Curriculum

After the end of the Civil War, limited economic opportunity for freedmen led many to become sharecroppers working for former slave owners.  Although sharecroppers were technically contracted employees, their contracts were frequently unfair and exploitative.  In this lesson, students critically evaluate their classroom textbook’s account of sharecropping by comparing it to a sharecropping contract from 1882.










Image: Photo of sharecroppers taken by Dorothea Lange in Mississippi in 1937. From the Library of Congress.

Comments:

Thanks. That's a really helpful caution. Southern revisionism is not, in fact, my goal.
I would argue that the BB King piece is a fairly complex account to unpack and use to corroborate the sharecropping lesson. All Southern landholders and the slaveholders before them could be divided into simplistic categories of "nice" and "mean," and BB King-- in some ways characteristic of some of the men of that generation-- is very careful about his respect for his rural Mississippi roots and, indeed, even the white authority he ultimately fled. Any classroom can very easily assume after this interview that, despite the evidence in the contract, and given the limited information on sharecropping in the American Vision, that sharecropping really wasn't that bad, without ever having applied a class or racial analysis. If Southern revisionism is not your goal-- then be careful!
I just used this today with my 11th graders, and they loved it. We also did a sharecropping simulation, and I am planning on having them listen to the BB King interview next class. What a great resource!
After reading the textbook and the sharecropping contract we also listened to this NPR BB king interview where he shares his experience growing up as a sharecropper. NPR BB king interview: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=94558581
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