African-American History Sharecropping Was Not a Direct Term Paper

Pages: 10 (2799 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Black Studies

African-American History

Sharecropping

Sharecropping was not a direct effort by whites to keep blacks in a submissive position, but rather was a phenomenon that developed after the Civil War as the South tried to rebuild its economy (Riddle 1995). Southern white landowners did not like Sharecropping, however they needed a means of labor to work their land, and ex-slaves had limited employment options as freedmen, thus sharecropping was essentially a necessary alternative, a compromise (Riddle 1995).

At the end of the War, freedmen owned no property, and most were illiterate, and the few skills they did possess related to agriculture production, thus the majority roamed the countryside seeking out family relations, while others congregated in shantytowns around Southern cities and towns (Riddle 1995).

Only about four percent of Southern blacks found permanent employment in cities since urban job opportunities were too scarce to accommodate the majority of ex-slaves (Riddle 1995). Desperate and yearning for old surroundings and loved ones, most of the freedmen returned to areas of their rural origins (Riddle 1995).

The Civil War had devastated the Southern economy, which now hinged on the ability to unite capital and labor, therefore, landowners were as eager to reestablish production as blacks were to earn incomes (Riddle 1995). Although planters still owned land, they no longer owned labor, the means to yield their crops (Riddle 1995). Planters viewed new "capital-labor relations" as a way of minimizing inevitable loss, while blacks saw it as maximizing gain, thus freedmen returned to work on the land, yet this time for wages (Riddle 1995).

Due to the shortage of currency, wage laborers were generally paid with a share of the crop, and were forced to work under contract in gangs under an overseer, and often had their wages withheld because of infractions (Riddle 1995). Landowners found wage laborers undependable, and freedmen complained that planters failed to pay full wages and demanded extra work without extra pay, a system too similar to slavery (Riddle 1995). Planters began to divide their plantations into small plots that were assigned to families and paid for with a share of the crop the family produced, therefore for the first time, blacks could manage their own lives (Riddle 1995). Freedmen chose sharecropping because it was fairly isolated work and they had little concern for the landowner's market-oriented capitalist goals (Riddle 1995).

However, there were abuses that eventually had devastating effects on the freedmen. Before Redemption, sharecroppers had first lien of the crop until they paid rent and other expense advances, however after 1875, legislatures made landowner liens superior, along with new legal definitions that limited the rights of a particular kind of worker, thus landowners had statutory power over tenants (Riddle 1995). Moreover, because landowners often set the price for crops and what crops, freedmen found themselves once again at the mercy of white planters as high interests kept many so far in debt they were essentially working only for the privilege of working (Riddle 1995).

The black sharecroppers also suffered serious harassment from many white sharecroppers that resulted in torture and hangings (Riddle 1995).

In 1864, a flood of Asian and European immigrant laborers provided a vast pool of cheap, as national measures gave incentives to settle and invest in the West, resulting in the South's isolation and status as a low-wage region (Riddle 1995).

The Great Migration

There were several factors that played a part in the Great Migration of African-Americans to the North between 1914-1929. Many freedmen fled North to avoid the Jim Crow segregation laws of the South, believing that there was less discrimination in the Northern states (Great). However, most fled North for economic opportunities.

The Boll Weevil infestation of the Southern cotton fields had left sharecroppers devastated, forcing many to seek employment outside the agricultural areas (Great1).

When millions of men left their jobs to serve in World War I, a huge demand for laborers opened up in the North (Great). The War also halted the flow of European immigrants to the United States, thus creating additional labor shortages in Northern factories, and the growth of war industries created new employment opportunities in the service jobs that new factory workers had vacated (Great1). Then in 1927, the Great Mississippi Flood displaced hundreds of thousands of farm workers and sharecroppers (Great 1).

The North was so desperate for laborers that labor agents actually traveled to the South to encourage African-Americans to come North, and railroad companies even paid the travel expenses for blacks who agreed to leave the South and come North (Great).

Over one million African-Americans participated in the Great Migration, resulting in the first large, urban black communities in the North (Great). In fact, from 1910 to 1930, the North witnessed its black population rise some 20% (Great). For example, Detroit saw its African-American population rise from roughly 6,000 in 1910 to over 120,000 by 1929 (Great1). Although many Northern whites opposed this mass movement of African-Americans into predominantly white cities, it proved extremely advantageous for blacks, offering unprecedented job opportunities for adults and educational opportunities for children (Great1).

However, African-Americans discovered that the cost of living was higher in the North, often paying almost twice as much as whites for equivalent housing, resulting in many taking in boarders just to help meet expense which created overcrowded living conditions, with little privacy and poor sanitation (Crew 1987). Moreover, African-Americans found themselves paying higher prices for food, clothing and other necessities in neighborhood stores (Crew 1987). Thus, the Great Migration proved a mixed experience for many migrants, for although they earned better wages, most of the increased income was offset by higher living expenses (Crew 1987).

Nevertheless, the Great Migration did usher in a new era for African-Americans.

In an effort to halt immigration to the North, policies in the South began to change (Great1). Southerners realized they could no longer treat blacks as serfs, and began treating them as true employees entitled to proper compensation (Great1). White men began speaking to African-Americans on the street, and merchants gave more attention and consideration (Great1).

Moreover, arrests for petty offenses ceased and lynchings subsided as part of this new attitude toward blacks by white Southerners (Great1).

Not only did the Great Migration change race relations in the South, but also for the first time in U.S. history, there was a significant urban African-American population which in turn created a flourishing of cultural activity (Great1). Moreover, due to the rising population of blacks in industrial areas, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802 in 1943, which banned racial discrimination in the workplace, thus paving the way for the Civil Rights Movement (Great1).

The "New Negro" movement, Marcus Garvey and the UNIA, and the Harlem Renaissance

Beginning at the end of World War I, a cultural movement began among African-Americans. This movement, which extended into the 1920's and 1930's, was characterized by the New Negro and was centered in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City (Harlem). This era marked an explosion of African-American literature, music, politics, and arts that was accepted seriously by the mainstream public (Harlem). This era is referred to as the Harlem Renaissance, the New Negro Movement, the New Negro Renaissance, and the Negro Renaissance (Harlem).

The Great Migration had nurtured a black middle class. African-Americans had taken advantage of employment and educational opportunities, and many of these educated and socially conscious blacks settled in Harlem, thus creating a political and cultural center for black Americans, as musical talents such as Bessie Smith, writers such as Langston Hughes, and political activists such as Marcus Garvey emerged into the national spotlight (Harlem).

According to Jamaican born Marcus Garvey, he founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League, UNIA-ACL, to "unite all people of African ancestry of the world to one great body to establish a country and absolute government of their own" (Marcus). His many enterprises included the Black Star Line Steamship Corporation and the Black Cross Navigation and Trading Company, both of which failed due to mismanagement and fraud (Marcus). He also established the Negro Factories Corporation, which was an attempt to build and operate factories across the U.S., Central America, the West Indies, and Africa, to manufacture a vast variety of commodities (Marcus). He also started a chain of grocery stores, a restaurant, a publishing house and numerous other businesses (Marcus). Garvey, believing that blacks should have a permanent homeland, even tried to develop Liberia, intending to build railroads, industries, and colleges, however European powers halted its development (Garvey). Garvey was a firm believer in racial segregation and autonomy and encouraged those of African ancestry to return to their ancestral homelands (Garvey). Although his business ventures failed, his "Back-to-Africa" movement did inspire creative and artistic movements among the African-American communities (Garvey).

The Harlem Renaissance was not characterized by any particular style, but rather was a union of artistic expression that resonated racial pride and a longing for equality (Harlem). It was the New Negro who gave birth to this movement. This… [END OF PREVIEW]

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