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African-American Studies: The Sharecropping System

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African American Studies The Sharecropping System
03.07.2020
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The Sharecropping System

The sharecropping system was an agricultural system where an owner of a land piece leased it to another person to plant crops in return for a share of them when crops are harvested. This essay outlines the reasons why black people preferred this system to the wage-labor one, and why they ended up tied in it and remained poor.

To begin with, this practice among African Americans dates back to 1870s. It was prevalent among people living in the southern part of America and especially among those who planted cotton in their farms. In fact, this concept arose as a result of the desire of freed black slaves to empower themselves economically by having a certain degree of right to own and control their private land. It was also caused by the little efforts that the government made to ensure that the former slaves could own their personal property and land during the process of reconstruction (National Archives & Records Administration, 1863).

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The workings of the sharecropping system are closely related to the relationship existing between a landlord and a tenant. According to this structure, a person who owned land could rent or lease it out to another individual who was willing to develop the land by farming it (Kelley & Lewis, 2005). The landlord could benefit from such an agreement by receiving a certain amount of proceeds or plant produce from the land user on an annual basis. Thus, most blacks chose to work on rented land, as opposed to working under the supervision of a landowner.

One of the reasons why many African Americans preferred the sharecropping system to wage-labor practice was that the former gave them a sense of autonomy. On the contrary, people who worked as the wage laborers for farm owners lacked the freedom to control their way of working as well as social and economic aspects of their lives. However, unlike this system, black sharecroppers could work closely with their families increasing the level of family cohesion. Additionally, the freed slaves felt that wage labor was exploitative. People who were subject to that system worked under very harsh conditions and unfair terms that favored the employers. The land owners would often deny the workers their wages or even deduct some money from their salaries as the latter had no channel of complaining about their issues. Another reason why most former slaves preferred sharecropping was that it gave them the hope for owning private land in the future. Unlike the wage labor system, sharecropping gave people opportunity to invest some of their resources in the farming process which resulted in earning a reasonable amount of money. Therefore, this system reduced the chances of facing extortion due to selfish employers (Kelley & Lewis, 2005).

Nevertheless, sharecropping had its negative sides as most sharecroppers were left poor and tied to a particular farm or plantation. The main reason for the occurrence of such a situation was that most black people owed exorbitant amounts of money to the landowners at the end of the renting period. It is connected with a fact that in certain agreements, the sharecropper could request the landowner to lend him/her some resources such as harvesting instruments in the form of loan that he/she had to repay within a particular period. Most of these debts were huge because the owners gave them out in two installments, and by the end of the year, it could accrue to a large amount of money. Because of this, many landowners were not willing to give their land to the blacks. This situation increased the level of poverty among black people who lacked good employment opportunities. Other factors that left most of the people indebted to landowners were the high-interest rates that they had to pay for the advances and at times, the failure to get an abundant harvest because of natural disasters (Kelley & Lewis, 2005).

All in all, despite some downsides, the sharecropping system did a lot of good to African Americans.

The Great Migration in the African-American History

The Great Migration was an en masse relocation of African Americans from what they perceived as the rural south to the other areas which were considered to be more urbanized. This essay explains the causes of this occurrence and the reasons why this period was the turning point in the African American history.

The Great Migration took place between the 1900s and the late 1960s. Africans who dwelled in America underwent a lot of suffering mostly due to slavery and segregation. Although a great number of them spent most of their lives farming, soon they realized that they had to seek more promising opportunities. Many African Americans as well as their children just wanted a peaceful and secure place. In result of such circumstances, they decided to look for a system that avoided cruel treatment, a system that existed in the North.

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Furthermore, some catastrophic events like the Great Depression and attack on cotton by weevils that occurred in the twentieth century played their part in African Americans moving north. Flooding in the Mississippi River led to most black being homeless and their farms destroyed. As a result, they were urged to look for better alternatives. The First World War that began in 1914 also has its influence as it needed weapons. Such situation led to increase in factory production, and due to this, the blacks in the north were assured of jobs and ultimately a better life that they desired.

If to speak about the North, at that time, it was free from slavery and had numerous job opportunities due to the ongoing rapid industrialization. As most northern people successfully fought against slavery, African Americans knew they would have better and wider opportunities there. The northern people were very tolerant towards the black. They treated them much better than the southern people. The situation was the same in almost all of the northern states. In addition to good treatment, the African Americans were also offered freedom of movement as well as freedom of expression.

In light of all the facts mentioned, many people consider the Great Migration to be a turning point in the African American history. This period is described as the watershed for the enslaved African Americans. It altered the manner in which black people perceived things and conducted themselves. During this period, the vast concentration of the blacks in the south reduced, and they opened their eyes to jobs in the industries and industrialization, which helped them make important steps towards being urbanized. In fact, moving to the north initialized urbanization which was a result of African Americans being employed in the developed industries in the North. Thus, this period marked the transformation of rural individuals into urbanized ones just like their white counterparts in the major cities.

All in all, the Great Migration has a great influence on the African Americans. They got an opportunity to escape from slavery and segregation and become urbanized individuals.

The Effects of the Great Depression and World War II on African Americans

The Great Depression and the Second World War were two successive events that took the world by storm. They dragged development all over the globe and, thus were considered immense catastrophes. Their effects on African Americans were considerable making them respond in several ways that will be outlined in this essay.

The great depression resulted in the southern white landowners losing their land as well as property. This only made life more difficult for the African Americans in the south. Prejudice together with discrimination and lynching, which had already started to decrease, began intensifying again there. Furthermore, the introduced Deal Program set back the African Americans who were sharecroppers. They were also displaced as they did not meet the necessary requirements stipulated to own federal lands. All this made life worse for the African Americans. Unfortunately, the Great Depression happened after the migration of the black people from the south to the north in search for job opportunities. During the Depression African Americans in the North were the first people to be stripped of their employment. As a result, this led to an increase in unemployed blacks. Most northerners assumed that African Americans should not be holding jobs as long as some white people did not have employment. Even though some of the blacks managed to keep their jobs, their employers still reduced their salary greatly. This eventually resulted in African Americans forming long lines to serve soup in the kitchens as they did not have any alternatives to sustain their survival.

In urban areas, the Great Depression proved to be a hard time as well. The situation was especially tense for the African Americans who faced constant discrimination and lacked job opportunities. Most of them had already established their lives in the urban areas by the time the Great Depression took place. Nevertheless, it led to immense devastation among them since there was a high rise in discrimination in the various industries just as it was back in South America.

If to speak about the west side, it was considered relatively stable during this period. As many blacks migrated into these areas, which led to an increase in the black population. Since there were few opportunities for the African Americans, they were segregated into crowded neighborhoods. As a result, they faced impoverished living conditions. However, the living conditions in the rural south were probably the worst. Despite the fact that African American people were used to harsh life of the countryside, they had barely enough to drink, eat or wear once the Great Depression set in. They mainly depended on the white landowners as they worked as sharecroppers to get food to eat, shelter over their heads, and something to wear (Kelley & Lewis, 2005).

In spite of harsh treatment African Americans underwent after the First World War and during the Great Depression, many of them still volunteered to participate in the Second World War. Nonetheless, even in army they continued to experience racial discrimination as well as segregation. They were never commended for their efforts but instead they were given lower ranks. Nevertheless, most of them such as the Tuskegee men proved that racial prejudice was no barrier to their efforts. This led to the desegregation of the army under presidential order. Everyone saw involvement in the war as a way to end the misery as people earned some income from it. In addition, rejection from industries led most blacks to work as domestic servants and doing dangerous and menial jobs that were avoided by the other people. Some of the African Americans even started to specialize in music and arts since most of them were denied opportunities in skillful jobs even though they met the required academic qualifications. Specialization in music and arts led to the emergence of African American jazz that appealed to many people and developed very fast.

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African Americans were finally able to join labor unions only after the depression. This led to higher participation in politics mostly after the new deal program that implemented measures to benefit the black Americans. Basically, all the endeavors the African American people undertook continued to uplift them and also earn them income (Kelley & Lewis, 2005).

Therefore, the effects of these two catastrophes on the blacks in the north, south, and west were dramatic. Thanks to them, the African Americans learned to take measures to cushion themselves from such events.

The Philosophy of Non-Violence of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of the most influential leaders during the struggle against white supremacy who advocated for the rights of the colored people. This paper will outline his philosophy of peaceful demonstrations and their context during the Cold War.

Unlike most of the African American leaders who resorted to citing their followers to use violence in order to present their case, Martin Luther King, Jr. believed that they could do it using means that were not cruel. There were a few other leaders who shared this philosophy with him and who encouraged their followers to desist from engaging in activities that were deemed to be violent. In order to mobilize supporters, Martin Luther King Jr. and his associates used the platform presented by the church. The church was a critical tool for these leaders since it served as a meeting point that was convenient for most African Americans especially from the south. By resorting to peace, the political leaders gained the trust and support of religious leaders who in their turn assisted Martin Luther King, Jr. in mobilizing their congregations to participate in the peaceful demonstrations across the country as it was exactly according to what they preached at the pulpit.

In fact, peaceful demonstrations proved to be an effective tool in the cause that the blacks were championing. It showed their maturity and belief that the system could grant their wish which was the same treatment as one of the American citizens (BlackPast.org, n.d.). While demonstrating, the law enforcement officers and other white supremacists used violence to try to quell them. Some of the demonstrators were jailed for engaging in what they believed in. However, instead of resisting arrest and raising money for bail, they chose to remain in custody. This strategy proved to work as some of the whites supported them and agreed to join in the agitation for their rights as American citizens (BlackPast.org, n.d).

At around the mid-20th century, a host of other nations were fighting for independence from various colonialists. Meanwhile the civil rights movement had gained momentum during other countries’ struggle. This period also coincided with the Cold War against the USSR and its allies. During it, both the US and Russia sought to gain the influence over the blacks. However, it was difficult for the US to gain the support of African countries if African leaders witnessed the mistreatment of the fellow black men in America. Thus, the peaceful protests were essential, and the president was obliged to give in to the colored individuals in America in order to win over third world nations that were predominantly black.

Consequently, Martin Luther King, Jr. was a tactful leader. He knew that the blacks could not gain their full rights as American residents without the support of the other citizens. He, therefore, chose a method that would be appealing to them. By engaging in peaceful protests, the sympathetic whites in the South saw reason in their struggle and felt empathetic, agreeing to join them. They did so by reducing the segregation levels against African Americans in the south.

All in all, Martin Luther and his cohorts were keen to show that the civil rights movement was not a fight of the colored people against the white ones, but a struggle to ensure that justice prevailed in the society. As a result, the use of non-violence yielded fruits since the blacks in the south were slowly integrated into the society and subjected to less discrimination.

Black Power as a Freedom Movement and Political Outfit

Just after the civil rights movement the Black Power entered the picture. This essay has outlined how this movement served as both a freedom movement and political force. It has also stated the major difference between it and the civil rights movement.

As a movement, the Black Power continued with the goals of the civil rights movement for anti-discrimination against black people and freedom for those who were still enslaved using discriminatory laws. It also championed for the release of the colored people who were wrongfully held in custody. Besides calling for freedom of the blacks, it was used as a political platform that sought to consolidate the unity of the blacks. The slogan itself implied the blacks coming together to create a political force that would either see them electing representatives to speak out their wishes and desires in the relevant institutions.

The civil rights movement was successful in ousting open discrimination against blacks. It culminated in the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 (Mikula, Mabunda & Marion, 1999). To all of those who were involved in the peaceful demos, the signing of this law meant the termination of the segregation and commencement of equality. However, to the others, especially the poor living in the ghettos, the Act meant nothing since discrimination still continued, albeit not being in the open. The lack of belief in the gains of the peaceful protests led to the rise of Black Power. It meant a difference in perception and opinion on how to fight for equality. While most blacks believed in Martin Luther King, Jr. and his methods, some people like Malcolm X thought that the non-violent protests would not address their concerns fully and help them earn respect, they deserved as equal citizens. Hence he opted for the Black Power which emerged in 1965 after the blacks came to the understanding that the Act signed in 1964 was not the ultimate solution to their quest for equality (Altman, 2015). This is one of the major differences between two movements.

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Martin Luther’s approach was seen as rather soft and tantamount as the African American must have begged the whites for what rightfully belonged to them. Malcolm X approach differed from this one. He thought that colored individuals in America could do the things in their own way, and they were not obliged to unite with the white people. This approach was not in line with the beliefs of Martin Luther King, Jr., who advocated for the unity of the whites and blacks. According to Malcolm, this approach did not solve racism. In fact, it seemed to exacerbate it. Black Power caused some groups of blacks to engage in acts of violence and civil strife as a way of resolving the challenges they had to face. They did it under the pretext of self-defense occasioned on them by the authorities and law enforcement agencies. For a moment, the movement managed to distract people from the gains that had been brought by the Civil Rights Act. But its success was short-lived as the majority of African Americans chose to strengthen their interactions with whites in formal and other social settings (Altman, 2015).

Despite not being as popular as the civil rights movements due to its advocacy of violence, the effects of the Black Power movement can still be felt four decades later in the wake of economic stagnation and political crisis. It managed to attract a sizeable number of colored people as it advocated for self-reliance and self-determination. Blacks were exploited economically despite being the most hardworking people in all sectors of the economy throughout the nation. They had served in many areas including farms, industries, and wars. Yet decades later there was nothing to show for their efforts. When this movement came about, individuals felt that the time to finally reap their hard work had come. The Black Power inculcated a belief among African Americans that they ought to do something to succeed including self-defense against economic exploitation. Besides politics, the Black Power managed to influence the black people’s social cultural and educational lives. It was successful in installing a sense of self-pride in the African identity. Even the curriculums in higher educational institutions have been altered to incorporate African Americans into the system.

All in all, the movement was successful in creating an identity for African Americans and pride in that identity.

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