In the fall of 1865, President Andrew Johnson overturned General William Sherman’s Special Field Order Number 15, which promised to newly freed enslaved people that “each family shall have a plot of not more than 40 acres of tillable land.” As a consequence of Johnson’s revocation, land seized by the Union army was returned to its former Confederate owners, forcing many Black families to become sharecroppers.
The plantation elite recaptured some of what they lost with the end of slavery by forcing many Black farmers into sharecropping, a form of “debt peonage, under the sway of cotton kings who were at once their landlords, their employers, and merchants.” [#23]
“Tools and living necessities were lent to sharecroppers for a price paid out of whatever profit was made from the crop. When farmers were deemed to be in debt—and they often were—the negative balance was then carried over to the next season.
Anyone who protested this arrangement did so at the risk of grave injury or death. Refusing to work meant arrest under vagrancy laws and forced labor under the state’s penal system.” [#23] Poor white people also had few options.
In 1890, what percentage of white farmers were sharecroppers or tenants? What percentage of Black farmers?
The front page of The Chicago Defender, October 11, 1919, documenting the killings of Black families in Elaine, Arkansas. This excerpt was found in the scrapbook of Arkansas Governer Charles Brough.
By 1880, one-third of white farmers were sharecroppers or tenants, as were 75% of Black people. [#24]
When white landowners massacred hundreds of Black sharecroppers in Elaine, Arkansas in September 1919, it was because some of them were attempting to organize to demand fairer profit sharing and an accounting of the supposed debts that were assigned to them.
What are ways that people continued to extract wealth from Black Americans after slavery was abolished?