After the Civil War, former slaves sought jobs and planters sought laborers. A lack of cash or an independent credit system led to the creation of sharecropping.
Sharecropping was a system where the landlord/planter allowed a tenant to use the land in exchange for a share of the crop. This encouraged tenants to work hard to produce the biggest harvest that they could, and ensured they would remain tied to the land, and unlikely to leave.
In the South, after the Civil War, many black families rented land from white owners and raised cash crops. Often, the landlords or nearby merchants would lease equipment to the renters, and offer seed, fertilizer, food, and other items on credit until the harvest season, when the tenant and landlord or merchant would settle up.
High interest rates, unpredictable harvests, and unscrupulous landlords and merchants often kept tenant families severely indebted. This prohibited slaves leaving if they owed the landowners and made it illegal for sharecroppers to sell their crops to others besides their landlord.
Approximately two-thirds of all sharecroppers were white, and one third were black. Though both groups were at the bottom of the social ladder, sharecroppers began to organize for better working rights, and the integrated Southern Tenant Farmers Union began to gain power in the 1930s. The Great Depression, mechanization, and other factors lead sharecropping to fade away in the 1940s.
Source: Slavery by Another Name: Sharecropping
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