"With the Aid of God and the F.S.a.": The Louisiana Farmers' Union and the African American Freedom Struggle in the New Deal Era
de Jong, Greta, Journal of Social History
In August 1938, a member of the interracial Louisiana Farmers' Union (LFU) wrote in a letter to the union office, "My crop is coming along fine. With the aid of God and the F.S.A. I hope to establish a better home for myself and family and to help my fellow brothers."  This simple statement reflected some profound changes in the southern political economy that threatened to weaken plantation owners' control over their workers and encouraged greater militancy among black people in the 1930s. Widespread poverty accentuated by the Great Depression precipitated a decade of experimentation by the federal government in an attempt to find solutions to social problems. The limits of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal reforms were soon exposed in the South, where local elites' control over the administration of federal programs allowed for discrimination against African Americans and the displacement of thousands of sharecroppers and tenants from the land. In response to these developments, rural poor people joined together in organizations like the LFU to fight planter abuses of the New Deal and demand a fair share of federal aid. 
This article examines African Americans' participation in the LFU, showing how they used the union to attack inequalities and injustices that were the foundations of the white supremacist social order. Although studies of similar groups like the Southern Tenant Farmers' Union and the Alabama Share Croppers' Union exist, little attention has been given to the Louisiana Farmers' Union.  Viewed in isolation, or in comparison with the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the union's brief appearance and the activities of its members might not seem to be particularly important. Placing the events of the 1930s in a broader historical context helps to illuminate their significance. Prior to the emergence of the LFU, black people in rural Louisiana were actively engaged in attempts to gain economic, political, and social justice, although their efforts were usually confined to clandestine or unorganized forms. The New Deal and the arrival of union organizers in their communities provided a chance to take the freed om struggle to another level. Many African Americans embraced the union as an ally in their ongoing fight to gain fair compensation for their labor, adequate education for their children, a chance to participate politically, and protection from violence. Black Louisianians' involvement in the LFU showed an awareness of the power of collective action and an appreciation of the causes of their problems that resurfaced in the decades after World War II, when the disintegration of the plantation system enabled a more powerful protest movement to emerge. Examining African American activism in rural Louisiana over time reveals some continuity in the goals of rural black people, even though the methods of achieving them did not remain static.
The Plantation Economy and African American Strategies of Resistance in the Early Twentieth Century
The sugar and cotton plantation regions where the LFU focused its organizing efforts were among the most repressive areas in the nation. Situated along the Y-shape formed by the Mississippi and Red Rivers, parishes such as Pointe Coupee, Iberville, St. Landry, West Feliciana, Rapides, Natchitoches, and Concordia had reputations for the brutal treatment of African Americans dating back to the antebellum period.  The post-Civil War plantation system only slightly mitigated the harshness of slavery. Faced with a chronic shortage of capital and the necessity of borrowing heavily themselves, planters concluded that the only way to make the production of the state's staple crops profitable was to keep labor costs as low as possible. In the decades after Reconstruction, many Louisiana plantations came to resemble the rationalized, efficiency-driven enterprises associated with northern capitalism and industry. Corporate owners and absentee landlords gave little thought to the welfare of their workers, with whom t hey rarely had any direct contact. …