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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Clay East, September 22, 1973. Interview E-0003. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Role of sharecropping in Depression-era Tyronza, Arkansas

East explains the role of sharecropping in Tyronza, Arkansas, during the Great Depression. According to East, many small land-owning farmers lost their land during those years. While some of these displaced people became sharecroppers, East argues that most sharecroppers were part of a larger history. Whereas some had owned land at some point, most sharecroppers had always worked as hired hands.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Clay East, September 22, 1973. Interview E-0003. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Well, generally, see, it got to where these farms, most of them was belonging to big businessmen, the small farmer was practically all lost their farms. As I just got through telling you, they …Howard and Young down there had five or six hundred acres of land and before they got hold of it, maybe they'd furnish these people and the guy would get way in debt to them and maybe he'd give them so much to pay off the balance of the farm or something, I don't know what would happen to them, maybe they'd start out and try to go in and buy another small farm someplace. But, not very many of those guys that actually owned those farms, very few of them ever started in sharecropping. Sharecropping was generally taken up by guys that started out working as hands, see by the month. Maybe just working by the day, mixing their jobs up. The sawmills had practically played out and even by 1910 or 1912, they had cut all this land over and the sawdust piles there…a mile and a half from Tyronza, there was a little old place called Dewey's Mill and they'd had two big sawmills there at one time and they had a sawdust pile that was probably fifty or sixty to seventy five feet high that would cover ten or fifteen acres of land. Well, that thing caught afire down there and it burned for years and years. I expect five years.
SUE THRASHER:
So, the people who were doing sharecropping on these big farms then were not people who had owned their farms before?
CLAY EAST:
Very seldom.
SUE THRASHER:
They were people who had worked for money.
CLAY EAST:
Yeah, probably people who had worked as farm hands.
SUE THRASHER:
Does that include black sharecroppers also?
CLAY EAST:
Same deal with them. Most of those black that came in there had come to work in sawmills, see, as sawmill hands. Now, I understand that there was quite a few black people around Tyronza that owned their own farms and they just happened to be better managers and most of the time, a black man that owned his own farm was respected and was ordinarily a good businessman.