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But in 1931, black farmers had to struggle simply to remain on the land. The

confrontation at Crane's Ford was a defensive action characteristic of the

Sharecroppers Union's (SCU) early history, from 1931 to 1933. Crane's

Ford farmers had not yet planned any particular tactics to implement their

demands when, on July 15, 1931, their meeting was raided by the high sheriff and his posse.

 
 

All God's Dangers

The Life of Nate Shaw

By Theodore Rosengarten

 

Appendix

Crane's Ford and the Sharecroppers Union (SCU)

During the early years of the Great Depression, the communist party sent organizers to Alabama to build a steelworkers union in Birmingham and a sharecroppers union in the countryside. the cotton system was verging on collapse. cotton prices had been falling steadily since the end of the First World War, and now, as prices hit bottom, nobody could make a profit. Many poor farmers were uprooted; those who stayed were threatened with the loss of their meager property and means of support.

After crops were planted in the spring of 1931, landlords and merchants in the Crane's ford area decided to cut off food advances to their tenants and sharecroppers while the cotton ripened in summer. landlords also reduced day wages for field work.

The Southern Worker, a Party newspaper serving the southern states, printed letters from unidentified "farmer correspondence" at Crane's ford, describing conditions there and asking for help. The Party sent an organizer to form a union local. Black farmers met with him and drew up a list of demands: food advances through "settlement" time; the right to sell their own crops and to plant small gardens for home use; wages for picking cotton to be paid in cash in full; a three-hour midday rest for day workers; a nine-month school year for black children and a free school bus.

These demands went beyond measures to meet the current crisis; if met they would have given poor farmers some control over work conditions and improved their chances in the world through education.

Party strategists believed that fighting for specific demands would prepare black farmers for "self-determination." In the Party's view, the black majorities of black-belt counties shared economic, territorial, and cultural identities; hence, they constituted a nation. This "nation" would become a reality if the black-belt counties were unified across state lines. Then, in theory, black majorities could enfranchise themselves and vote to decide if they would have an independent political system.

But in 1931, black farmers had to struggle simply to remain on the land. The confrontation at Crane's Ford was a defensive action characteristic of the Sharecroppers Union's (SCU) early history, from 1931 to 1933. Crane's Ford farmers had not yet planned any particular tactics to implement their demands when, on July 15, 1931, their meeting was raided by the high sheriff and his posse. the raid touched off several days of sporadic violence. One farmer was killed and his house burned, and thirty-five black were jailed on charges ranging from carrying concealed weapons to assault and conspiracy with intent to murder. They were never brought to trial. By September, all were released, possibly due to lack of evidence and possibly because the cotton needed picking.

But the SCU was effectively suppressed in Crane's Ford. in late fall, 1932, the Party sent a second organizer to Pottsdown, some fifteen miles to the south. Nate Shaw describes what happened there. following the shoot-out between farmers and sheriffs, legal prosecution and vigilante violence curtailed union activity in the area.

Beginning in 1933, the SCU concentrated its efforts in the black belt west of Tukabahchee County. there. organizers saw the large plantations as "factories in the fields." Farm laborers who neither owned nor rented the land were brought by the wagonload and truckload into the fields to chop and pick cotton for wages paid daily, weekly, or monthly. The SCU claimed it had organized several thousand farm laborers, and in 1935 the union led wage strikes with modest success across the Alabama black belt.

Repression was severe, especially in Lowndes County, where whites, outnumbered by blacks seven to one, defended their supremacy with armed force. seeking protection and additional resources, the SCU turned to New Deal agencies for relief. After 1935, the SCU acted more and more as a liaison between poor farmers and the New Deal.

When in 1936, the Party called for a "united front" of communist and other "progressive" forces, SCU organizers were already proposing to affiliate with national unions. Tenants, sharecroppers, and wageworkers were each to merge with an older, established union representing its particular needs.

By late 1938, SCU tenants and sharecroppers had transferred to the Farmers Alliance of the 1880s and 90s. Wageworkers merged into the Agricultural Workers Union, which was chartered by the American Federation of Labor in 1937 as the Farm Laborers and Cotton Field Workers Union.

Affiliation signaled the SCU's shift from a strategy of "national liberation" of the black belt to positions squarely in the tradition of American agrarian protest. The Farmers Union stressed credit and market problems and lobbied for nationalizing the banks, dismantling monopolies, and reforming the tax structure.

The shift in goals was mainly a shift on paper. Organizers had always responded to farmers' actual needs for self-defense and occupational improvements. Slogans about self-determination of the black belt had little immediate appeal to people fighting to save their livestock or to earn an extra fifty cents a day. Changes in Party strategy, such as the call for a "united front," did influence the SCU's direction and affiliation, but conditions in the field generally determined union tactics.

The SCU's struggle to secure a livelihood for poor farmers was resolved, in part, in the general "solutions" to the Great Depression. By the outbreak of the Second World War, war industries had begun to absorb black and white farmers displaced in the economic crisis; public welfare maintained others who could not or would not leave the land.

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AALBC.com's 25 Best Selling Books


 

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.”

Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—WashingtonPost

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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama's political success and Oprah Winfrey's financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today... than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits.

Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don't know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Related files:  All God's Dangers Preface   "All God's Dangers Ain't White Men."  Crane's Ford and the Sharecroppers Union (SCU)