"Do you think the farmer gets anything out of it except a red neck"
Cotton sharecroppers, Hale County, Alabama, 1936
Public DomainCotton sharecroppers, Hale County, Alabama, 1936 - Credit: Walker Evans

After slavery was abolished, share-cropping — whereby a landowner would allow a tenant to use his land in exchange for 50 per cent of the crop produced — came to dominate the cotton industry. These farmers were predominantly former slaves and poor whites who had lost their land during the Civil War. As Jason observes, they did not fare well under this system. Land-owners' own fortunes had been so reduced by the war that they had to borrow money to produce crops and were charged interest at 15 per cent. Rather than worsen their own situations, they paid this back by deducting it from the share-croppers' portion. Share-croppers were also required to reimburse land owners for seeds and tools, with interest added. As a result, many were plunged into deep debt that bound them to the land.