Sharecropping: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Ashley Davis

Ashley has taught first, fourth, and fifth grades and holds a master's degree in Curriculum and Instruction.

What is sharecropping? Why would someone want to share crops? In this lesson you will learn about the history of sharecropping and why it's important to American history.

A Difficult Decision

Imagine not being able to read or write. How could you earn a living without these vital skills? Now imagine having no money, and nothing that belongs to you. How could you move to find a better life?

These were all issues that newly freed slaves faced at the end of the Civil War. For many, the only life they knew was farming for their master, and they continued doing this even after being given their freedom, only now they were working as sharecroppers. Sharecropping is a system where a landowner allows a tenant to use his land and in return the landowner is given a portion of the crops grown.

Why Sharecropping?

Toward the end of the Civil War, Union General William T. Sherman issued Special Field Order Number 15. This plan was a temporary solution to finding something for the large number of freed slaves in Georgia and Carolina to do. It granted each freed family in the area 40 acres of land along the Georgia coast and barrier islands. Some were also given mules by the Union troops. The plan gave these freed slaves hope that they could finally break away from their former masters and be on their own.

Georgia Sharecroppers
Georgia

Unfortunately, their hopes were soon shattered. During Reconstruction, the period following the Civil War focused on rebuilding the nation, President Andrew Johnson ordered that all land taken by the federal government, like the land in Georgia that had been given to freed slaves, be returned to its rightful owner. Freed slaves occupying this land were given two choices: 1) leave the land, or 2) sign a planting agreement with the land owner. These agreements were the beginning of sharecropping. Both freed slaves and poor white families became sharecroppers.

Home of an Alabama Sharecropper
Home

Was it Slavery by Another Name?

Sharecroppers did not earn wages from the landowners. Instead, they rented the land for a set amount and aimed to grow and harvest enough crops to pay the rent and have money left over. Many sharecroppers, especially former slaves, felt this gave them their own identities.

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