Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Sharecroppers and Tenants

"I have land which you need, and you have muscle which I need. Let's put what we've got in the same pot and call it ours. . .I'll give you all the land you can work, a house to live in , and a garden plot and room to raise chickens, hogs, and cows if you can come by them, and all the wood you want to cut for fuel. . .I'll get you a doctor when you are sick. . .Until the crop comes in I'll try to keep you from going hungry and naked as far as I am able. . .I'll pay taxes and I'll furnish the mules and plows and gear and whatever else is necessary to make a crop. . . This is what I promise to do.
You will plant and cultivate and gather this crop as I direct. . .This is what you will promise to do. . . When the crop is picked, half of it will be mine and half of it yours. . .If I have supplied you with money or food or clothing or anything else during the year, I will charge it against your half of the crop. I shall handle the selling of the cotton and the cottonseed because I know more than you do about their value. . .If the price of cotton is good, we shall both make something. If it is bad, neither of us will make anything, but I will probably lose this place and you will lose nothing. . .It's a hard contract these hard times for both of us, but it's just and self-respecting and if we both do our part and have a little luck we can both prosper under it."
from the book LANTERNS ON THE LEVEE, William Alexander Percy
When Granddaddy Magers and family arrived at Dell in 1916, he had no more than $10 in his pocket but a big dream in his heart. . .By 1919, he had bought several large pieces of property--one at Roseland, one close to Victoria, and several parcels scattered around Mississippi County--as well as the entire First Addition to Dell. . .It didn't stop there. . .He continued to buy and sell for several more decades--until he owned some of the choicest land in the area. . .Granddaddy only had an 8th grade education, but when it came to buying real estate and farmland, he was a very smart businessman.

In the beginning years Granddaddy worked his land through sharecropping or tenancy. . .From what I've been told, he was fair to his farmers and his word was good. . .This wasn't always the case with others. . .The sharecropper rarely got out of debt to the land owners. . .and many a deal went foul.

Unfortunately, many farmers fell down the tenancy ladder rather than moving up it. From the bottom rung, the hapless sharecropper could climb to share tenant if he could accumulate enough of his own equipment and money. Share tenants kept two-thirds or three-fourths of the crop, depending on how much they could furnish. If a share tenant progressed to a point of needing nothing but the land, he could become a cash tenant by paying a fixed rental. Cash tenants kept all of the proceeds from the crop. . . It sounds good. . .but. . . many farmers lost their farms or their status as cash or share tenants because of crop failures, low cotton prices, laziness, ill health, poor management, exhaustion of the soil, excessive interest rates, or inability to compete with tenant labor. Many tricks of nature (drought, flood, insects, frost, hail, high winds, and plant diseases) could ruin a crop. . .Lots of heartache went into farming in those early years.

During the Depression, families were grateful to find land available for work. . .A house was included in most agreements. . .and they had the opportunity to grow a garden for food. . .In many ways, farmers faired better than those living in the city. . .At the very least on a farm there was the opportunity to feed the family with a garden and wild game. . .Families were closer. . .Lasting friendships were made. . .Everyone shared what they had. . .and LIFE WAS GOOD. . .in spite of the hardships.

1930s Sharecropper
We share this part of our Delta history with each and every visitor to the Farmstead. . .In fact, we just might have you pick a little cotton for us while you're here. . .Always looking for GOOD help. . .

. . .from the farmstead. . .