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Sharecropping in Arkansas

Department of Arkansas Heritage - Tuesday, July 05, 2016

 

Tenant farming and sharecropping became increasingly common after the Civil War, as white plantation owners who previously used slaves to work their fields turned to new ways to tend the crops. These tenant farmers, who were both black and white, leased parcels of land from owners and agreed to provide either cash payment or a portion of the crops as payment for use of the land.

Sometimes, the tenant owned and provided the seeds, equipment and other supplies to work the land. In these situations, the payment for use of the land was typically between one quarter and one third of the crops. However, the poorest farmers, typically called sharecroppers, relied on the owners to provide the tools and seeds and thus typically only received around 50 percent of the crops.

The precarious financial situation of tenant farmers and sharecroppers was worsened by the bank collapse of 1929 and the Great Depression. Federal relief programs in the 1930s designed to provide relief were often abused by farm owners, who refused to share relief funds with their tenants as required.

Many tenant farmers and day laborers came together during this time to form unions and other associations in an effort to improve their positions. One such organization, the Southern Tenant Farmers Union, was notable in that it included black and white farmers as both members and leaders.

Despite the challenges, tenant farming continued to grow and by the late 1930s, 40 percent of American farmers were tenants. Today, almost all modern farmers lease at least part of the land they farm.