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
Charles and his father Floyd Burroughs, Alabama cotton sharecropper Summer 1936 by photographer Walker Evans
Lucille Burroughs, daughter of a cotton sharecropper. Hale County, Alabama Summer 1936 by Walker Evans
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
Frank Tengle, an Alabama sharecropper, and family singing hymns summer 1936 by Photograher Walker Evans
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
A sharecropper’s field, Hale County, Alabama summer 1936 by Walker Evans
Sharecropper’s grave. Hale County, Alabama summer 1936 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 Evans
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.
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.
- Workers can rent plots of land from the owner for a certain sum and keep the whole crop.
- Workers work on the land and earn a fixed wage from the land owner but keep some of the crop.
- 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
Cattle grazing in the Black Prairie regions. Barn in background was sharecropper’s cabin. Hale County, Alabama May 1941 Jack Delano
- Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division Washington, DC 20540