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Evicted: 1939

Evicted: 1939

January 1939. An evicted sharecropper among his possessions in New Madrid County, Missouri. View full size. 35mm nitrate negative by Arthur Rothstein.


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New Madrid and the Missouri bootheel

The New Deal under Franklin Roosevelt passed the Agricultural Adjustment Act in 1933. Among other things, the Act paid farmers not to plant crops, and to leave land fallow. The money from the Federal government was supposed to go to "farmers", which included the masses of sharecroppers on the land. However, "farmers" and "landowners" are not the same thing. As a result, the landowners kicked the sharecroppers off the land and pocketed the money.

The Act was deemed unconstitutional in 1936, but the damage had been done. Mechanization of the farms, which had long been in ascendency, became a reality and the tenant farmers and sharecroppers were no longer needed.

Evicted Sharecopper

Sad,sad, picture. This man looks like the homeless in NYC, probably wearing whatever clothing he owns. They can't afford to leave them in the shelter or wherever they flop because someone would steal even these meager possessions. The photo of the people along the road is heartbreaking, they look like refugees escaping the horrors of WWII.


It would be interesting to know the backstory to this poignant photo. Perhaps a bank foreclosure on the landowner? I count two, possibly three, bed frames and bedsprings, suggesting there were children in this household. Now they are without shelter in a Missouri winter.

[It was a mass eviction of over a thousand families, photo below. - Dave]

"On January 10, 1939, in the bootheel region of southestern Missouri, some 1700 sharecropper families were handed eviction notices for their protest of planters' plans to reduce them to day laborers." (Link) Basically a result of the mechanization of agriculture. No need to have dozens of sharecroppers farming your land with mules when a few men on tractors can do the same work. The sharecroppers organized, there was a protracted legal battle, and the displaced farmers eventually won a measure of relief, federal housing, etc.

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