-1950

African American Life in the Rural South, 1900-1950

African American Life in the Rural South, 1900-1950

Synopsis

During the first half of the twentieth century, degradation, poverty, and hopelessness were commonplace for African Americans who lived in the South's countryside, either on farms or in rural communities. Many southern blacks sought relief from these conditions by migrating to urban centers. Many others, however, continued to live in rural areas. Scholars of African American rural history in the South have been concerned primarily with the experience of blacks as sharecroppers, tenant farmers, textile workers, and miners. Less attention has been given to other aspects of the rural African American experience during the early twentieth century. African American Life in the Rural South, 1900-1950 provides important new information about African American culture, social life, and religion, as well as economics, federal policy, migration, and civil rights. The essays particularly emphasize the efforts of African Americans to negotiate the white world in the southern countryside. Filling a void in southern studies, this outstanding collection provides a substantive overview of the subject. Scholars, students, and teachers of African American, southern, agricultural, and rural history will find this work invaluable.

Excerpt

The condition of African Americans in southern agriculture at the turn of the twentieth century is well known. It is a depressing story of degradation, poverty, and hopelessness for the men, women, and children who lived in desperation and without alternatives. The textile mills and mines did not welcome them, the segregated schools provided little opportunity for upward mobility, and the employment possibilities created by the First World War lay in the distant and unknown future. At that time, 90 percent of the African American population lived in the South, and 83 percent resided in rural areas, primarily on farms. The goal of “forty acres and a mule” remained beyond their reach, if not their dreams, even though black landowners had slowly increased to about 13 percent of African American farmers. These black farmers held 13.5 million acres in the South, but their holdings paled in comparison to whites, who owned more than 100 million acres in 1900.

At the turn of the twentieth century, tenancy in the South bound most of the 707,364 black farmers to the land through the crop lien and furnishing merchant system. At that time, about 75 percent of all black farmers were tenants, usually sharecroppers. With more than half a million black farmers captive to the trinity of cotton, tenancy, and poverty, they were a desperate people with little hope. African American tenants usually farmed about fifty acres, settled their accounts at the end of the year, and remained in debt and bound by a continuing contract that required them to remain on the land and work off their debt to the landowner or furnishing merchant. African American farmers also lived within tightly configured boundaries marked by racism more than fences or county lines. Their lives differed little from those of their parents and grandparents who endured slavery and the pre—Civil War plantation system. Little wonder, then, that many African American farmers left for northern cities when World . . .

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