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The segregated farm program in Poinsett County, Arkansas.

By promoting mechanization and the rise of scientific agriculture, the federal government condoned and encouraged land engrossment and the concentration of land ownership in fewer white hands after World War II. Policies outlined by the Post-War Planning Commission, an arm of the Department of Agriculture, guided the development of agricultural policy in the postwar period and shaped a fundamental transformation of the plantation system. County farm agents employed by the Extension Service implemented the policies and programs of the Department of Agriculture and developed a dual approach to farmers. White landowners were afforded a program which eased their transition into capital-intensive agriculture; black tenants and sharecroppers were provided with advice which maintained their status as subsistence farmers and insured that they could not long survive on the neo-plantations which arose in the postwar period.(1)

Although not all the experts writing reports for the Post-War Planning Commission agreed, those recognizing the "inefficiency" of the small farm unit dominated. Most of them accepted as natural the greater concentration of land ownership, and thus focused on the need to maximize profits through economies of scale. One such expert lauded Frederick Taylor's ideas, which had fundamentally influenced the development of the assembly line in American industry in the early twentieth century, and recommended that Taylor's methods be employed on the farm.(2) Only one analyst reported a dissenting position, which he did not himself support: that large units of production be broken up through graduated land taxes in order to prevent "the trend in the direction of land engrossment."(3) Rather, Post-war Planning Commission experts acknowledged that farmers would continue to increase their usage of farm machinery and recognized that the increasing reliance on costly farm machinery,(4) together with a greater dependence on expensive chemicals to eliminate pests and fertilizers to increase fertility, would render the small farm obsolete. Although the Commission's experts did not predict the demise of the farm tenancy system as the old plantation system was transformed into agri-business,(5) other analysts had been asserting since the mid-thirties that the tenancy system was doomed.(6)

The tenancy system was simply incompatible with the capital-intensive neo-plantation that arose in the postwar period. Tenants and sharecroppers had long been reduced to the status of farmers living fully within or on the edge of extreme poverty.(7) Deeply in debt and barely able to feed their families, they did not have the means to invest in the machinery and chemicals needed to participate in the revolution in agriculture which would take place after World War II. In this respect, the Extension Service was merely recognizing certain hard facts, and when black agents were assigned to counties with heavy black populations during and immediately following the war, they outlined a program designed to ameliorate the harsh circumstances most tenants and sharecroppers endured rather than a program designed to prepare them for a leap into capital-intensive agriculture.

At the outbreak of World War 11, the tenancy system had already been served a serious blow by New Deal programs which, when implemented on the local level by planters who controlled Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) committees, questioned the traditional rights of tenants and sharecroppers. Crop-reduction programs led to evictions of unnecessary tenants and sharecroppers and challenged their right to remain on the soil. At the same time, New Deal programs introduced a third player in the plantation operation, the federal government, and planters made certain that tenants and sharecroppers were not extended equal recognition. Thus the crop-subsidy payments went to the farm owner rather than to tenants and sharecroppers. By the late thirties the AAA program, as implemented by planters with the help of the Extension Service's farm agents, created a labor surplus and contributed to the erosion of the tenancy system.

Many tenants and sharecroppers, both black and white, banded together in Northeastern Arkansas and formed the Southern Tenant Farmers' Union (STFU) to protest the way planters were implementing New Deal programs. They objected to the fact that planters were refusing to share crop-subsidy payments with them, but they were also objecting to the fact that planters were evicting tenants and sharecroppers made unnecessary by the AAA'S crop-reduction program.(8) The STFU was founded in Poinsett County in Northeastern Arkansas in 1934, and its membership extended into surrounding Delta counties and even beyond Arkansas.(9) In the end the STFU was unable to achieve its goals. Planters continued to control the crop-subsidy payment and continued to evict tenants and sharecroppers.

An analysis of the changes taking place in Poinsett County in the postwar period is particularly interesting given the activities of the STFU during the 1930s. Tenants and sharecroppers there were determined to maintain their way of life in the face of insurmountable obstacles. But Poinsett County provides fertile ground for analysis for quite another reason. Like much of the rest of Northeastern Arkansas, Poinsett County was a land of new planters, that is planter-entrepreneurs who were less attached to the old way of doing business, the tenancy and sharecropping system, and more inclined toward the new way of doing business, wage labor. Similarly, they were more receptive to adopting mechanization and the use of chemicals and fertilizers than their more tradition-bound contemporaries in the older South.(10)

At the turn of the century, Poinsett County's Delta was almost completely undeveloped, largely because of the existence of an intractable swamp that awaited the emergence of large-scale drainage enterprises. In the nineteenth century the population of the county maintained small and relatively unproductive farming units on Crowley's Ridge, a hilly, infertile area which cut a swath through the middle of the county and ranged from three to five miles in width. On the western side of Crowley's Ridge lay the northern edge of the Arkansas prairie region, which itself was undeveloped at the turn of the century. Unsuitable to the cultivation of cotton, it proved to be particularly suited to rice production and that form of agriculture developed there in the early twentieth century.(11)

While prairie farmers, largely emanating from the Midwest and adapting Midwestern farming techniques to the new reality of the Arkansas prairie, developed the area west of the Ridge, planterentrepreneurs launched the development of a plantation sector in the delta and devoted themselves to the cultivation of cotton. Initially attracted to the area by the lumber industry in the late nineteenth century, many of them were merchants before they were planters and viewed the plantation enterprise as a "business" rather than as a social system. They adopted the tenancy and sharecropping system because it was the best way to produce a crop given the scarcity and high cost of farm labor in the region. Between 1899 and 1939, cotton production increased from 3,681 to 57,828 acres. And despite crop-reduction programs, cotton production continued to increase in the postwar period, from 57,828 acres in 1939 to 77,162 acres in 1964.(12) The increase in cotton acreage after the crop-reduction program, which county planters enthusiastically supported, was due to intense reclamation projects made possible by a massive drainage program, partially funded by the federal government.(13) Acreage in production had been rising continuously in the twentieth century from 91,365 acres in 1900 to 277,788 acres in 1940. Between 1940 and 1965, it rose again to 395,933.(14)

Accompanying the intense development of the cotton culture in the county's delta was a partnership with the county farm agent who aligned himself with prominent planters and provided them with information on the latest developments in scientific agriculture. Their long-standing association continued into the post-world War II period, and with the advent of the mechanical cotton harvester and new chemicals, the farm agent prepared the planters for the revolution in agriculture soon to take place. The program outlined for white landowners implicitly recognized that they had the means to invest in the improvements heralded by the Extension Service. Machines and chemicals were expensive, and the postwar labor shortage necessitated the use of hired laborers. The county agent provided information and demonstrations on the use of machines and chemicals and the Extension Service placed a farm labor clerk within the county beginning in 1946 specifically to help planters secure needed labor.

Planters in Poinsett County began to invest in tractors during the 1930s after New Deal programs provided them with the means to purchase them. During the ten-year period between 1930 and 1940 the number of tractors on Poinsett County farms rose from 268 to 550, but during the five-year period between 1940 and 1945, the number more than doubled again, reaching a figure of 1,254 by 1945. In the postwar period planters in Poinsett County accelerated their use of tractors from 1,254 in 1945 to 3,940 in 1955. In the late 1950s technical improvements led to larger tractors, so the total number of tractors declined to 1,090 in 1965, but the percentage of farms operating tractors rose substantially. In 1940, only 8.8 percent of the farms in Poinsett County operated tractors; in 1965 fully 80.3 percent operated tractors.

Of course, tractors represented only a part of the mechanical revolution taking place on Southern plantations in the postwar period. The cotton harvester completed what the tractor began. Planters in Northeastern Arkansas had been eagerly awaiting the mechanical harvester, and throughout the 1930s they had attended demonstrations of various prototypes, particularly those presented by the Rust brothers.(15) But a marketable mechanical cotton picker was not forthcoming until after World War 11. The first to purchase a mechanical cotton harvester in Poinsett County was the Chapman and Dewey Land Company in 1946,16 and, through the county agent, Chapman and Dewey allowed a demonstration of a flame cultivator on one of its farms near Marked Tree (Wright, p. 24). In 1948 two separate implement companies opened their doors in Marked Tree and advertised not only tractors and other implements but demonstrations of cotton harvesters.17 By the early 1950s, E. Ritter and Company, one of the largest plantation operations in the county, had three one-row pickers in operation. In the mid-fifties, Ritter and Company intensified its use of mechanical cotton pickers and by the end of the decade purchased its first four-row picker."

Meanwhile, the county agent instituted a farm-labor program to assist planters as they mechanized. The Poinsett County agent first became involved in helping planters with their labor needs during World War II. Over two thousand young men from the Poinsett County delta either enlisted in or were drafted into the military, and job opportunities in the war industries enticed many others to Jonesboro, in nearby Craighead County, or to Memphis, Tennessee, and beyond. This eventually resulted in an acute labor shortage. When the county agent created a farm-labor committee in the county in June 1942, prominent planters dominated that committee. The committee was a direct result of House Resolution 96, which put county agents in charge of the recruitment and placement of farm labor in order to deal with the crisis facing American farmers across the country.(19) The Poinsett County situation was complicated by "the fast development of the county ... [and] a marked increase in the cultivated acreage of cotton, corn, soybeans, alfalfa and other crops."(20) Indeed, the farms of Poinsett County "had a demand for farm labor that was 125 percent of normal while the available labor was 57 percent of normal Supply."(21) By August of that year, local planters feared a severe shortage of cotton pickers, and by September the mayor of Marked Tree announced a "work, fight or go to jail" policy.(22)

The Poinsett County Farm Labor Committee initially considered recruiting additional labor from hill counties, but a severe drought lengthened the harvest season and relieved some of the pressure in harvesting the 1943 crop in the county.(23) According to a report prepared by Department of Agriculture personnel in preparation for a Senate postwar committee hearing, "the record-breaking agricultural production of 1943 was achieved with the smallest average number of persons working on farms in the whole 35-year period for which farm employment estimates are available."(24) Wisely, despite the reprieve the drought of 1943 provided, Poinsett County planters continued to lay plans to address the looming labor crisis which they anticipated for the 1944 crop. During the longer than normal harvest of 1943, women, children, retired persons, and townspeople assisted in the harvest, but it was clear that this labor source had been stretched to the limit (Digest of Material, p. 2).

The efforts of the county farm-labor organization in 1944 were not unrewarded, for the agricultural agent described the farm-labor program as "the outstanding program of the extension service in Poinsett County" in that year. In addition to establishing a German POW camp in Harrisburg, located on Crowley's Ridge, which assisted in harvesting the largest rice crop in the history of the county,(25) and another German POW camp on the outskirts of Marked Tree to assist in the harvest of a bumper cotton crop, the Farm Labor Committee successfully placed "91 agricultural workers from the Bahamas with Portis Mercantile Company at Lepanto." Those workers assisted in harvesting the cotton crop in the Delta. Another twenty Bahamians were placed in Truman, also in the Delta, and assisted in finishing the cotton harvest near there.(26)

But the POWs provided the most important single source of labor for Delta planters. The establishment of the German POW camp near Marked Tree resulted from the determined efforts of local planters and enjoyed the support of the entire community. After the War Department approved the placement of a German POW camp near Marked Tree in April 1944, the local Farm Labor Committee secured the use of property belonging to the Chapman and Dewey Lumber Company located three miles from town.(27) Although army officers were in charge of laying out the location and specifics of the necessary buildings, with an eye toward properly "securing" the prisoners, local planters and farmers contributed the building materials, and local workers constructed the buildings and the fences surrounding the compound.

The first prisoners to step inside the Marked Tree camp were from a contingent of 3,700 captured in North Africa, some of them near El Alamein. In early 1944, three hundred and fifty of those 3,700 were placed at the Harrisburg camp, which was completed before the Marked Tree camp, and local farmers learned early that the prisoners were very good workers but you cannot push them. One Saturday recently they refused to work because the canteen had not been established." The prisoners reportedly favored the New York Times for news, and liked American cigarettes. They all had at least eighth-grade educations and many had completed high school. In this respect, they were far better educated than the typical Poinsett County resident.(28) Through September 1944 the Marked Tree camp drew from the prisoners allotted to the Harrisburg camp, but in October 1944 the Delta camp received 255 prisoners captured after D-Day. Within months it was full to capacity with a total of 350 German POWs.

An estimated 20,000 German POWs placed in camps in Arkansas in 1945 were critical to easing the labor shortage.(29) They remained nearly eight months after the German surrender and were not, in fact, repatriated until January 1946. Significantly, the program was designed so as not to interfere with the cost of labor. While planters were prohibited from paying less than the prevailing wage rate, which would have had the effect of driving the cost of labor down, they were not forced to pay more than the prevailing rate, which would have had the effect of driving the cost of labor up. Indeed, by its very existence in a labor-scarce economy, the program clearly had the effect of maintaining the status quo in farm wage rates and probably encouraged many farm workers to move to employment in war industries.

After the removal of the German POWs in 1946, planters again faced a serious shortage of farm labor. The massive migration to the cities which began during World War II accelerated after the war, and the young veterans who returned hoping to own farms were rarely content with seasonal employment chopping or picking cotton. Thus the labor shortage which developed during the war actually intensified in the postwar period. The solution to the postwar labor shortage emanated from a program originating in 1942, when the use of Mexican laborers by American farmers was ratified by a treaty with the Mexican government.(30) The treaty was renegotiated every year with the Mexican government attempting to, and often succeeding in, guaranteeing the rights and assuring minimum standards (both in pay and in living conditions) for their nationals. Between 1942 and 1949 alone, an estimated 400,000 Mexican nationals were brought into the United States to fill the growing labor needs of farmers throughout the nation.(31) Like the farm-labor program adopted during the war, the program which furnished farmers with Mexican laborers was overseen by the local county agricultural agent. Those counties with the most acute labor problems were provided with a farm-labor clerk to assist the county agent in carrying out this responsibility. Poinsett County's farm-labor clerk was employed on a full-time basis for the first time during 1946 (Wright, p. 86).

Planters, according to the provisions of the farm-labor program, petitioned the farm-labor clerk in the spring, estimating their labor needs. The clerk organized forty meetings during the year, attended by 882 farmers, and estimated that planters would need 1,200 cotton pickers (Wright, p. 86). The county agent, the farm-labor clerk, and cotton farmers on the Farm Labor Committee attended a meeting in Jonesboro August 6, 1946 (Wright, p. 86),(32) where the use of Mexican laborers was discussed. In the end, 600 Mexicans were brought into the delta section of the county to help with the cotton harvest and an additional 300 laborers were brought in, largely from Memphis, Tennessee, to assist as well (Wright, p. 86).

Poinsett County planters over the next decade and a half would intensify their use of Mexican nationals in the cotton harvest. From the beginning, Arkansas planters generally were particularly energetic in their recruitment of this labor supply, so energetic, in fact, that planters in Tennessee and Mississippi complained loudly in 1948 when it seemed that Arkansas planters were getting what the Tennesseans and Mississippians considered an unfair share of the supply.(33) By 1960, E. Ritter and Company, the single largest plantation operation in the county, was able to employ 800 Mexicans on its 22,000-acre operation. Between three and five thousand Mexican nationals per year were brought into Poinsett County in the 1950s and early 1960s. Those Mexican nationals played a crucial role in helping planters to maintain their operations while they underwent a significant transformation in their methods of producing and harvesting the crop. The existence of the Mexican labor program, moreover, like the POW program during World War II, allowed planters some control over the cost of labor. The Mexican workers, however, had an advocate unavailable to the German POWs: their national government. The Mexican government eventually secured wage and working-condition guarantees that made the program increasingly less attractive to planters. But by the time this occurred, planters were ready to mechanize fully and thus easily dismissed Mexican government demands by ceasing to use Mexican laborers.(34)

While planters were being provided with a program that enabled them to transform the plantation enterprise, black county agents were, with the best of intentions, employing a program which would doom the tenancy and sharecropping system and play a role in driving black tenants and sharecroppers from the county's plantations. The postwar planning-commission experts did not predict this development, but certain farm and labor organizations protested the rise of mechanized farming and predicted that it would not benefit small farmers or tenants and sharecroppers.(35) For example, representatives of the Farmers' Union from twelve nonplantation Arkansas counties dispatched a resolution to the state's congressional delegation in 1945 lamenting the fact that some farm families engaged in cotton production would be "displaced by the mechanical cotton picker, flame cultivator, mechanical cotton chopper, four-row cultivator and other labor-saving devices."(36) The Farmers' Union charged that "economic planning for the postwar period has ... been completely dominated by power company officials, plantation owners and other selfish interests whose view of common people is not far advanced from the viewpoint of the slave owner .... Labor and family farmers alike are considered objects for economic exploitation."(37)

While Farmers' Union representatives complained of the domination of the Post-War Planning Commission by forces they considered unfriendly to small farmers, tenants, and laborers alike, the Southern Tenant Farmers' Union protested the use of alternative sources of labor during the war. As early as October 1942, the STFU complained about the proposal to use POWs and argued that many former tenants and sharecroppers displaced in the late 1930s could supply the labor needs of plantation owners.(38) At first glance, the STFU seemed to be conceding an important point by identifying these former tenants and sharecroppers as available farm labor. This apparent change in policy actually represented the transformation of the STFU from an organization of tenants and sharecroppers to an organization which included farm laborers generally. H. L. Mitchell of the STFU did not protest the use of Mexican laborers during the war, but merely argued that American farm laborers be given the same terms as those the Mexican government imposed in the Treaty of 1942.(39) Yet the STFU had not forgotten its original goals. In late 1944, as it became public knowledge that the Post-War Planning Commission would discourage a postwar "back to the land" movement, the STFU pressed the government to make public land available for both veterans and displaced farm workers.(40)

The demand for land for veterans and displaced farm workers fell on deaf ears, however, and the words of the Farmers' Union representatives were prophetic, for the transformation of the means of production required more than merely the purchase of tractors and harvesters; it necessitated a revolution in the form farm labor would take. The advent of mechanized agriculture slowly but surely doomed the tenancy system. None of the experts writing reports of the Post-War Planning Commission concerned themselves with the dramatic decline in tenancy and sharecropping in the postwar period. Nowhere among the hundreds of reports and memoranda is there mention of a phenomenon which would profoundly alter the social and economic structure of the rural South in the postwar period. Buried in one document, however, is a brief discussion of the need to improve the tenancy system by the adoption of written leases which would "increase the security with which tenant farmers hold their land .... " The report included suggestions designed to make it more feasible for tenants to "add certain classes of improvements and fixtures" on their farms. This suggestion was made as a means of overcoming the "adverse effect of the faulty tenure system upon conservation and development of our land resources."(41) What that expert was implicitly acknowledging in his report was that given the tenuous nature of the "security with which tenants hold their land," investment in expensive farm machinery was unlikely and even ill-advised. Since postwar developments made the purchase of tractors and other labor-saving devices absolutely essential if one were to keep up with the market, tenants and sharecroppers were obviously going to be left out of the revolution in Southern agriculture, which depended upon the increasing use of chemicals, fertilizers, tractors and, ultimately, mechanical harvesters.

But even when plantation owners furnished machinery to their tenants and sharecroppers, the situation did not improve for the latter. One of the major attractions of the tenancy/sharecropping system to landless farmers was the semblance of independence they enjoyed on the farm; but landowners who provided them with expensive equipment necessarily desired closer supervision. Another attraction to the system, perhaps even more important than the semblance of independence sharecroppers and tenants perceived themselves having, had to do with the myth of an "agricultural ladder." Sharecroppers supposedly occupied the bottom rung of the agricultural ladder and could hope to step into tenancy and from there to land ownership. But between 1940 and 1965, the percentage of tenants and sharecroppers in Poinsett County dropped from 76.9 percent of all farm operators to 48.4 percent.(42) It id most unlikely, moreover, given the cost of land and equipment, that any of them were stepping into land ownership. Indeed, while the average size of farming operations in the county was increasing, from 136.3 acres to 336.3 acres in this period, the number of owners was shrinking from 950 in 1940 to 694 in 1965.43 What these figures reveal is an overall decrease in the total number of farm operators which is consistent with the trend toward the concentration of land ownership and the mechanization of agriculture.(44) Indeed, between 1940 and 1965, the acreage operated by tenants and sharecroppers dropped as precipitously as the total number of tenants and sharecroppers. Their share of the acreage in farms was shrinking, from 51.1 percent in 1940 to 32.5 percent in 1965, while the acreage farmed by owners was increasing from 46.5 percent to 65.7 percent.(45)

While tenants and sharecroppers of both races were leaving the county in the postwar period, a greater percentage of black farm operators departed. Between 1940 and 1965 black tenants and sharecroppers declined from 642 to 52 and white tenants and sharecroppers declined form 2,536 to 605.(46) In other words, the percentage of black tenants and sharecroppers was reduced by 91.9 percent while the number of white tenants and sharecroppers decreased by only 76.1 percent. Several possible explanations for the better survival rate of white tenants exist. As elsewhere in the South, some white tenants were related to the landowners they worked for and thus enjoyed advantages black tenants were not afforded. And although the white county agent worked principally with. farm owners, he occasionally extended advice to white tenants. Finally, white tenants operated larger farm units than did black tenants and were not as impoverished.(47)

Whatever the reason for the ability of a greater number of white tenants and sharecroppers to remain on the neo-plantations of the postwar period, it is arguable that the program offered by the black county agent beginning in 1946 did not afford black tenants and sharecroppers the kind of advantages white operators enjoyed. And, ironically, given the rapid decline in the black population of the county, the black county agent was removed in 1965. While it is generally acknowledged that blacks left the rural South in the post-world War II period because of opportunities awaiting them elsewhere, an analysis of the program offered black farmers by their county agent reveals that it was not one which would have made them competitive in the face of the mechanization of agriculture. Black tenants and sharecroppers were encouraged to participate in the "live-at-home" program and produce more food crops for home consumption. Only a modest program was designed to encourage their transition into landowners. The black county agent merely made his clients aware of federal loan programs, but given the cost of land and the policy of requiring the application of a formula for determining whether the purchase price of a particular farm was compatible with its productive capacity,(48) the likelihood of black tenants and sharecroppers making the leap to farm ownership was extremely Slim.(49)

The first black Extension Service representative assigned specifically to Poinsett County was a home demonstration agent, Lena Eddington, who, like the white home demonstration agents, worked with farm women. Eddington's narrative report for the year 1944 highlighted her efforts to introduce nutritional improvements and at the same time underscored a serious problem prevalent on the county's plantations.(50) Arguing that the rejection of young men by the selective service was largely due to poor nutrition,(51) she assisted 350 families in improving their diets and instructed another 185 families in better food production. The "Movable School Agent" (52) first introduced the "Live-at-Home" program to Poinsett County black families, but Eddington enthusiastically supported it and reported that 116 black families were in the program in 1944 and that it had "improved the standard of living of many families in this county."

The home demonstration agents who succeeded Eddington continued in these activities in subsequent years while visits from the black district agent sufficed to reach black farm men until the arrival in 1946 of the county's first black farm agent, L. J. Jackson, a graduate of Arkansas A. M. & N. College with a degree in agriculture. The program adopted in 1946 focused on encouraging black farm men to grow more food crops for home consumption, to increase and improve poultry flocks, dairy cows and hogs, and to engage in modest repairs to equipment and buildings.(53) Fully 81.4 percent of the black farm operators were sharecroppers and most of the rest were tenants. Only 3.7 percent were farm owners. Thus the black farm agent could hardly fail to recognize the financial limitations of his clients. His recommendation for future work with black farmers included a "better live-at-home program" and advice that farmers "repair homes where they will be convenient, watch the up keep of out houses in order to better observe sanitation and health" (Jackson, p. 13). Jackson left the county on September 30, 1946, and a new agent replaced him in January of the following year.(54) Thereafter, black county agents would come and go sporadically until the program was permanently suspended in 1965. All the subsequent black county agents followed Jackson's advice and never moved beyond the program he outlined.

While white landowners were introduced to improved cotton seed, fertilizers, and chemicals and encouraged successfully to increase soybean production,(55) black farmers were told to produce truck crops and food for home consumption. While white landowners were provided with demonstrations of tractors, flame cultivators, and mechanical harvesters, black farm men were instructed in how to repair broken equipment and make modest structural repairs to dilapidated buildings. No program as ambitious and far-reaching as the farm-labor program carried out on behalf of white landowners was offered to black farmers. Again, black farm agents recognized the meager means of their clients and implemented programs designed to raise their standard of living. They did not encourage adoption of farming practices that would have transformed black tenants and sharecroppers from subsistence farmers to market-oriented landowners. Ironically, in promoting a better standard of living for black families, they probably made it more tolerable for some tenants and sharecroppers to remain on the county's plantations while white landowners engaged in an agricultural revolution which would eventually render sharecroppers and tenants obsolete. In other words, while white landowners were learning how to adapt the wage-labor system to the realities of the capital-intensive plantation, they continued to have the use of tenants and sharecroppers during the period when the transformation was taking shape. In a sense, therefore, the program offered to black farmers, while at least marginally improving their material condition, actually worked to the advantage of the white landowners who continued to utilize the tenancy system while they engaged in improvements in their operations which would lead to the decline of tenancy and the concentration of land ownership in fewer "white" hands. (1) For a discussion of the rise of the neo-plantation system, see Jack Temple Kirby, Rural Worlds Lost: The American South 1920-1960 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1987), pp. 64-74; see also Pete Daniel, Breaking the Land: The Transformation of cotton, Tobacco, and Rice Cultures Since 1880 (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1985), pp. 241-242. (2) Menio to Ray C. Smith, Chief Program Analyst, from Carl F. Taeusch, Head, Division of Program Study and Discussions, September 15, 1942, Records of the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture, Box 1, Record Group (RG) 16. (3) Land Tenure Problems and Their Solution After the War" (Undated but in 1944 box), p. 3, Records of the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture, Box 3, RG 16. (4)For studies that focus on the mechanization of agriculture, see James Street, New Revolution in the cotton economy: mechanization and Its Consequences (Chapel Hill:University of North Carolina Press, 1957); Gilbert C. Fite, "The Mechanization of Cotton Production Since World War II," Agricultural History, 54 (January 1980), 190-207. See also Kirby, Rural Worlds Lost; Daniel, Breaking the Land. Agricultural Experiment Station bulletins, meanwhile, also provide considerable insight into mechanization. For Arkansas, see M. W. Slusher and Harold Scoggins, "Cotton Production Practices in Arkansas," Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin, No. 507 (April 1951), 3-91; Alvin L. Bertrand, et al., "Factors Associated With Agricultural Mechanization in the Southwest Region, AAES Bulletin, No. 567 February 1956), 3-34; Daniel F. Capstick, "Economics of Mechanical Cotton Harvesting," AAES Bulletin, No. 622 (March 1960), 3-34; Capstick, "Cost of Operating Farm Tractors in Eastern Arkansas," AAES Bulletin, No. 652 (March 1962), 3-26; and Capstick and William P. Nelson, "Cost of Owning and Operating Miscellaneous Farm Machinery in Eastern Arkansas," AAES Bulletin, No. 661 (October 1962), 3-20. (5) "Statements from the Department of Agriculture Interbureau Committee on Post-War Programs, House Special Committee on Economic Policy, and Planning," August 23, 1944, Records of the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture, Box 3, RG 16. See also "Agriculture When the War Ends," October 15, 1943, Records of the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture, Box 3, RG 16. See also Memorandum, to Carl C. Taylor, Head, Division of Farm Population and Rural Welfare, from Louis J. Ducoff, May 10, 1944, Records of the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture, Box 4, RG 16. (6) Charles S. Johnson, Edwin R. Embree, and W. W. Alexander, The Collapse of Cotton Tenancy: Summary of Field Studies and Statistical Surveys, 1933-1935 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1935), p. 49. (7) Pete Daniel's classic study, Shadow of Slavery: Peonage in the South, 1901-1969 (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1972), continues to provide the most elaborate analysis of the economic destitution and coercion confronting tenants and sharecroppers of both races. See also Joseph P. Reidy, From Slavery to Agrarian Capitalism in the Cotton Plantation South, Central Georgia, 1800-1880 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992), pp. 12-13. (8) For studies focusing on the influence of the New Deal, see Theodore Saloutas, The American Farmer and the New Deal (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1982); Richard S. Kirkendall, Social Scientists and Farm Policies in the Age of Roosevelt (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1966). (9) Studies devoted to the problems of tenants and sharecroppers during the New Deal and/or the rise of the Southern Tenant Farmers' Union are as follows: David Eugene Conrad, The Forgotten Farmers: The Story of Sharecroppers in the New Deal (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1965); Donald H. Grubbs, Cry From the Cotton: The Southern Tenant Farmers' Union and the New Deal (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1971); Paul E. Mertz, New Deal Policy and Southern Rural Poverty (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978); and H. L. Mitchell, Mean Things Happening: The Life and Times of H. L. Mitchell, Co-Founder of the Southern Tenant Farmers' Union (Montclair: Alleheld, Osmun, 1979). See also Jeannie Whayne, "Reshaping the Rural South: Land, Labor and Federal Policy in Poinsett County, Arkansas, 1900-1940," Diss., University of California, San Diego, 1989, pp. 375-386. (10) James Street was the first to recognize the tendency of planters in the Southwest and the Far West (particularly California) to be the first to mechanize: New Revolution in the Cotton Economy (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1957), p. vii. (11) All data on crops in Poinsett County is taken from the Census of Agriculture, published by the U. S. Department of Commerce, for the years 1899-1900, 1909-1910, 1919-1920, 1924-1925,1929-1930, 1934-1935, 1939-1940, 1944-1945, 1949-1950, 1954-1955, 1959-1960, and 1964-1965. Please note that the Census of Agriculture reports data on crops in the year preceding the census year. In other words, the 1940 census would report cotton acreage for 1939. On the other hand, the Census of agriculture reports data on number of farms, acreage in farms, land tenure, mules/horses, and tractors for the census year itself. (12) A similar increase in cotton acreage occurred in two nearby delta counties, Mississippi and Crittenden, between 1899 and 1939. Mississippi County planters had 34,380 acres in cotton in 1899 and 284,761 in 1939. Crittenden County planters had 40,583 acres in cotton in 1899 and 101,019 in 1939. All three countries experienced a sharp increase in cotton production between 1944 and 1949, almost certainly following upon the postwar boom in cotton prices: Poinsett, from 68,951 to 125,861; Mississippi, from 194,076 to 284,761; and Crittenden, from 116,433 to 163,602. (13) Jeannie Whayne, "Reshaping the Rural South," pp. 119-161; Jeannie Whayne, "Creation of a Plantation System in the Arkansas Delta in the Twentieth Century," Agricultural History, 66 (Winter 1992), 70-73; Jeannie Whayne, "The Power of the Plantation Model: The Sunk Lands Controversy" (forthcoming in Forest and Conservation History, Spring 1993). (14) Acreage in production in Mississippi and Crittenden counties was increasing in this period as well. Mississippi County planters had 124,684 acres in farms in 1900, 491,406 acres in 1940, and 525,506 acres in 1965. Crittenden County planters had 113,123 acres in farms in 1900, 328,684 acres in 1940, and 334,969 acres in 1965. The greater increase in acres in farms in Poinsett County than in its two delta neighbors can be attributed to a comprehensive drainage program the brought a particularly difficult swampland under control in the immediate postwar years. Marked Tree Tribune, February 3, 1949. (15) See Donald Holley, "The Second Great Emancipation: The Rust Cotton Picker and How it Changed Arkansas" (forthcoming, Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Spring 1993). (16) W. L. Wright, "Narrative Report of County Agent, Poinsett County," 1946 Northeast Men's Annual Reports, Arkansas, p. 74, Federal Extension Service, RG 33. (17) Marked Tree Tribune, February 19, 1948; April 22, 1948. (18) Author interview with Jean Thatcher, July 10, 1992. Mr. Thatcher went to work for the St. Francis Valley Farms Company in 1951. At that time, the St. Francis Valley Farms Company was half owned by E. Ritter and Company. While the companies operated separately, Louis V. Ritter, Sr., was president of both. Investors from Memphis, Tennessee, were his co-owners. Ritter bought out his co-owners in 1960. Mr. Thatcher was first the Farms Manager of E. Ritter and Company and then the St. Francis Valley Farms Company turned over their farm management to him. Once the two companies combined, Thatcher was responsible for the entire 22,000 acres of farms. In 1981 he became vice president of the company. He retired in 1986. (19) Marked Tree Tribune, June 17, 1943. (20) Marked Tree Tribune, August 18, 1943. (21) Marked Tree Tribune, August 19, 1943. (22) Marked Tree Tribune August 20, 1942; September 22, 1942. (23) Marked Tree Tribune, July 29, 1943. (24) Digest of Material Proposed for Presentation to the Senate Post-War Committee Hearing: Prospects for Reabsorption of Population and Workers in Agriculture (sic) at the End of the War," May 8, 1944, p. 2, Records of the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture, Box 2, RG 16. (25) Marked Tree Tribune, September 7, 1944. (26) W. P. Boyer, "Narrative Report of the County Agent, Poinsett County," 1944 Northeast Men's Annual Reports, Arkansas, pp. 47-50, Federal Extension Service, RG 33. (27) Boyer; Warked Tree Tribune, March 23, 1944; April 27, 1944. (28) Marked Tree Tribune, June 15, 1944. (29) Marked Tree Tribune, February 22, 1945. (30) Wayne D. Rasmussen, A History of the Emergency Farm Labor Supply Program, 1943-1947, Agriculture Monograph No. 13, U. S. Department of Agriculture Bureau of Agricultural Economics, Washington, D. C., September 1951. (31) Meniorandum to J. Otis Garber from Byron Mitchell, November 1, 1948, p. 2, General Records of the Department of labor, Assistant Secretary John W. Gibson, General Subject File 1945-51, Box 6, RG 174. (32) Marked Tree Tribune, August 15, 1946. (33) See Memphis Press-Scimitar clippings located in the Mississippi Valley Collection, Memphis, Tennessee: Memphis Press-Scimitar, "Planters are Feuding Over Mexican Pickers," September 20, 1948; September 30, 1948. (34) Author interview with Jean Thatcher, July 10, 1992. (35) The authors of The Collapse of Cotton Tenancy were particularly sympathetic to the plight of tenants and sharecroppers during the New Deal and their publication of The Collapse of Cotton Tenancy in 1935 was largely reflective of their interest in conditions on the plantation. (36) Marked Tree Tribune, August 16, 1945. (37) Marked Tree Tribune, August 16, 1945. (38) Valley Collection, Clippings File, Memphis Press-Scimitar, October 1, 1942; November 15, 1944. (39) Mississippi Valley Collection, Clippings File, Memphis Press-Scimitar, September 2, 1942. (40) Mississippi Valley Collection, Clippings File, Memphis Press-Scimitar, November 17, 1944. (41) "Land Tenure Problems and Their Solution After the War" Undated but in 1944 box), p. 2, Records of the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture, Box 3, RG 16. (42) The tenancy rate in Mississippi County dropped from 77.4 percent in 1940 to 59.7 percent in 1965. In Crittenden County the tenancy rate dropped from 89.5 percent in 1940 to 60.8 percent in 1965. (43) The average number of acres farmed by owners in Mississippi County increased from 163.3 percent in 1940 to 546.0 percent in 1965. In Critteriden County the average number of acres farmed by owners increased from 109.1 percent in 1940 to 414.5 percent in 1965. The existence of smaller operations on Crowley's Ridge and the Prairie section of Poinsett County deflates the figures for Poinsett County. (44) The number of farm owners in Mississippi County decreased from 1,740 in 1940 to 691 in 1965. In Crittenden County, the number of farm owners decreased from 626 to 402. (45) A similar picture emerges in Mississippi and Crittenden counties. In 1940, tenants farmed 50.4 percent of the acreage in farms in Mississippi County. This had dropped to 25.8 percent in 1965. In Crittenden County, the acreage farmed by tenants dropped from 55.7 percent in 1940 to 33.4 percent in 1965. (46) In the period between 1940 and 1955, when the Agricultural Census included separate categories for tenants as opposed to sharecroppers, black tenants declined from 79 to 15 and white tenants declined from 1,366 to 992. Black sharecroppers declined from 563 to 302 while white sharecroppers declined from 1,170 to 1,056. (47) In 1940, black tenants and sharecroppers farmed an average of 16.0 acres while white tenants and sharecroppers farmed an average of 51.9 acres. By 1965, the few black tenants and sharecroppers who remained operated an average of 15.7 acres while white tenants and sharecroppers operated an average of 211.6 acres. The size of the farm units operated by white tenants and sharecroppers suggests that they had, at least to some extent, participated in the mechanical revolution in the postwar period. (48) Marked Tree Tribune, May 16, 1946. (49) See the Narrative Reports of the Negro County Agents, Federal Regional Archives, Fort Worth, Texas, Federal Extension Service, Arkansas, Annual Reports, 1917-1970, RG 33. The black county agent reports for Poinsett County. begin in 1944 and end in 1965. (50)Lena H. Eddington, Negro Home Demonstration Agent. "Narrative Report of County Home Demonstration Agent," p. 16, Federal Extension Service. RG 33, (51) Lewis B. Hershey, Selective Service in Wartime: Second Report of the Director of Selective Service, 1941-1942 (Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1943). pp. xv, 9; Marked Tree Tribune, July 11, 1942; January 1, 1945. (52) T. R. Betton, Negro Movable School Agent, "Annual Report of Movable Demonstration School Work" (undated but for period December 1, 1945, to June 30. 1946), p. 3, Federal Extension Service, RG 33. (53) L. J. Jackson, Negro County Agent, "Narrative Report of County Agent," p. 5, Federal Extension Service, RG 33. (54)J. C. Barnett, District Agent, Supervisor of Negro Agents, "Narrative Report of Extension Work for Negroes, Arkansas," p. 20, Federal Extension Service, RG 33. (55) The white county agents had been encouraging planters to increase soybean production since the 1920s. But it took New Deal programs and World War II to bring about this development.
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Title Annotation:Special Issue: The South in Transition
Author:Whayne, Jeannie M.
Publication:The Mississippi Quarterly
Date:Sep 22, 1992
Words:7421
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