The Life of Nate Shaw
By Theodore Rosengarten
* * *
Biography of Ned Cobb
Ned Cobb was a tenant farmer living in Tallapoosa
County, Alabama, who joined the Sharecroppers Union in 1931 to
fight for justice for black people and against exploitation by
white landowners. He had been fairly successful as a farmer, an
extraordinary achievement for a black man in rural Alabama. In a
series of interviews in 1969 conducted by Theodore Rosengarten, a
Harvard scholar, Cobb told the remarkable story of his life.
Rosengarten's book, All God's Dangers: The Life
of Nate Shaw detailed many of Cobb's life experiences. ("Nate
Shaw" was a pseudonym for Cobb.)
His father had been a slave and had been
emotionally crippled by it. He took out his frustration on his
family, often beating his wife and children. When he was old
enough, Cobb started to farm on his own. He worked as a
sharecropper and eventually became a tenant farmer. A hard worker
with a deep knowledge of crops and animals, Cobb managed to escape
the financial traps set for him by local whites. They extended
credit to him, hoping he would fail so they could then claim all
his possessions and force him to work for them. Cobb stayed out of
their debt, as he managed to avoid being destroyed by natural
disasters such as the boll weevil epidemic and the collapse of
"All God's dangers," he said, "ain't
In 1931, Cobb was profoundly impressed by the
arrival of the Communist Party in the cotton fields of Alabama. He
was aware that the party was defending the Scottsboro Boys, nine
black youths who had been falsely charged with raping two white
women. Cobb saw the Communists as the heirs to the abolitionists
who came South during the Civil War and Reconstruction to finish
the job their predecessors had started. He joined the party's
union, the Sharecroppers Union, and distributed leaflets and
literature and recruited new members.
In 1952, when a sheriff tried to foreclose on a friend's home and
livestock, Cobb defended his friend and became involved in a
shootout. Wounded, Cobb was arrested. Offered the opportunity of a
lighter sentence if he cooperated with the court and named fellow
union members, Cobb refused and was sent to jail for 13 years. He
lived long enough to see the triumph of the civil-rights movement.
* * *
Biography: Ned Cobb
By Rod Cameron
Born in 1885, Ned Cobb was a tenant farmer in Alabama in the early
1900s. As a cotton farmer, Cobb fought against unfair treatment of
tenant farmers by forming a tenant farmers union. According to
James R. Grossman, in the opening decades of the twentieth century
Cobb clawed his way up the ladder from wage laborer to
sharecropper, cash renter, and finally owner.
explains that often the value of the land farmed by farmers in
Alabama at the time was less than the value of the crops grown on
it. In Cobb's case, the crop was cotton. So when farmers had to
borrow money to pay for expenses, bankers or merchants loaned
money based on the value of the crop rather than the land.
the crop was sold after harvest, bankers and merchants took
payment out of the cash produced by the crop.
result, farmers were often forced to grow cash crops on all their
land rather than use part of it to grow food for their own
families. This forced them to go back to the same merchants to
borrow more just to feed their families. The resulting cycle made
it nearly impossible to ever rise above the poverty level.
struggles are portrayed in the poem "In Egypt Land" by
John Beecher and in the book All God's Dangers by Theodore
Cobb, whose real name is Nate Shaw, was the son
of slaves himself and struggled throughout his life to gain
independence. Rosengarten, whose book is based upon 1500 pages of
oral history as told by Shaw, reveals Shaw in the1930s, joining a
sharecroppers union and coming to the aid of a neighbor whose land
is about to be possessed by deputies. After exchanging shots with
the sheriff, Shaw was sent to spend twelve years in prison. Upon
his release in 1945, Shaw was almost sixty.
* * * * *
|In Egypt Land
Cliff James said
"nor the High Sheriff"
nor all his deputies
is gonna git them mules.
The head deputy put the writ of
attachment back in his inside
then his hand went to the butt of his
but he didn't pull it.
"I'm going to get the High Sheriff
"and come back and kill you all
in a pile."
Cliff James and Ned Cobb watched the
deputy whirl the car around
and speed down the rough mud road.
He took the turn skidding
and was gone.
"He’ll be back in an hour, " Cliff
If’n he don’t wreck hisself."
"Where you fixin' to go?" Ned Cobb
'I’s fixin’ to stay right where I is."
I’ll go git the others then."
"No need of ever-body gittin’ kilt"
than perishin' slow like we been a'doin"'
Cobb was gone.
* * * * *
In 1934, Beecher was asked to study
sharecroppers' organizations. He published his findings in Social
Forces, a respected journal of sociology. But what he'd seen
and heard of Alabama sharecroppers during his research propelled
him into a more direct engagement with the defiances he witnessed.
He began a long narrative poem about two ignored American
patriots, Cliff James and Ned Cobb, who fought and suffered trying
to build a tenant farmers' union. Their heroics brought out the
best in Beecher. The resulting epic, "In Egypt Land," is
an evocative tribute to two men, who happened to be black, who
refused to behave with the submissiveness demanded of them as
black tenant farmers. His poem, like their defiance, was out of
kilter with the times. Polite circles, even liberal ones, did not
want to hear of blacks taking command of their own destinies, of
their using guns, of their asserting a sense of self not beholden
For years the poem's only notice were the
rejection slips sent to Beecher. He fumed at being spurned,
wondering aloud about "gutless publishers" in sometimes
petulant terms. Other poems he was writing at the time weren't
being published either. "In Egypt Land" and other poems
of the South's people before the second world war were eventually
printed by Beecher himself in a volume; titled To Live and Die
in Dixie. (Not until 1974 did a "'regular"
publication Southern Exposure print "In Egypt
Land," and the magazine's editors endeared themselves to
On the other hand, Beecher's irascibility came
out most clearly after the publication of All God's Dangers,
an oral history of the life of Ned Cobb. The author's note in the
first edition of the book contained a reference to Beecher's
pioneering in the struggle 40 years before, but mentioned neither
"In Egypt Land" nor the Social Forces article.
Beecher, who had in fact introduced Ted Rosengarten to Cobb's
story, was furious. The paperback reprinting of All God's
Dangers after the book received national acclaim fully
acknowledged the author’s debt to Beecher and to "In Egypt
By the completion of "In Egypt Land"
in 1940, Beecher had left Chapel Hill to run a succession of New
Deal agencies. He administered relief in North Carolina. He
supervised a study of cotton tenancy in the Mississippi Delta,
then surveyed farm labor conditions in the Southeast. He helped
resettle farm families, and managed a resettlement project himself
for three years. He opened resettlement camps in the Florida
Everglades before abruptly quitting government employ to write
editorials for a Birmingham newspaper, and then report news for
the New York Post.
* * *
* * *
Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in
By Melissa V.
According to the
author, this society has historically exerted
considerable pressure on black females to fit into one
of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the
Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless
Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to
white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of
those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the
relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable
temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as
an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the
characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television
shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
points out how the propagation of these harmful myths
have served the mainstream culture well. For instance,
the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for
black females to feel a maternal instinct towards
* * *
Sex at the Margins
Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry
By Laura María Agustín
This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice.
—Lisa Adkins, University of London
* * * * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
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Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
* * * * *
The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
George Jackson /
* * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
* * * * *
* * *
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posted 2 November 2007