The Sharecropping System - White Plains Public Schools

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Many of its large cities, including Atlanta and Richmond, lay in ruins. ... Sharecropping failed in the South because it depended on planting one cash crop. .... workers in Northern factories; sharecroppers on Southern farms; gold miners in ...
The Sharecropping System US History/Napp Name: __________________

BACKGROUND: “After the Civil War, the South faced several economic problems. Many of its large cities, including Atlanta and Richmond, lay in ruins. Factories and railroad lines had been damaged or destroyed. The economy of the South still depended on the large-scale farming of cotton and tobacco, but plantation owners could no longer benefit from the free labor provided by slavery. A new labor system, sharecropping, replaced slavery…

Sharecropping is a labor-for-land exchange. A piece of land is worked by a tenant in exchange for a portion of the crop. The landowner provides living accommodations, tools, seed, and other items needed to plant and tend the crop. The sharecropper receives no wages for the work done on the farm. Once the crop is sold, the proceeds, or money received, are divided between the landowner and the sharecropper.

Part of the economy of sharecropping was its credit, or loan, system. In the sharecropping system:

1- Sharecropper signs contract agreeing to farm in exchange for half of proceeds from the sale of the crops. 2- Landowner extends credit for food, clothes, and other items needed by the sharecropper’s family. 3- Sharecropper works the land, planting and tending the crop for no pay. 4- Landowner continues to extend credit, adding interest to the credit already extended. 5- Crops are harvested and sold. 6- Credit and interest charges are taken out of the proceeds due to the sharecropper. 7- Sharecropper’s debt to landowner is greater than proceeds. New crops need to be planted to earn money to pay off debt. 8- More credit is extended with interest charges immediately being added to previous unpaid debt. 9- Sharecropper is deep in debt and now economically dependent on landowner.” ~ The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


1. What problems did the South face after the Civil War? _______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ __ 2. Describe the sharecropping system. _______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ __ 3. How did the sharecropper get paid for working the land? _______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ __ 4. Describe the contract the sharecropper signs. _______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ __ 5. Why must the sharecropper borrow money or rely on credit? _______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ __ 6. What effect does adding interest have on the sharecropper’s debt? _______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ __ 7. How could sharecroppers still be in debt even after the crop was sold? _______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ __ 8. How could a sharecropper eventually become economically dependent on the landowner? _______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ __ CRITICAL THINKING Sharecropping failed in the South because it depended on planting one cash crop. How do you think its dependence on a single cash crop caused the system to finally fail? ____________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________ ______ ____________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________ ____ Reading: Sharecropping in Mississippi “The Delta [an area between the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers in the northwest of the state of Mississippi; it is very flat and fertile] plantation system started in the nineteenth century when white farmers went there in search of fertile farmland, escaping declining productivity in other Southern states. They brought with them slaves to do the backbreaking work of clearing the wild forest and subduing the Mississippi River with levees. As a result of the slaves’ labor, the Delta became the richest cotton-farming land in the country….

The Delta may have been beautiful, but work there was hard. Slavery and cotton production became synonymous with the Southern economy and Mississippi…

Although blacks outnumbered whites, the sharecropping system that replaced slavery helped ensure they remained poor and virtually locked out of any opportunity for land ownership or basic human rights…

Under the system, the sharecropper rented a plot of land and paid for it with a percentage of the crop – usually 30 to 50%. Sharecroppers would get tools, animals, fertilizer, seeds and food from the landlord’s store and would have to pay him back at incredibly high interest rates. The landlord would determine the crop, supervise production, control the weighing and marketing of cotton, and control the recordkeeping.

‘We’d get $12 per bale and we had to pick hard in order to have money to buy food during that season,’ said Mississippi State Senator David Jordan, whose parents were sharecroppers. ‘If we had a rainy week where we couldn’t pick at all, then we would have no money. We would have to go get food and substances on credit.’

At the end of the year, sharecroppers settled accounts by paying what they owed from any earnings made in the field. Since the plantation owners kept track of the calculations, rarely would sharecroppers see a profit.

‘Some came out in the hole five or six times and they never did get out of the hole," Jordan said. ‘So what happened, they caught the midnight train or bus and headed to Chicago and they never found ‘em, ‘cause that was the only way to get out of that miserable situation.’

Between 1910 and 1970, six and a half million blacks went North, leaving the South, the cotton fields, and sharecropping behind. By the end of World War II, much of cotton farming had been mechanized, and sharecroppers were thrown off the land. Some five million blacks left after 1940, creating the second great migration to the North. In Chicago, which had a direct train route from Mississippi, the black-owned newspaper The Chicago Defender urged blacks to migrate, and lobbied railroads to offer group rates for travelers. Black porters working on the trains distributed The Defender onboard.

With African Americans leaving the South en masse and the unstable price of cotton during wartime, Mississippi planters and white businessmen worried about their economic stability. Threatened by the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, some whites took action, forming Citizens Councils to ensure that blacks would be blocked from economic success. Mississippi was among the last Southern states to integrate the schools and allow blacks to vote.

Mechanization and migration put an end to the sharecropping system by the 1960s, though some forms of tenant farming still exist in the 21st century.” ~ Questions: 1- Why did white farmers move to the Mississippi Delta region in the 1800s? _______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ __ 2- Who did these white farmers rely on to do backbreaking labor on their fields? _______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ __ 3- What crop was the primary crop of the Mississippi Delta? _______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ __ 4- What system helped ensure that African Americans remained poor and virtually locked out of any opportunity for land ownership after the Civil War? _______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ __ 5- Explain how the sharecropping system worked. _______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ ___ 6- Why were sharecroppers in debt? _______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ __ 7- What example did Mississippi State Senator David Jordan provide to explain the indebtedness of sharecroppers? _______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ __ 8- According to Mississippi State Senator David Jordan, where did some sharecroppers go to escape their indebtedness? _______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ __ 9- What happened between 1910 and 1970? _______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ __ 10- What happened by the end of the Second World War? _______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ __ 11- What did the black-owned newspaper The Chicago Defender urge African Americans to do? _______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ __ 12- Why were Mississippi planters and white businessmen worried about the economic stability of the South? _______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ __ 13- What was Brown v. Board of Education? _______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ __ 14- What were Citizen Councils? _______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ __ 15- What forces finally put an end to the sharecropping system? _______________________________________________________________________ _ 16- How does this reading passage reveal the failure of Reconstruction? _______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ __ 17- How was the sharecropping system similar to serfdom in Medieval Europe? _______________________________________________________________________ _ 18- Using the reading, why do you think Mississippi was the last state to integrate its schools? _______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________ __ 19- How did emancipation without economic compensation led to the sharecropping system possible? _________________________________________________________ Multiple-Choice Questions: What effect did the system of sharecropping have on the South after the Civil War? 1. It kept formerly enslaved persons economically dependent. 2. It brought investment capital to the South. 3. It encouraged Northerners to migrate south. 4. It provided for a fairer distribution of farm profits.

In the ten years following the Civil War, a large numbers of former slaves earned a living by becoming 1. conductors on the Underground Railroad 2. workers in Northern factories 3. sharecroppers on Southern farms 4. gold miners in California

By 1880, most southern blacks had found employment as 1. Sharecroppers 2. Artisans 3. Landowners of small farms 4. Wage Labors

Why did southern white landowners prefer the sharecropping system to wage labor after the Civil War? 1. Paying wage laborers was too expensive 2. They made more money off the sharecropping system 3. Sharecropping kept blacks bound to servitude as agricultural laborers 4. Sharecropping required less work

What did the Fourteenth Amendment do? 1. Forbade slavery 2. Granted citizenship to black Americans 3. Gave black men the right to vote 4. Forbade racial discrimination in public places

What did the Fifteenth Amendment do? 1. Forbade slavery 2. Granted citizenship to black Americans 3. Gave men the right to vote 4. Forbade racial discrimination in public places

The Thirteenth Amendment A) Prohibited slavery B) Granted citizenship to all Americans regardless of race C) Enfranchised all American men D) Prohibited presidents from serving more than two full terms

After the end of the Civil War, limited economic opportunity for freedmen led many to become sharecroppers working for former slave owners.  Although sharecroppers were technically contracted employees, their contracts were frequently unfair and exploitative. 

[pic] Explain the meaning of the political cartoon. ____________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________ ______________