WHEN: After the American Civil War (1861-1865)
DEFINITION: Sharecropping is a system of agriculture in which a landowner allows a tenant to use the land in return for a share of the crop produced on the land.
Sharecropping came to define the method of land lease that would eventually become a new form of slavery. Without land of their own, many blacks worked a portion of the land owned by whites for a share of the profit from the crops. They would get all the seeds, food, and equipment they needed from the company store, which allowed them to run a tab throughout the year and to settle up once the crops, usually cotton, were gathered. When accounting time came, the black farmer was always a few dollars short of what he owed the landowner, so he began the new year with a deficit. As that deficit grew, he found it impossible to escape from his situation by legal means. The hard, backbreaking work led to stooped, physically destroyed, and mentally blighted black people who could seldom envision escape for themselves or their children; their lives were an endless round of poor diet, fickle weather, and the unbeatable figures at the company store. Those with courage to match their imaginations escaped under cover of darkness to the North, that fabled land of opportunity.
RESULT: After time the system seemed quite similar to slavery. Blacks were again always having to work, with little hope of leaving.
Benefits for Blacks
The sharecropping system gave black workers to be free of the close daily control they had during slavery. Each black family had their own cabin and prepared its own land as a separate unit. Sharecroppers could at least hope by working hard and saving they might have enough money to buy a farm of their own someday. For them that would be complete freedom. This is the reason most blacks preferred sharecropping instead of working for wages
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Benefits for Whites
Whites made up two thirds or more of the sharecroppers
The American Civil War (1861-1865) brought the end of slavery in the United States of America. For the plantation owners of the South this meant that during the years after the war they were faced with a predicament. Even if a family owned an impressive parcel of land, they couldn’t farm it by themselves; they needed labor. The Southern economy was in such shambles that in many cases they couldn’t even afford to buy seed and farm implements, much less to pay hired hands. At the same time, most of the blacks who’d been shackled to the land before the Civil War were still there, living in the old slave quarters or in shacks they’d built themselves, trying to raise enough food to keep from starving, getting by from one day to the next.
A bargain was struck. The white landowners, through mortgaging their property or through credit connections, scraped together enough cash to provide seed, implements, provisions, and basic shelter for the blacks that were willing to stay on and work. In return, the blacks planted and harvested the crops, under the supervision of a handful of salaried white overseers on the larger plantations and under the watchful eye of the owner himself if the farm was smaller. It was up to the plantation owners to sell each year’s cotton harvest, compute each black family’s fair share of the proceeds, deduct the market value of the food, clothing, and other necessities that had been provided to that family, and pay them the difference in cash. In theory, the system was fair enough, but in practice it was heavily weighted against the blacks.