1870 to 1950 - Sharecropping (watch)
Sharecropping became widespread in the South as a response to economic upheaval caused by the end of slavery during and after Reconstruction. Sharecropping was a way for very poor farmers, both White and Black, to earn a living from land owned by someone else. The landowner provided land, housing, tools and seed, and perhaps a mule, and a local merchant provided food and supplies on credit. At harvest time, the sharecropper received a share of the crop (from one-third to one-half, with the landowner taking the rest). The cropper used his share to pay off his debt to the merchant.
The system started with Blacks when large plantations were subdivided. By the 1880s, white farmers also became sharecroppers. The system was distinct from that of the tenant farmer, who rented the land, provided his own tools and mule, and received half the crop. Landowners provided more supervision to sharecroppers, and less or none to tenant farmers. Sharecropping in the United States probably originated in the Natchez District, roughly centered in Adams County, Mississippi with its county seat, Natchez.
Sharecroppers worked a section of the plantation independently, usually growing cotton, tobacco, rice, sugar, and other cash crops, and receiving half of the parcel's output. Sharecroppers also often received their farming tools and all other goods from the landowner they were contracted with.
Landowners dictated decisions relating to the crop mix, and sharecroppers were often in agreements to sell their portion of the crop back to the landowner, thus being subjected to manipulated prices. In addition to this, landowners, threatening to not renew the lease at the end of the growing season, were able to apply pressure to their tenants. Sharecropping often proved economically problematic, as the landowners held significant economic control.
Although the sharecropping system was primarily a post-Civil War development, it did exist in antebellum Mississippi, especially in the northeastern part of the state, an area with few slaves or plantations, and most likely existed in Tennessee. Sharecropping, along with tenant farming, was a dominant form in the cotton South from the 1870s to the 1950s, among both blacks and whites.