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Stunning photographs from 1930s of some sharecropping families in Alabama

Sharecropping came into wide use in the Southern United States during the Reconstruction era (1865–1877). The South had been devastated by war and planters had ample land but little money for wages or taxes. Sharecropping of the land was the only viable alternative for many.


Frank Tengle, Bud Fields, and Floyd Burroughs, cotton sharecroppers, Hale County, Alabama 1936 by  Walker Evans

Frank Tengle, Bud Fields, and Floyd Burroughs, cotton sharecroppers, Hale County, Alabama 1936 by Walker Evans

Home of cotton sharecropper Floyd Borroughs. Hale County, Alabama Summer 1936 by Walker EvansHome of cotton sharecropper Floyd Borroughs. Hale County, Alabama

Charles and his father Floyd Burroughs, Alabama cotton sharecropper Summer 1936 by photographer Walker Evans

Charles and his father Floyd Burroughs, Alabama cotton sharecropper summer 1936 by photographer Evans Walker

Lucille Burroughs, daughter of a cotton sharecropper. Hale County, Alabama Summer 1936 by Walker EvansLucille Burroughs, daughter of a cotton sharecropper. Hale County, Alabama by

Allie Mae Burroughs, wife of cotton sharecropper. Hale County, Alabama Summer 1936 by Walker EvansAllie Mae Burroughs, wife of cotton sharecropper. Hale County, Alabama by Evans Walker

Sharecropping is a system of agriculture in which a landowner allows a tenant to use the land in return for a share of the crops produced on the land.

Frank Tengle family, Hale County, Alabama. Sharecroppers, Summer 1936 by photographer Walker Evans

Tengle family group 1936

Frank Tengle, an Alabama sharecropper, and family singing hymns summer 1936 by Photograher Walker EvansFrank Tengle, an Alabama sharecropper, and family singing hymns. by Photograher Walker Evans

Dora Mae Tengle, sharecropper’s daughter, Hale County, Alabama Summer 1936 Walker EvansDora Mae Tengle, sharecropper's daughter, Hale County, Alabama

Sharecropping has a long history and there are a wide range of different situations and types of agreements that have used a form of the system. Some are governed by tradition,and others by law.

Wife and child of Alabama sharecropper, Walker County, Alabama 1936 by photographer Arthur Rothstein

Wife and child of Alabama sharecropper, Walker County, Alabama !936 by photographer Arthur Rothstein

A sharecropper’s field, Hale County, Alabama summer 1936 by Walker Evans

A sharecropper's field, Hale County, Alabama summer 1936 by Walker Evans

Sharecropper’s grave. Hale County, Alabama summer 1936 by Walker Evans

Sharecropper's grave. Hale County, Alabama summer 1936 by Evans Walker

Bud Fields, cotton sharecropper. Hale County, Alabama 1935 by Walker EvansBud Fields, cotton sharecropper. Hale County, Alabama

Home of Bud Fields, Alabama sharecropper. Hale County, Alabama 1935 by Walker Evans

Home of Bud Fields, Alabama sharecropper. Hale County, Alabama 1935 by Walker Evans

Floyd Burroughs, Jr and Othel Lee Burroughs, called Squeakie. Son of an Alabama cotton sharecropper 1935 by Walker EvansFloyd Burroughs, Jr and Othel Lee Burroughs, called Squeakie. Son of an Alabama cotton sharecropper

Most of the former slaves had labor but no money and no land; they rejected the kind of gang labor that typified slavery. The solution was the sharecropping system focused on cotton, which was the only crop that could generate  cash for the croppers, landowners, merchants and the tax collector.

Sharecropper’s home. Macon County, Alabama Feb. 1937 by photographer Arthur RothsteinSharecropper's home. Macon County, Alabama Feb. 1937 by photographer Arthur Rothstein

Sharecropper’s children. Macon County, Alabama 1937 Arthur RothsteinSharecropper's children. Macon County, Alabama 1937 Arthur Rothstein

Sharecropper plowing. Montgomery County, Alabama 1937 Arthur RothsteinSharecropper plowing. Montgomery County, Alabama 1937 Arthur Rothstein

Poor white farmers, who previously had done little cotton farming, needed cash as well and became sharecroppers.

Sharecropping agreements can be made fairly, as a form of tenant farming or sharefarming that has a variable rental payment, paid in arrears. There are three different types of contracts.

  1. Workers can rent plots of land from the owner for a certain sum and keep the whole crop.
  2. Workers work on the land and earn a fixed wage from the land owner but keep some of the crop.
  3. No money changes hands but the worker and land owner each keep a share of the crop.

Front porch of sharecropper home. Etowah County, Alabama Dec. 1940 John Vachon

Front porch of sharecropper home. Etowah County, Alabama Dec. 1940 John Vachon

Sharecropper. Etowah County, Alabama Dec. 1938 by Photographer John VachonSharecropper. Etowah County, Alabama Dec. 1938 by Photographer John Vachon

Cattle grazing in the Black Prairie regions. Barn in background was sharecropper’s cabin. Hale County, Alabama May 1941 Jack DelanoCattle grazing in the Black Prairie regions. Barn in background was sharecroppers cabin. Hale County, Alabama 1941 jack delano

SOURCE

  1. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division Washington, DC 20540

 

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About Donna R Causey

Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and www.daysgoneby.me All her books can be purchased at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. She has authored numerous genealogy books. RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE) is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2) is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series) Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) is the continuation of the story. . For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

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103 comments

  1. Charlotte Mooney

    My aunt and uncle has sharecroppers in DeKalb county into the sixties. The last family I remember had three children. My aunt and uncle paid a college education for all three.

  2. Chris Lummus

    My family had land but not much money…worked as hard as sharecroppers.

  3. Mike Prater

    My maternal grandfather was a sharecropper in Alabama.

  4. Michael Stallings

    my parents also did sharecroping in the late 50’s early 60’s in rural jefferson county.i remeber the stories they told

  5. Linda Hamrick Fitts

    Very interesting article! It was hard times after the depression for my grandfather & his friends. He had money & land & was prepared but neighbors were not. They borrowed money from him, even the well to do farmers. I always loved hearing my mom talk about those days. She & her 5 siblings worked hard on the farm.

  6. Sandra Cotney Whitten

    My paternal grandparents were sharecroppers. No money..

  7. Caroline Jones Lockridge

    My grand father had sharecroppers (Walker county) into the 1950’s. I don’t know how either family got by on the hilly land but both families raised multiple children who attended college and left farming behind. The work ethic of those folks was amazing.

  8. Donald Enfinger

    Bad deal for most of them….

  9. Jo-Amrah Dillingham

    Moving article and pictures.

  10. Jim Motley

    This was the new slavery in the south that people rarely talk about but went on for generations

  11. Patricia McClanahan

    Several sharecropper families lived on Fall City Road near us in 1950s-1960s.

  12. Kelli Bosarge

    My ancestors were sharecroppers in Mobile County, especially Bayou La Batre which my 5x Great-Grandparents founded and built from the ground up.

  13. Jack Myrick
  14. . I was only a child, but I remember the sharecropping days… and it seems that we are now pushing people back into this very situation again. These pictures of both, stunning and haunting.

  15. Donald Wheeles

    We did for 2 years when I was growing up.

  16. Susan Bryant Myers

    My mother’s family were share croppers inGA

  17. Robyn Hamons Green

    The family’s of both my parents were share choppers. Mom tells of some of the houses they lived in were deplorable.

  18. Lanny Gardner

    My parents were share cropped, both ways, daddy cultivated about 100 acres of hay and corn on halves with the land owner and daddy also owned land that he had a fellow grow watermelons on our land for half cash sales. We did this in Shelby co., 5 mo. South of Alabaster Al.

  19. My mom was the oldest of 8 , they were share coppers in southern montgomery Co
    She spoke often of sharing with neighbors and the happiness it brought to everyone .her dad would raise a separate garden so the girls could sell vegetables and exchange for material to sew a Sunday dress.

    1. Andrea Wynn Hill

      That house looks very much like the old homestead we played in when I was a child. I’ll have to show that to Mom and Dad.

  20. Bruce Perdue

    Thanks for sharing this, Jim. Many contemporary folks don’t realize that many (most?) sharecroppers were white. My great-grandparernts (mother’s side) sharecropped.

  21. Rodney Stapler

    I remember my grandparents had a house like this.

  22. Truyen Tran

    Không biêt mây người đang nói gì về cái nhà này. Tò mò quá. Có ai dich chút xíu nội dungr ra tiếng việt. Cảm ơn.

  23. Janice Newman

    My mother in law worked hard all her life to support 12 kids husband decided, no welfare, no food stamps only hard work, bread and milk from their cows went to bed hungry sometimes and people say they had a hard time this makes us say we are Blessed.

  24. Annette Nance

    My family was sheracropers. We were very poor so the whole family had to work hard.

  25. Otha Lee was my Father-In-Law.

  26. Ray Harris

    Yes bring back time to me hardtime

  27. Scott Haynie

    This looks like a house near Santuck Alabama when I was growing up. They had a hall thru the middle and rooms on each side.

  28. My granddaddy on my mother’s side sharecropped in Cherokee, Alabama in the 1930’s & 40’s.

  29. Brandi Elliott Ragan

    So interesting to see these pics. My grandfather’s family were share croppers.

  30. Charles Moore

    James Agee and Walker Evans- “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men”, and “You Ain’t Never Seen Trouble Till You Lose a Youngun”. Best books on life of sharecroppers in the Depression.

  31. Robert Dillard

    I’m the son of a son of a share cropper. I know my roots and how they struggled. They made it by putting God and family first. Anybody hungry for some poke salad?

  32. Alan Nichols

    I’m 64 and remember share croppers in the community. It just wasn’t in the 1800’s.

  33. Slayton Rice

    Them damn carpetbaggers !!!

  34. Jo Stillwell

    my parents were sharecroppers ,,im 63 ,,that wasn’t that long ago ,,my daddy went into pulp wooding and stopped the cycle

    1. Cleveland Robinson

      Mine too. Daddy learned stone masonry in the CCC. Then laid brick

    2. Jo Stillwell

      sometimes I compare my folks as slaves ,,it seems to fit ,,a place to live and food ,,,sorry

      1. Amen! Most definitely.

  35. Lynn Eckberg

    My mothers family has strong roots in Hale County. I know those pictures history very well. I have photo albums of my grandparents from that era. They may have been poor but they worked hard and loved each other.

  36. John F Marasi

    Is that Marty sitting in the background?

  37. Theresa Orrell

    My Dad didn’t own land (until I was grown) so share cropping was what we did for years. I am second of 12 children so I know all about working on farms. Watermelon fields were fun, with teenage cousins and friends helping. Hated cotton, chopping and picking hard!!! (I could write a book!) But we were never hungry!

  38. David D Gibson

    hard times beautiful people .

  39. Glenda Freeman Perry

    My Mother’s daddy was a share cropper and worked hard for the landowner. They had cardboard on walls to try and stay warm. And ppl gripe today.

  40. Harriet Jay Hubbard

    Steve Hubbard. Refers to Hale Coumty

  41. Patty Hudgins

    I had two sets of grandparents who raised a total 5 children on share topping farms in Alabama: Marion and Lamar Counties, AL in the 20’s-30’s.

  42. Jeff Lambert

    The landed gentry had money but why spend money on labor when you can get the crops raised by people that have no other options but to accept your poverty terms?? This idea that share cropping was some sort of a partnership is misleading, for the most part. Sure there were a few smaller landowners that did not use the sharecropping families as a virtual slave but many of the big plantation sized land barons did. Landowner had the land and seed and in a few cases would even help with some equipment. But the sharecropper did all the work for just a small percentage of the crop. Usually the payout was reduced because of a “soft market” or the “Yankees had rigged the Exchange” but it was a fraud. The landowners had no incentive to help the sharecroppers succeed and move on to a better life.

  43. Kevin Oneill

    My grandfather was a share cropper in Georgia.

  44. Helen Willis

    Sharecropping is still practiced by those farmers who farm many acres of crops. Many land owners do not want to sell their land, but they do want to make money from it, so they let large farmers use the land on shares. That means every drop of energy that goes into crop production has to be divided. Also, sharecroppers did, and do, get to share the crops, like “gleaners” did in other parts of the world. Most landowners that I have ever heard of also worked their own land, and it was the custom, in those days, to not pay yourself labor or to charge for labor if you helped another farmer. It wasn’t a perfect way of farming, but it was workable in the days when there was very little currency but plenty of hard workers. Over time, machines have taken over the business of farming, so mechanization has wiped out farm labor for the most part.

    1. Helen Willis

      When my kids were in school, they knew a boy who lived with his parents out of their car because they were itinerant farmers: pickers.They were, and still are, white. The family looked like they were Scotch-Irish, like many other people in the south.

  45. Troy McWilliams

    Sharecropping sure didn’t end in 1877 or if it did it started again during the great depression, 1929-1939 or so. I participated as a kid as did most of the kids I knew.

  46. Georgia Brown McKay

    Sometimes , land-owners were also crooks who beat the farmer and his family out of the harvest and many times they had to move on to another farm or face starvation during the winter ! My family rented farms but never share-cropped ! We never went hungry and during the great Depression we were more fortunate than many of our neighbors !We had ancestors who passed down great work ethics and we never took welfare and didn’t think the world owed us a living as many of our young adults do today ! I am proud of my ancestors and how my extended family helped each other during hard times !

  47. Nathan Hudgins

    I love this stuff. When I look through my mom and dad’s old picture albums, this is what I see. All they really had was each other and their faith in GOD that it would get better.

  48. Nina Cleckler Hunt

    We know how hard the Brand family worked.

  49. Nicole Hudgins Law

    Good article that dispels the myth of widespread “white privilege”, a term I find so ridiculous.

  50. Joyce Carter

    My Mother s
    poke of these times but my grandparents came from lived Ga.and worked in Cotton mill village them came to Alabama granddad work for railroad

  51. Patricia Norwood

    well they did in the 60s too until government allowed corporations to buy up family farms..

  52. Senoi Godfrey

    My grand-parents share cropped in Barbour County

  53. I have a small barber shop and a lot of my customers are old enough to have lived this type of life. One in paticular said that when he left share cropping and found a job in Baldwin county working on the potato sheds he felt like he had died and gone to heaven !!

  54. Sam Harris

    My grandfather was a sharecropper as late as 1920 when he moved his family from Coosa to Tallapoosa/Chambers because the boll weevils hadn’t crossed the Tallapoosa River so I was told. One of my aunts said they had to move because they were related to everyone within a days ride and the children were growing up.

  55. Debbie Blanton

    Those poor people led such hard lives. My heart hurt looking at those pictures.

  56. Chris Rogers

    Thanks for showing me where I got my “privilege” from.

  57. Yvita Luckie

    Proud granddaughter of a sharecropper. He was a hard working man and raised a good family on what he was able to provide.

  58. Mary Grimes Fisk

    This is the Alabama I remember as a child. My aunt lived in Leesburg and I remember layers of wallpaper on the inside one layer over another. The BlackBerry patches were on the way to the outhouse Wayout back. Good memories for a lifelong Florida girl.

  59. Tobias Daniels

    Simeon Reginald Daniels

  60. Michael H. Johnson

    My great grand paw had a dog trot in their old house

  61. William Earnest

    And we think we have it hard now

  62. John Doug Williams

    My grandfather ,always called it ….the good ole days…., but he said I hope you never have to live like that, times were surely hard, but everybody was willing to help others when in need! Not many of us left ,, that has that mentality , or are able to live , give, in a culture that we have today…

  63. Frank Hurst

    When I was growing up many of the people living around us were sharecroppers. We owned our farm but from 6 to 12 years of age I lived in a house very much like the one pictured. Well water pump out back. Outhouse out back. Heat from wood burning fireplace and a wood burning cook stove.

  64. Larry Hataway

    Another form of slavery

  65. Sherrie Nichols

    My great grandparents in Clifton Tn. had a homestead that looks very much like this one. I do believe it is still standing but I haven’t been ther in many years.

  66. Katrinka Sutton

    These people did what they had to do for their families. They were unskilled but could do backbreaking work.

  67. Marie Armstrong

    Life was hard! We were sharecroppers in the 40’d

  68. Marie Armstrong

    The houses were sub standard. Cracks in the walls, water in the buckets inside froze, only heat was wood fireplace. Outside toilet! Yet, we survived because we did not know any better. Yes, it was hard, and I don’t call them “the good old days”

  69. Joyce N Billy Lambert

    My great grandmother & her second husband were share croppers. They came in one afternoon & were told there would be “no sharing” this year. Left with nothing.

  70. Mary Coleman

    Some of these small houses ( shacks) remind me of the one we lived in P’cola, Fl. I was only around 2 – 3 , but have a pic of part of the house and a few memories.

  71. Jimmie Rhoden

    I know where a house is exactly like that one in Jack, Alabama

  72. Cyn Carpenter

    My mother’s parents were sharecroppers in Geneva County when she was born.

  73. Cary N Sherry Lindeen

    My Dad told me that Elliot and Ivy Greer where share croppers on a farm in Semmes. After the harvest, the farm owner told them they would not be paid. Elliot and Ivy went to Chickasaw and got their shotguns and went back to Semmes and came back home with their share.

  74. Martha Hopper Reeves

    This is the ole Alabama I grew up in. Family of 10 children. Up to 125 a. Of cotton. We did it all by hand. It was hard work but most defiantly the good ole days! Windows up and doors unlocked!

  75. My paternal grandfather sharecropped in Beaver Valley, St. Clair County, AL. My grandmother died of the flu & left him with 6 children to raise.He would cut cross-ties in the winter and raised cantaloupes to sell in order to buy school books for the children. They all worked the land, but my grandfather would not keep the children out of school. All 6 children worked their way through college & got masters degrees When my father graduated & began working as a county agent, he borrowed $3,000 from the land bank & bought the farm for my grandfather. It took my father years to pay it back.

  76. Karen Kiker Green

    Love the these history pieces of AL. I did not grow up in the deep South but I have long called it home and I cant learn enough about our beautiful State!

  77. Mark Middleton

    My grandfather and his twin brother hoeboed their way on a train from Fort Payne Alabama all the way down to Flomaton Alabama because there were rumors there was employment, but when they got down there, no work to be had, so they hoeboed their way back to Fort Payne

  78. Joan Carpenter Holdforth

    Sorta reminds of my house on Michigan Street lol

  79. My Grandma was from a sharecroping family from the Mobile area. Last names Fulton, Fulerton, Reeves or Revis.

  80. Norma Staggs

    Thanks for sharing .history

  81. Is the 4th picture from top the same on featured on the cover of ‘Out of the Dust’, a book by Karen Hesse? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Out_of_the_Dust

  82. I was a sharecropper. I never hear the news media talk about the white sharecropper, it is always the black sharecropper. We could not get the blacks to help us. We were paying people to help us get the crop in because the crop ran away and put us behind. The blacks would not work. I don’t care what other people say, I witnessed this with my own eyes. They got their food from the commodity program. Same as food stamps today. We were having to work because we were hungry and had to have a roof over our heads. I just wish the press would tell the truth about these times. Never did I ever witness any blacks mistreated because of their race. NEVER.

  83. What was the significance of leaving jars and bottles on the grave?

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