An interdisciplinary journal about regions, places, and cultures of the US South and their global connections

"Out Yonder on the Road": Working Class Self-Representation and the 1939 Roadside Demonstration in Southeast Missouri

Jarod Roll, University of Sussex

Published: 
16 March 2010
Overview: 
Bruce Moses, Missouri Bootheel map, 2009.
Bruce Moses, Missouri Bootheel map, 2009.

This essay revisits the 1939 roadside demonstration of sharecroppers in southeast Missouri, when more than fifteen hundred men, women, and children piled their belongings on the highway shoulder to protest the deleterious effects of New Deal agricultural policy. Images of these impoverished, desperate families — African American and white — shocked the nation and attracted the attention of the White House. Using archival material, including documentary photographs, the essay excavates the longer history of this dramatic event and considers how the demonstrators successfully manipulated the cultural narratives and iconography of rural poverty to force government action. These grassroots, working-class activists participated in what scholars have termed the 1930s "Southern Front" of political protest.

"'Out Yonder on the Road': Working Class Self-Representation and the 1939 Roadside Demonstration in Southeast Missouri" was selected for the 2009 Southern Spaces series "Documentary Expression and the American South," a collection of innovative, interdisciplinary scholarship about documentary work and original documentary projects that engage with regions and places in the US South.

Introduction:

In the early morning hours of January 10, 1939, more than fifteen hundred men, women and children piled their meager belongings along US Highways 60 and 61 in the lowlands of southeast Missouri, also known as the Bootheel. Over the preceding decade their lives as tenant farmers had been damaged by environmental disaster, falling crop prices, worsening poverty and disease, New Deal agricultural policies, and the mechanization of cotton production. Now landowners had decided to hire day laborers to replace their tenants. As a result, families who normally expected to occupy a plot of land for a year or more faced nomadic seasonal employment with no guarantee of work or shelter.

Arthur Rothstein, Evicted sharecroppers along Highway 60, New Madrid County, Missouri, January 1939. FSA-OWI Collection, Library of Congress, LC-USF33- 002967-M4.
Arthur Rothstein, Evicted sharecroppers along Highway 60, New Madrid County, Missouri, January 1939. FSA-OWI Collection, Library of Congress, LC-USF33- 002967-M4.

On that wintry morning in 1939, these African American and white landless farmers (over two hundred of them were white) sat down on the roadsides in protest. In over a dozen camps, large and small, they erected makeshift tents by draping blankets and sheets over stick frames. Into these tents they moved whatever clothing, food and belongings they had brought. They unloaded straw ticks and corn shuck mattresses from old cars and trucks, parking the vehicles close to their camps to provide shelter for children and the elderly. With this work finished, they sat down among kin, friends and neighbors to wait for the nation to wake up and respond to their collective statement of discontent.1

As day broke, word began to spread across the Missouri Bootheel and surrounding area that something was happening on the roadsides. Locals did not know what, exactly, but soon suspected that it had to do with the Southern Tenant Farmers' Union (STFU), which had been organizing tenants in the area since 1936. Within a few hours, print and radio journalists rushed to cover the story. Soon, investigators, including those from the federal government's National Youth Administration, arrived to interview the demonstrators, talk with local planters, and struggle to comprehend what they saw and heard. When journalists asked William H. Jones, leader of the camp near Sikeston, what it was all about, he replied that after having been turned out of their homes by unscrupulous landlords, "We have no place to go." "We don't know whether this will do us any good," Jones concluded, "but it will show the people what we are up against."2

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Interpretations of the Demonstration:
Arthur Rothstein, Evicted sharecropper and child, New Madrid County, Missouri, January 1939. FSA-OWI Collection, Library of Congress, LC-USF33- 002945-M2
Rothstein, Arthur, Evicted sharecropper and child, New Madrid County, Missouri, January 1939. FSA-OWI Collection, Library of Congress, LC-USF33- 002945-M2

How did people interpret it? Photographers from major daily newspapers in St. Louis and Memphis, from the Associated Press (AP), from the Historical Section of the government's Farm Security Administration (FSA), and others working on a freelance basis compiled a voluminous photographic record of what Jones and his fellow protestors showed on the roadsides. These photographs accompanied nearly every news report of the event. To be sure, the photographers offered their own compositional interpretations of what the protest meant. Many of the AP photographs minimized and sometimes erased the role played by African Americans, while others shot the scene at a distance in a way that portrayed the individual actors on the roadsides as a faceless human detritus left in the wake of some omnipotent force. By contrast, the pictures taken by Arthur Rothstein, an FSA photographer coincidentally on assignment in the Bootheel at the time, focused on the black participants, who emerged in his rendering "as social actors rather than simply figures acted upon, and as thinkers rather than simply figures thought about," according to historian Nicholas Natanson. What is most striking about Rothstein's images, Natanson concluded, is that "the activism that spawned the demonstration in the first place" was apparent to those who looked.3

As Natanson suggested, the people who made the roadside demonstration by showing "the people what we are up against" were not simply mediated subjects but historical actors in their own right. Scholars of 1930s documentary photography have shown how the creative and political aims of photographers often distorted the voices and lives of their visual subjects. Historian Stuart Kidd, for example, argued that FSA photographers co-opted southern tenants to serve the propagandist aims of the Historical Section through images that "provide highly mediated insights into the lived experiences of the underclass and, necessarily, encourage intuitive or counterfactual readings." This was arguably the case with most of the photographic representations of the Missouri protest as photographers inscribed the images they took with their own ideas about race, region, individualism, and class. But the roadside demonstration also reveals an often overlooked dynamic in the relationship between photographer and subject: the people in the pictures often had just as good, if not better, an idea of the politics of representation than those on the other side of the camera. The images captured along Highways 60 and 61 in the Bootheel were made possible by the conscious efforts of rural people who presented a powerful display of poverty, desperation, and courage that they knew would be transmitted by journalists and others to viewers throughout the nation. The inflections and interpretations that the resulting photographs imposed were secondary to the stark fact that the demonstrators themselves crafted the core text to be displayed in a deliberate act of self-representation for political purposes.4

Arthur Rothstein, State highway officials moving sharecroppers away from roadside to area between the levee and the Mississippi River, New Madrid County, Missouri, January 1939. FSA-OWI Collection, Library of Congress, LC-USF33- 002975-M2.
Arthur Rothstein, State highway officials moving sharecroppers away from roadside to area between the levee and the Mississippi River, New Madrid County, Missouri, January 1939. FSA-OWI Collection, Library of Congress, LC-USF33- 002975-M2.

The people who made the roadside demonstration were grassroots actors in what Jacquelyn Dowd Hall has called the Southern Front, "a radical coming together of art and politics during the Great Depression" that formed a distinctive part of the 1930s Popular Front. The central aim of the protest was to create a public image that would politicize the plight of landless farmers and prod the government to help them. It was not a strike because the people there had already had their labor rejected by employers. It was not an occupation or an obstruction, either; they did not block the highways. Rather, they protested by constructing a scene that was by turns desperate, dignified, and rebellious. Despite their repeated descriptions of the act as a spontaneous reaction to eviction, the demonstrators had conceived, planned, and carried out the protest over a period of months in an effort to translate their goals into the political language of the New Deal, into a visual text that policy maker, pundits, and ordinary voters nationwide would understand. The protestors who were the "thinkers" and activists that Natanson saw in Rothstein's images were taking part in what historian Michael Denning has described as the "cultural enfranchisement" of the working class in the 1930s.5 In creating a powerful text of displacement and need, they manipulated the narratives and iconography that represented them and their condition in the larger national culture in order to better their lives.6

And they succeeded. The visual narrative of the protest attracted attention all the way to the White House. On January 31, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote about the demonstrators' plight in her nationally syndicated "My Day" newspaper column. She worried for the "women and children" in the camps and hoped that concerned people would make "sure that as much suffering as possible is being alleviated." More importantly, President Franklin D. Roosevelt concluded that "this situation, serious as it is for the individual families . . . is even more serious as a symptom of the widespread situation existing throughout the South." He instructed Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace in a private memorandum to "do everything within our power to assist the families of the sharecroppers, farm tenants and farm laborers in southern Missouri who 'went out on the road.'"7

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The Early History:
Walker Evans, The Bessis Levee, along a subsidiary of the Mississippi River, augmented with sand bags during the 1937 flood, near Tiptonville, Tennessee, February 1937. FSA-OWI Collection, Library of Congress, LC-USF33- 009234-M1.Walker Evans, The Bessis Levee, along a subsidiary of the Mississippi River, augmented with sand bags during the 1937 flood, near Tiptonville, Tennessee, February 1937. FSA-OWI Collection, Library of Congress, LC-USF33- 009234-M1.
Walker Evans, Sand bags augment the Bessis Levee during the 1937 flood, near Tiptonville, Tennessee, February 1937. FSA-OWI Collection, Library of Congress, LC-USF33- 009234-M1.

The story of how the demonstrators "went out on the road" begins two years before with the Mississippi River flood of 1937. On January 21 that year, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it would deliberately breach the levee that protected the richest cotton land in the Missouri Bootheel in order to relieve pressure on the levees guarding the city of Cairo, Illinois. The threatened stretch of Mississippi County had been cordoned off by a sixty-foot high setback levee following the disastrous flood of 1927. The setback levee created a flood zone that could provide the river an outlet if waters rose again. When the army announced that it would use the spillway, it gave the twelve thousand tenants and sharecroppers who made up ninety-five percent of those who lived there three days notice to rescue household goods, tools, and livestock. On January 25, the Corps dynamited a gaping hole in the riverfront levee, rattling windows in Charleston, twelve miles to the west, and sending a cascade of muddy, icy floodwater across the land.8

The spillway flood crisis sparked a union organizing drive among local landless farmers. A few hundred people in the area had since mid-1936 belonged to the STFU, an organization of black and white cotton farmers founded by white socialists in northeastern Arkansas in the summer of 1934, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), both of which aimed to mobilize people to protest the federal government's response to the agricultural crisis of the Depression years. Now in 1937, the government had flooded the poorest people on the land in order to protect others from a bigger flood. This apparent injustice seemed to capture in microcosm the problems poor people saw in New Deal policy toward the rural South. Since 1933, New Deal efforts to raise commodity prices by limiting production — a policy carried out by the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) — had provided mechanisms and incentives for cotton planters to replace tenants with wage laborers. The spillway flood was exactly the kind of government action that the STFU and NAACP were organizing to resist.9

Their homes, belongings, and crops destroyed by a blast of federal dynamite, the farmers and activists displaced by the flood organized to demand a New Deal for landless farmers. Gathered in relief camps, the refugees saw the inequality of federal policies and their shared misery from a new perspective. When the Red Cross, U. S. Public Health Service, and Resettlement Administration (to be reorganized as the FSA in mid-1937) rushed clothing, medical care, and food to the displaced, local STFU organizers John Handcox and Owen Whitfield demanded that if the federal government offered relief in response to a disaster it created with dynamite, it should address the disaster caused by its legislation.10

Others saw the contradictions too. The Resettlement Administration dispatched photographer Russell Lee to document the assistance it provided to those in the camps. The agency employed photographers to gather material for its various public relations campaigns, which included the "exposure of the ill fed, ill clothed, ill housed in need of agency assistance; documentation of RA/FSA accomplishments in rural rehabilitation and resettlement; [and the] exploration of social, economic, and cultural processes" in lesser-known parts of the country.11 Lee's photographs accompanied the Resettlement Administration's claims of how much it could help these people when they returned to their homes, a resettlement program that included loans for seed, tools, and new home construction, as well as public health services and educational outreach programs.

Russell Lee, Negro flood refugees at meal time, Charleston, Missouri, February 1937. FSA-OWI Collection, Library of Congress, LC-USF34- 010215-D.Russell Lee, Negro flood refugees at meal time, Charleston, Missouri, February 1937. FSA-OWI Collection, Library of Congress, LC-USF34- 010215-D.
Russell Lee, Negro flood refugees at meal time, Charleston, Missouri, February 1937. FSA-OWI Collection, Library of Congress, LC-USF34- 010215-D.

Those in the relief camps witnessed this coupling of representation and politics first-hand. They would subsequently use it to propel a furious organizing drive on behalf of both the STFU and the NAACP in the months that followed. At the heart of that campaign was a new demand for the federal government to provide landless families the ability to work on the land with fair reward and to live in decent housing, eat nutritious food, and have some assurance of health care. The FSA seemed to respond that autumn when it announced the construction of a government-backed cooperative settlement called LaForge Farms that would provide landless farmers in the area employment and residential security on their own individual farms.

News of the government's plan attracted more people to the local STFU groups, including those in the NAACP who abandoned their organization in favor of union membership, as well as hundreds of white people who decided after much hesitation to join with their African American counterparts in order to ensure their access to what seemed like the government's direct response to STFU demands. That summer the STFU attracted even more members, white and black, when it affiliated with the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing, and Allied Workers of America (UCAPAWA), a new umbrella union of agricultural and food workers in the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). The alliance with the CIO, a strong, broad-based industrial union that had just won stunning victories for steel and automotive workers, magnified rural people's hopes in the power of the STFU to achieve something. The CIO's "culture of unity" that encouraged black and white workers to cooperate together in order to maximize their collective political power also helped bring African Americans and whites into closer cooperation in the union. By the end of 1937, the STFU claimed twenty-seven locals in the Bootheel with over two thousand paying members reflecting ten-fold growth in less than a year.12

Bruce Moses, Map of STFU and NAACP group sites in the Missouri Bootheel by late 1937, 2009.
Bruce Moses, Map of STFU and NAACP group sites in the Missouri Bootheel by late 1937, 2009. Also indicates Highways 60 and 61 and the location of the spillway. (larger version)

Despite these gains, the crisis for landless farmers only accelerated in the summer of 1938. The process of replacing tenant farmers with wage workers that had started with the AAA in 1933 escalated in 1936 after the Supreme Court declared the AAA unconstitutional. The new agricultural control legislation that replaced it came into effect in 1938 and guaranteed tenants stronger legal claims to federal subsidies, in place of the vague appeals to fairness contained in the first AAA. In response, many planters stepped up their plans to employ wage laborers who had no claim on any of the crop and thus no claim to any of the federal subsidy. Planters could then claim all of the government money for themselves, stop supplying credit to landless families in the winter months, and invest their gains in labor-saving machinery, such as tractors. Between 1936 and 1941, the Bootheel's tenancy rate — which measured the number of those who did not own land but still worked the land on which they lived — fell from 77 percent to 64 percent, while the number of rural wage workers increased from between 85 percent to as much as 325 percent on some farms. The number of tractors made since 1936 that were in operation increased by similar percentages. Counter to the intent of the new AAA of 1938, the result in the Missouri Bootheel and across the cotton South was an obvious trend toward larger, mechanized farms worked by casual day laborers.13

In July reports emerged in Missouri of a large round of evictions planned for the beginning of 1939. Local members of the STFU called for the union to intercede. "I am writing you to let you no we are expected to be out of doors the first of the year," one Mississippi County sharecropper told STFU official J. R. Butler. "If you have any influence with the President," he pleaded, "I wish you would please get him to do something for us."14

Arthur Rothstein, Evicted sharecroppers along Highway 60, New Madrid County, Missouri, January 1939. FSA-OWI Collection, Library of Congress, LC-USF33- 002926-M3.
Arthur Rothstein, Evicted sharecroppers along Highway 60, New Madrid County, Missouri, January 1939. FSA-OWI Collection, Library of Congress, LC-USF33- 002926-M3

In the absence of concerted union action, local members staged a wildcat cotton-picking strike that autumn. The STFU was strong in the Bootheel with over thirty locals and 4,500 dues-paying members, African American and white, by late 1938; the Missouri cohort was the third-strongest in the union behind Arkansas and Oklahoma. They could not match the power of the planters, however, who brought in scab pickers from neighboring Cairo, Illinois, to crush the strike and, they hoped, the STFU. Within a week the strike was over and planters were as determined as ever to switch to day labor. STFU activists in the Bootheel realized that traditional trade-union tactics would not solve their problem. They needed a more powerful course of action.15

Desperate to prevent the planned evictions, local union leader Owen Whitfield sought a means of resistance that would circumvent the authority of local planters. Any such solution, he realized, would have to come from the federal government and would thus require a dramatic display of need. "The union must fight through the government," he argued to fellow STFU leaders.16 Whitfield planned a "speaking and organizing campaign getting the people in readiness for a drive on the federal government." His goal was to force the FSA to build more "homesteading projects" in the area like the recently-opened LaForge Farms.

Arthur Rothstein, Evicted sharecroppers along Highway 60, New Madrid County, Missouri, January 1939. FSA-OWI Collection, Library of Congress, LC-USF33- 002929-M3.
Arthur Rothstein, Evicted sharecroppers along Highway 60, New Madrid County, Missouri, January 1939. FSA-OWI Collection, Library of Congress, LC-USF33- 002929-M3.

LaForge housed one hundred families on FSA-owned land, which it rented to clients at reasonable rates. It provided new single-family homes, communal meeting and recreational rooms, and facilities for co-operative business enterprises. Whitfield and his family managed to secure a place on the project through his union connections and he believed the program offered a model solution to the crisis in the cotton country. He informed officials with the St. Louis Urban League that he wanted to see that the thousands of people being evicted got "back to the soil where they belong and they so desire to be." Since so many of the displaced were moving to southern and northern cities, Whitfield thought it imperative to "carry the fight into St. Louis and other northern cities" with a "speaking tour and put the plight of these homeless people before the nation."17

Throughout the fall of 1938 Bootheel unionists searched for a way to make the nation see. In October Whitfield held a series of meetings with local activists to discuss strategies and decided that a speaking tour by him alone would not be powerful enough.18 The rural poor themselves had to give their collective testimony to make the public take notice. At one of these meetings, a sharecropper facing eviction joked that after the New Year his family would have to camp out on the side of the road for lack of a place to go. Whitfield latched onto the idea; the landless could use their greatest trouble — eviction — as a weapon. A roadside protest in the dead of winter of homeless, destitute families, they reasoned, would publicize their plight and issue a moral injunction for action. The idea had contemporary resonance; the recent sit-down strikes in Flint, Michigan, and a similar roadside protest in eastern Arkansas a couple of years before provided precedent. Such a display of human suffering in Missouri could ignite public passions, attract media attention, and force the federal government to intervene. By November, local unionists were busy making preparations.19

 

As the end of 1938 approached, Whitfield worked hard to win outside support for the planned demonstration from a range of organizations, including the STFU, CIO, and the St. Louis Urban League. Whitfield informed national STFU leaders that the Bootheel locals were busy "trying to prepare ourselves for what will happen on the first of January" when "about 900 union familys will be evicted." "They are planning to pile their household goods on sides of the highway and see what happens," he revealed.20

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The Protest:
The activists organizing the protest realized that publicity was the key to its success. Whitfield leaked word of what was going to happen to the press, including, most importantly, a reporter from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. On January 7, Whitfield and 350 core followers gathered at the Sikeston First Baptist Church to hold a final rally. The Post-Dispatch sent reporter Sam Armstrong to cover the meeting in response to Whitfield's invitation.21 With Armstrong in attendance, Whitfield knew he had a chance to explain to the public the moral imperatives behind the protest before planters denounced it. His speech that night provided much-needed background copy for journalists who would write about the story after the protest had begun; they would realize that a leader of the demonstration had explained its purpose a few days earlier in the pages of the Post-Dispatch. Whitfield took the pulpit that night and spoke not just to the gathered crowd, but also to the nation.

 

Arthur Rothstein, Evicted sharecroppers along Highway 60, New Madrid County, Missouri, January 1939, FSA-OWI Collection, Library of Congress, LC-USF33- 002919-M3.
Arthur Rothstein, Evicted sharecroppers along Highway 60, New Madrid County, Missouri, January 1939, FSA-OWI Collection, Library of Congress, LC-USF33- 002919-M3.

A front page article in the Post-Dispatch the following morning told the story. Amid resounding prayers and hymns, Whitfield described the upcoming demonstration using the Apostle Luke's rendering of Christ's final journey to Jerusalem. Quoting Luke 9:58, he said: "The foxes have holes and the birds of heaven have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head." We can read two aims in Whitfield's choice of scripture. On the one hand, the choice of text reminded his followers about the difficulties of discipleship: their suffering was righteous, just as Christ's suffering brought redemption. On the other hand, his sermon attempted to place the protestors on the moral high ground by linking the images of them on the roadsides that would follow in the press to the well-known Biblical story about how the Samaritans rejected Christ and his disciples during their trip to Jerusalem. Like the Son of Man, they also had no place to lay their heads. But would Americans in 1939 behave like most of the Samaritans had done and turn them away? Or would Americans respond like the Good Samaritan? "How many of you got a notice to move?" Whitfield asked. Hands shot up. "How many have got a place to go?" The room went silent. "That's why we're here," he thundered, to "bear our burdens together."

Whitfield's audience, both black and white, responded enthusiastically. "Where we goin' to go?," he asked. The response was deafening. "Sixty-one highway!" they shouted. They should not fear, Whitfield concluded. Just as the Lord had freed Moses and the Israelites from Egyptian tyranny, so they would find their freedom now. "We also must make an exodus," he exclaimed. "It's history repeatin' itself in 1939!" "You've got no place to go," he concluded, "and the only thing left for us is to move quietly like good citizens to the highway." It was time to testify, to make people "see what we're up against."22

Already alerted by Armstrong's report, the Post-Dispatch, along with other Missouri papers and the Associated Press, sent correspondents and photographers to the scene. By the morning of January 11, their representations of the protest, both written and photographic, appeared in papers across the country, including the Memphis Commercial-Appeal, the New York Times, and the Daily Worker. While most of the written accounts included quotes from Whitfield and demonstrators on the roadsides (to avoid violent reprisal, Whitfield went to St. Louis before the demonstration actually began), the visual images captured the protestors from a distant perspective that suggested their anonymity and vulnerability. These photographs diminished the activism behind the protest to portray those on the roadsides as "Missouri's refugees" who were buffeted by economic forces into abject poverty and desperation. Captions confirmed that those on the roadsides were victims in need of assistance: they were "evicted sharecroppers," "inured to poverty and hardship," "praying for help."23 The statements that the demonstrators gave to the press encouraged this reaction. Following Whitfield's instruction to be peaceful and polite and to "let our camps do the talking," no one said much of anything beyond what William Jones offered: "We have no place to go," he told the Post-Dispatch. "We don't know whether this will do us any good, but it will show the people what we are up against."24 Taken together these depictions of what the roadside camps were saying conformed to what historian Stuart Kidd has called the national iconography of southern poverty, that of "the barefoot South," what Roosevelt had deemed in 1937 to be the "nation's No. 1 economic problem."25

Arthur Rothstein, Wife of evicted sharecropper, New Madrid County, Missouri, January 1939, FSA-OWI Collection, Library of Congress, LC-USF33- 002943-M1.
Arthur Rothstein, Wife of evicted sharecropper, New Madrid County, Missouri, January 1939, FSA-OWI Collection, Library of Congress, LC-USF33- 002943-M1.

The story had impact, though, as federal agencies rushed officials to the Bootheel. While content/ to let their ragged appearance speak for itself in their interaction with reporters, the demonstrators now articulated clear demands to government agents. Over 90 percent of those questioned wanted to continue farming; most were eager to return to sharecropping or renting.26 Melvin Smith and his wife wanted to rent or buy a farm so their family wouldn't "have to move all over the country." Peter Wilderness said he wanted "to stay on a farm in this vicinity." Walter Johnson, of Deventer, wanted to rent or buy a farm in Missouri, because, he explained, "I'm really a farmer, a renter." Others wanted access to good land and the right to raise subsistence foodstuffs that would allow them to better provide for their families. Ike Tripp would move anywhere in the area where he could "make an honest support for my family and won't have to be moving so much." Daniel McClenton and his wife, protesting with their ten children, were content/ to sharecrop if they could raise their own corn and chickens. Alonzo Julian wanted to farm "any good place" with good land.27

To a person, the demonstrators believed the federal government, through the FSA, should help them find that "good place."28 A Red Cross official informed Missouri Governor Lloyd Stark that the campers believed "they are entitled to some form of Federal agricultural relief assistance."29 Dave Coffey, for example, demanded to live on "Government land."30 "We want a project like the one at La Forge homes and land," Elijah Moore said.31 The FSA project was compelling because it preserved the social worlds of small farmers on independent homesteads, an aim that continued to resonate with landless people despite the dramatic economic changes that made such an outcome less and less possible. "We want to be homesteaded as they are on the LaForge Project," Julian said, where they would have access to good schools and churches and be able to "raise plenty food stuff." "We only want a chance to live for ourselves," he explained.32 While LaForge provided a great talking point, the larger strategy of the protest was grounded in the flood experience of 1937. One state official recognized as much when he reported that many of the campers believed they should be "fed and sheltered similar to the way they were taken care of during the flood of 1937."33

Just as then, the demonstrators did not want charity, but the opportunity for the rightful rewards of productive work. "Give me a hand," Moore requested, "and I will make my living like other men." They needed federal help, he explained, because they were "in need of every thing [:] house, more land, food, clothing, and other things."34 Irene Nickerson concurred, saying that, "We don't want relief [;] we want to work and make our own living."35 While the visual image of the desperate protestors increased public debate about what should or could be done to help, the demonstrators themselves gave the federal government clear guidance as to what they wanted done.

Their demands played to the populist politics of the New Deal. The protestors wanted livelihoods that matched their willingness to work hard. They wanted the opportunity to have their own farms. Arthur Rothstein, the FSA photographer who covered theprotest (he was in the Bootheel to document successes at LaForge), helped to place the demonstration within this cultural narrative with the photographs he took of individual families on the roadsides. In sharp contrast to the distant images of worn-out poor people, these close-up shots showed strong, healthy farmers whose lack of land was rendered absurd against the bleak winter landscape.36 How could these robust American farmers be kept from working?

These images were so effective, in part, because they hid the political movement that generated the protest. Had the involvement of the STFU, CIO, and NAACP been clear to distant viewers the demonstrators could have expected far less sympathy. Local authorities, however, knew more about the organizational history of the roadside camps than more casual observers and worked hard to discredit the affair, claiming that it was the result of outside agitation. "C.I.O. INCITES SHARECROPPER STRIKE," led the Charleston Enterprise Courier on January 12. "Very few of the campers know why they are camping along the highways," the editor claimed. "A lot of folks along the highways have listened to glib tongued orators who promised much" but could not "deliver the goods."37

From the morning of January 10 to the morning of January 14, however, the protest worked according to plan. The roadside camps attracted immediate federal attention and gained the sympathy of the Roosevelts. What is more, the demonstration caught local planters and state officials unawares. Now in St. Louis, Whitfield planned an ambitious nationwide speaking tour to raise money and support for the demonstrators.

The publicity of poverty had worked well for the demonstrators, but now the state of Missouri aimed to use their exposure against them. After a tour of the camps on January 13, Harry Parker, the State Health Commissioner, declared the camps a "menace to public health" because they lacked clean water and sanitary toilets. The condition of the camps gave the authorities a seemingly non-political reason to halt the protest. Anyone who saw the photographs in the newspaper could see the unhealthy conditions — that was the point. Parker instructed Colonel B. M. Casteel of the Highway Patrol to remove the camps at once before epidemic disease broke out in "a state-wide and national health menace." If Casteel could not find homes for the people, he ordered, they should be placed "in concentration camps" where they could be immunized and vaccinated.38 "I don't know where we would put them," Casteel told reporters, "but if they threaten public health they must be moved somewhere."39

As the state police demolished the camps on January 14 and 15, the visual battle neared an end. At first it seemed that the removal might backfire on the authorities, since many photographers, including Rothstein, were on hand to document it. Their images showed impoverished people being coerced by state power. A few of Rothstein's shots even included a cigar-chomping, pot-bellied, jack-boot wearing patrolman more akin to caricatures of police brutality than to portrayals of law and order.40

Arthur Rothstein, State highway officials moving evicted sharecroppers away from roadside to area between the levee and the Mississippi River, New Madrid County, Missouri, January 1939, FSA-OWI Collection, Library of Congress, LC-USF33- 002932-M2.
Arthur Rothstein, State highway officials moving evicted sharecroppers away from roadside to area between the levee and the Mississippi River, New Madrid County, Missouri, January 1939, FSA-OWI Collection, Library of Congress, LC-USF33- 002932-M2.

These dynamics began to favor the authorities, however, when the protestors were distributed in small groups throughout the area following the removal. The largest of these new "concentration camps," called "Homeless Junction" by its inhabitants, was on a swampy piece of land in the spillway near the levee in New Madrid County — ironically on the very same ground that the federal government had flooded two years earlier. The land provided no better health safeguards than did the roadsides, but it was out of press and public view and under police control. "They took us eighteen miles back in the woods," protestor Booker T. Clark recalled, "and dumped us. We didn't have nothing."41 To maintain control, the sheriff ordered local officers and "deputies" to guard the camp around the clock to keep visitors out and demonstrators in.42 Rothstein left the area after the removal. Save for a few distant photographs from atop the setback levee he did not document life inside Homeless Junction. Few additional photographs of the protest or its troubled aftermath appeared.

Arthur Rothstein, New Madrid spillway, where evicted sharecroppers were moved from highway, New Madrid County, Missouri, January 1939, FSA-OWI Collection, Library of Congress, LC-USF33- 002956-M4.
Arthur Rothstein, New Madrid spillway, where evicted sharecroppers were moved from highway, New Madrid County, Missouri, January 1939, FSA-OWI Collection, Library of Congress, LC-USF33-002956-M4.

Horrified by the removal, President Roosevelt nevertheless ordered local Surplus Commodities depots to make all food supplies immediately available to those in the Homeless Junction camp. In addition, the FSA, at Roosevelt's urging, announced it would deliver tents to the camp. Crucially, the FSA also started issuing emergency cash grants to the demonstrators and processing their applications for relocation loans.43

Local authorities were not about to let this happen. On January 18, after learning of the FSA's intention to deliver tents and money, police tore down Homeless Junction. This time they scattered the demonstrators to farms throughout four counties. Authorities sent some into the black districts of area towns and dumped others on back roads to fend for themselves. Local officials hoped to prevent the FSA, or any aid agency, from ever seeing them again.44

Although the demonstrators continued to agitate for the rest of the year, they did so out of public view. With the visual struggle stalled, their union allies began to lobby on their behalf. In mid-December 1939, the FSA announced a new "five-point" plan to address the crisis; it consisted mainly of programs to increase affordable loans and emergency grants. But it also included a radical proposal for two rehabilitation housing schemes.45 The FSA plan did not offer land to the landless or even secure housing for very many, but it was a start. Missouri Governor Lloyd Stark endorsed the proposal in the hopes of avoiding any more trouble. In order to negotiate an orderly resolution, in early January 1940 he convened a conference in St. Louis with representatives from the FSA, the US Department of Agriculture, and the Missouri Employment Service; two Bootheel planters; and Whitfield.46

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Visual Memory and Government Action:

On the morning of January 7, 1940, the second day of the conference, motorists driving along Highways 60 and 61 in the Bootheel encountered large, clearly worded signs where, a year earlier, landless families had camped in protest of eviction. "Lest You Forget," the signs read, "One Year Ago, sat on this roadside, 1,500 croppers shelterless for days in snow and freezing cold." Since then, the message continued, little had changed, except "the abuses remain and grow." Unless the government took action, the signs warned, protest would erupt again.47

Arthur Rothstein, Evicted sharecroppers along Highway 60, New Madrid County, Missouri, January 1939, FSA-OWI Collection, Library of Congress, LC-USF33- 002927-M1.
Authur, Rothstein, Evicted sharecroppers along Highway 60, New Madrid County, Missouri, January 1939, FSA-OWI Collection, Library of Congress, LC-USF33-002927-M1.

Organized by local union groups, the symbolic protest rekindled the visual memory of the 1939 demonstration and lent new urgency to negotiations over the FSA proposal. In Jefferson City in early February the FSA announced a new, more generous program. The additions enabled the financing of small co-operative associations, new funds for rehabilitation loans to small landowners, and, most importantly, housing settlements for rural wage workers to be built on government-owned land and leased to displaced farming families. Implementation began immediately.48

This influx of federal support culminated in June when the FSA unveiled plans for Delmo Security Homes. Initially, the plan called for the construction of over five hundred homes in eight settlements across the Bootheel for the neediest displaced families. Small plots of land for a garden accompanied each home and the settlements included community washing, toilet, and meeting facilities. "The Delmo Homes are located in the heart of the cotton area," the FSA explained, "where the residents can obtain cash income for cotton chopping and cotton picking, to supplement home products produced on their tracts."49 Although the Delmo Homes provided good housing, sanitary conditions, and social spaces, the program did not provide land or aim to help the people who lived there become landowners, as the LaForge settlement had done and many of the demonstrators hoped would happen in response to their protest. Delmo would help displaced families become self-supporting wage workers who enjoyed decent living conditions, nothing more.

John Vachon, Group labor homes, Grayridge, New Madrid County, Missouri, November 1940, FSA-OWI Collection, Library of Congress, LC-USF34-061862-D.
John Vachon, Group labor homes, Grayridge, New Madrid County, Missouri, November 1940, FSA-OWI Collection, Library of Congress, LC-USF34-061862-D.

The FSA finished the construction of the Delmo Homes in January 1941. In final form, the project provided over six hundred single-family homes for landless farmers in nine separate settlements, at least one in every Bootheel county. The settlements were segregated with six reserved for white families, and three for African American families. Although African Americans had led the roadside demonstration, as well as the negotiations with the FSA and the state of Missouri, they took a back seat when it came to apportioning places in the settlement. They had won a victory with the FSA, but not one against racism in the New Deal. Because of the poverty and the casual employment of its clients, the FSA charged each family a low monthly rent of $3. More than just the fate of these families rested on Delmo's gleaming white cottages. "If group labor projects in this district are successful," FSA regional director Phillip G. Beck observed, "the program will be extended throughout the South."50

The FSA added an experimental plan to provide comprehensive medical insurance for clients in the area. Unveiled in late 1941, the Southeast Missouri Health Service was designed to provide people with affordable access to routine and emergency medical care. It required each participating family to contribute 6 percent of its monthly earnings toward the program's general fund. Upon visiting any of the sixty physicians or nine hospitals that initially joined the Service as professional partners, members would pay only a small portion of their medical bill while the Service's general fund covered the remainder, including prescription medication. Although the plan was not designed to become fully operational until 1943, over 1,220 families signed up early. The plans had far-reaching implications. The FSA now considered the Bootheel a "laboratory for the Cotton South," where it could refine housing and health programs before expanding them over a much larger area.51 Many of the demands that the refugees from the spillway flood had made in early 1937 were now being met.

Although they no longer harbored ambitions to become landowners, Delmo clients were well-placed to exploit the changing southern agricultural economy. "Today," the FSA concluded in December 1940, "farming in Southeast Missouri is rapidly being mechanized." Farms now "operate on a factory basis," it reported, "employing only a few tractor drivers for most of the year, but depending on large numbers of day laborers for a few months in cotton-chopping and picking seasons."52 In 1941, one family on the Kennett project left the Bootheel after the close of cotton-chopping season to pick strawberries in southern Illinois and Indiana before returning. Near the end of summer, they went back to Illinois to pick peaches with several other wage hands who had paid to ride along in their truck. They all returned to Dunklin County in time for cotton picking. Local FSA administrators considered them one of the most financially secure wage working families in southeast Missouri, and perhaps anywhere in the South. "The head of the family," Phillip G. Beck reported, "stated that the fact that he lived in the Farm Security Administration group labor home community gave him a feeling of security and encouraged him to seek migratory farm work."53 The lives and labors of migratory farmers were far from ideal (the family that Beck described was exceptional in many ways), but the condition of those who lived at Delmo was dramatically better than the image presented on the roadsides in January 1939.

Arthur Rothstein, Evicted sharecroppers along Highway 60, New Madrid County, Missouri, January 1939, FSA-OWI Collection, Library of Congress, LC-USF33- 002927-M5.
Arthur Rothstein, Evicted sharecroppers along Highway 60, New Madrid County, Missouri, January 1939, FSA-OWI Collection, Library of Congress, LC-USF33- 002927-M5.

The FSA program attracted powerful enemies. In 1943, local congressman Orville Zimmerman, a Kennett, Missouri, native, sat on a select committee in the House of Representatives to investigate the activities of the FSA. The agency, he said, was driven by a communistic intent to "go out and lease all of the land in the United States and have these associations created so that you will have these men in these houses and the Farm Security will be one gigantic supervising agency over all the land in the United States." One had to look no further than the Delmo Homes, which, he claimed, was infested with union agitators. To ensure the domination of "certain social leaders," Zimmerman continued, the FSA made the projects a "mecca for these organizers that come in and cause confusion in the community." These same agitators, he claimed had been behind the subversive "crusade" on the roadsides which had drawn "reporters in there from all over the United States," many of whom "wrote some of the darnedest stories that were ever printed." To him the image of rural poverty as conjured during the roadside demonstration had been "a perversion of the real situation in southeast Missouri."54

The attack succeeded. The investigation led to Public Law 76, which outlawed the use of federal funds to improve the wages, hours, or living conditions of agricultural workers. As intended, the measure decimated the FSA's programs, although Delmo and a few other migrant labor homes survived under the authority of the War Food Administration (WFA) to supply food for the war effort. The WFA, however, was dominated by administrators from the Department of Agriculture's Extension Service, which had little interest in the FSA's programs to help landless farmers. Meanwhile, at Zimmerman's prompting, the Dunklin County Medical Society pulled out of the Southeast Missouri Health Service. Doctors claimed that the Service's federal subsidies represented unfair competition.55

By early 1945, with the war in Europe drawing to a close, Delmo's enemies began their final offensive. In January the WFA declared that it no longer needed the communities for its wartime program and shifted them back to the FSA, which was now under the control of the very politicians seeking to destroy it. Frank Hancock, the new FSA Director, claimed that Delmo was unprofitable and that ample housing existed for farm workers elsewhere. In March the FSA announced it would liquidate the projects altogether by private auction, as well as sub-contract the Health Service to Blue Cross, a private medical insurer.56

Activists in the Delmo communities launched a furious campaign to stop the privatization process. The first petition of the Tenants Committee, signed by members of all 606 client families, protested "the sale of our rental homes and lands at public auction." They thanked the FSA and WFA for helping them secure and enjoy "liberty, good housing, and the benefits of community life." If, however, the homes were sold, they warned, all of this would be lost and "we will be homeless or living in old shacks, and we will once again face the future without hope." Many vowed to leave the Bootheel and farming for good if their homes were sold. "We won't go back to the plantations," one black resident declared, "no matter what. Where will I go, you ask? Well someplace," he concluded, "up North, East or West, but I won't stay here." Another resident invoked memories of the roadside demonstrations that had forced the creation of Delmo in the first place, saying that if they were forced out "it's going to be out yonder on the road — another highway demonstration."57

Arthur Rothstein, Evicted sharecroppers along Highway 60, New Madrid County, Missouri, January 1939, FSA-OWI Collection, Library of Congress, LC-USF33- 002923-M5.
Arthur Rothstein, Evicted sharecroppers along Highway 60, New Madrid County, Missouri, January 1939, FSA-OWI Collection, Library of Congress, LC-USF33- 002923-M5.

Armed with their petition, representatives of the Tenants Committee went to Washington in early April to make their case. The group aired their plight before sympathetic congressmen at a meeting covered by the St. Louis and national press. Before leaving, the group lodged its petition with the White House. President Roosevelt never heard their case. He died a few days later in Georgia. With Delmo sure to be sold, the committee began searching for ways to enable the residents to buy their homes. Their publicity campaign had attracted a range of liberal allies, who, with the images of the roadside demonstration still fresh in mind, pledged to help.58

With outside financial and political support, the Delmo residents successfully purchased all but one of the settlements for $285,000. The purchase included houses, lots, household furnishings, community buildings, and roads within community borders, but not the adjoining land. Contributions from sympathetic donors covered most of the $73,000 down payment, including $12,500 donated by Marshall Field, $4,500 by the STFU's National Sharecroppers Fund, and $1,000 by the NAACP. Each family paid $800 for their share, to be repaid in affordable monthly payments of $7.50 for eight years.59 For once, the remaining residents contemplated a future with some security, dignity, and autonomy. Their homes, which still stand along the side streets of otherwise nondescript Missouri towns like Delmo, North Lilbourn, and Homestown offer a lasting, visible reminder of the movement for justice in the fields.

Conclusion:

A painful self-awareness informed the political activists whose roadside demonstration in January 1939 led to the unprecedented, if limited, New Deal for landless farmers that included rural public housing and universal government health care. That legacy lives on in the families who occupy these houses. As testament to the importance of what the protest achieved, 80 percent of the homes were still in the possession of the original families in 1994. Much was said and done on behalf of the rural poor in the 1930s and 1940s, but the farmers who went out on the roadsides understood fundamentally the political power of self-representation.

The visual text that they created through their protest — captured and transmitted by photographers and journalists to readers across the country and internationally — used the cultural ferment of the New Deal years, particularly the recent "discovery" of southern poverty by artists, writers, and photographers, to frame a set of political demands that were for the most part successfully achieved. They did this, moreover, in the face of local hostility and official repression. As union leader Owen Whitfield had explained in late 1937: "No one knows our condition as we ourselves know it. We are compelled to cry out."60 And cry out they did, in images that moved the President of the United States to act on their behalf. Although the outcome was then still uncertain, Whitfield reassured the protestors in February 1939 that the art of making Roosevelt and others see was "the biggest fight you ever fought in your life and you have won."61

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Notes:

1. "Sharecroppers Evicted, Camp Along Highways," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 10, 1939; "Sharecroppers in Mass Move; Appeal to Federal Officials," Sikeston Standard, January 13, 1939; "Army of Sharecroppers Trek From Homes; Protest Missouri Landlords' Wage Plans," New York Times, January 11, 1939; Herbert Little to Aubrey Williams, January 16, 1939, Folder "Tenant Farming, 1939-1944," Box 1, Official File 1650, Papers of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Roosevelt Presidential Library, Hyde Park, New York (hereafter FDR); Colonel B.M. Casteel to Governor Lloyd Stark, January 20, 1939, Folder 1959, Papers of Governor Lloyd Stark, C0004, Western Historical Manuscripts Collection, University of Missouri, Columbia (hereafter Stark Papers, WHMC).

2. "Sharecroppers Evicted, Camp Along Highways," Post-Dispatch, January 10, 1939.

3. Nicholas Natanson, The Black Image in the New Deal: The Politics of FSA Photography (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1992), 3-4, 113-26 (quotes p. 126).

4. See, for example, Stuart Kidd, "Dissonant Encounters: FSA Photographers and the Southern Underclass, 1935-1943," in Richard Godden and Martin Crawford, eds., Reading Southern Poverty Between the Wars, 1918-1939 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2006), 26-30 (quote p. 30); William Stott, Documentary Expression and Thirties America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973), 267-89; James Curtis, Mind's Eye, Mind's Truth: FSA Photography Reconsidered (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989), viii-ix; Natanson, The Black Image in the New Deal, 1-84, 113-41; John Raeburn, A Staggering Revolution: A Cultural History of Thirties Photography (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006), 148-49; and Michael L. Carlebach, "Documentary and Propaganda: The Photographs of the Farm Security Administration," The Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts 8 (Spring 1988): 6-13.

5. Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, "Women Writers, the 'Southern Front,' and the Dialectical Imagination," Journal of Southern History 69 (February 2003): 7 (first quote); Michael Denning, The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century (New York: Verso, 1997), 329 (second quote).

6. Curiously, there are few extended historical studies of the 1939 roadside demonstration. Most of these focus on the role the affair played in the clash and ultimate split between the Southern Tenant Farmers' Union and the Congress of Industrial Organizations rather than the understandings and motivations of the hundreds of protestors themselves. The demonstration itself did play a role in that fracas, but the political battle that ensued between the two unions had very little to do with what brought the demonstrators to the roadsides in the first place or what their demonstration has to say about rural working-class activism in the 1930s, its aims, and its links to an older organizing tradition that predated both the STFU and the CIO. For an excellent overview, and still the only book-length treatment, of the protest, see Louis Cantor, A Prologue to the Protest Movement: The Missouri Sharecropper Roadside Demonstration of 1939 (Durham: Duke University Press, 1969). Donald Grubbs described the demonstration as "a tri-cornered circus featuring" the two unions and the planters with Owen Whitfield as the "ringmaster." See Donald Grubbs, Cry from the Cotton: The Southern Tenant Farmers' Union and the New Deal (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1971), 180-81. For an approach that looks at the demonstration from the perspective of those on the roadsides and also within a longer historical context, see Jarod Roll, Spirit of Rebellion: Labor and Religion in the New Cotton South (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2010), esp. 132-72.

7. Eleanor Roosevelt, "My Day," January 31, 1939 (first quote), syndicated newspaper column, http://www.gwu.edu/~erpapers/myday/ (accessed February 2010); President Franklin D. Roosevelt to Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace, January 19, 1939 (second quote), Folder "Tenant Farming, 1939-1944," Box 1, Official File 1650, FDR; Carey McWilliams, Ill Fares the Land: Migrants and Migratory Labor in the United States (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1942), 290.

8. See John Handcox, Charleston, to H. L. Mitchell, February 8, 1937, and "Minutes of the Refugees of STFU CC," February 15, 1937, both on Reel 4, Southern Tenant Farmers' Union Papers, 1934-1970 (Glen Rock, NJ: Microfilming Corporation of America, 1971), 60 reels microfilm (hereafter STFU Papers). Slightly more than 7,000 of those displaced from the spillway were black. See Roll, Spirit of Rebellion, 106.

9. Gavin Wright, Old South, New South: Revolutions in the Southern Economy since the Civil War (New York: Basic Books, 1986), 232; Paul E. Mertz, New Deal Policy and Southern Rural Poverty (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978), 44. There were six STFU locals with more than 200 total members and a large NAACP chapter with over sixty members in the area at the end of 1936. On the early 1930s organizing history in the Missouri Bootheel, see Roll, Spirit of Rebellion, 76-102.

10. Wright, Old South, New South, 226-32; Pete Daniel, Breaking the Land: The Transformation of Cotton, Tobacco, and Rice Cultures since 1880 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986), 92-101.

11. Natanson, The Black Image in the New Deal, 4 (quote).

12. For more on the details of this organizing drive, see Roll, Spirit of Rebellion, 103-31. These demands had been mentioned by the STFU in some way or another since it was founded in 1934 but had given way to the union's main campaign against the injustices of the AAA. Local activists in southeast Missouri brought this more comprehensive set of objectives back to the fore following the flood crisis of 1937. In this they made a partial break from the STFU's national leadership which was based in Memphis. This break included demands by local farmers for future security on individual farms, not the collective farms proposed by the union's socialist leadership. For more information on the differences between local activism and the union's stated aims, see Roll, Spirit of Rebellion, 76-131. For more on the STFU's national stance, see Grubbs, Cry from the Cotton, 30-107. For more on the STFU's efforts to prompt FSA programs, see David Conrad, The Forgotten Farmers: The Story of Sharecroppers in the New Deal (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1965); and Donald Holley, Uncle Sam's Farmers: The New Deal Communities in the Lower Mississippi Valley (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1975). Race relations were tense in the Missouri Bootheel where over the preceding years both white and black farmers had organized into movements defined strictly by race, including Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association, the National Federation of Colored Farmers, white supremacist socialist groups, and the Ku Klux Klan. See Roll, Spirit of Rebellion, 27-95.

13. Margaret L. Bright, "Farm Wage Workers in Four Southeast Missouri Cotton-Producing Counties" (master's thesis, University of Missouri-Columbia, 1944), 50, 61; Charles F. Hoffman and Virgil L. Bankson, "Crisis in Missouri's Boot Heel," Land Policy Review 3 (Jan.-Feb. 1940): 4-5; Daniel, Breaking the Land, 170-75. For the economic shape of rural re-development in the Bootheel, see Roll, Spirit of Rebellion, 116, 161.

14. Lewis Adams, East Prairie, to J. R. Butler, August 24, 1938, Reel 8, STFU Papers.

15. "CIO Cotton Pickers Strike at Charleston," Sikeston Standard, September 27, 1938; "Cotton Strike Apparently Near the End," Charleston Enterprise-Courier, September 29, 1938; "The Sharecroppers' Demonstration," c. 1939, Folder 48, Box FC 2.3, Newspaper Clippings Collection, 1871-2001, Special Collection and Archive, Southeast Missouri State University, Cape Girardeau (hereafter SEMO). For the STFU membership in Missouri, see Roll, Spirit of Rebellion, 125.

16. Owen Whitfield, "Minutes of the National Executive Council meeting of the STFU," September 16-17, 1938, quoted in Cantor, A Prologue to the Protest Movement, 35.

17. Whitfield to John T. Clark, St. Louis Urban League, August 3, 1938 (all quotes), Folder 15, Box 7, Series I, Fannie Frank Cook Papers, Missouri History Museum Library and Research Center, St. Louis.

18. Whitfield, interview by Howard Emerson, March 1963, quoted in Howard Emerson, "Sharecropper's Strike, 1939" (Senior honors thesis, Southeast Missouri State University, 1963), 41; "Investigation Concerning the Sharecropper Situation Existing in Southeast Missouri," February 1939, Federal Bureau of Investigation (Washington, 1939), 22-24 (hereafter FBI Report).

19. Cantor, A Prologue to the Protest Movement, 57-58; Roll, Spirit of Rebellion, 128-31.

20. Whitfield to H. L. Mitchell, December 1, 1938 (quotes), and Josephine Johnson, St. Louis, to H. L. Mitchell, December 21, 1938, both on Reel 9, STFU Papers; Cantor, A Prologue to the Protest Movement, 54-55.

21. Cedric Belfrage, "Cotton-Patch Moses," Harper's Magazine 197 (November 1948): 100; Bonnie Stepenoff, Thad Snow: A Life of Social Reform in the Missouri Bootheel (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2003), 90; FBI Report, 25.

22. "Sharecroppers, Ordered Evicted, to Camp on Road," Post-Dispatch, January 8, 1939; Whitfield, interview by Howard Emerson, quoted in Emerson, "Sharecroppers' Strike," 41-43; Belfrage, "Cotton-Patch Moses," 94-95; Cantor, A Prologue to the Protest Movement, 60-61.

23. See various reports in the Post-Dispatch, January 10-13, 1939; Natanson, The Black Image in the New Deal, 115-17.

24. "Sharecroppers Evicted, Camp Along Highways," Post-Dispatch, January 10, 1939.

25. Kidd, "Dissonant Encounters," 26.

26. See cases No. 1-16, 32-102, Folder "Tenant Farming, 1939-1944," Box 1, Official File 1650, FDR.

27. Case No. 76 (Melvin Smith), Case No. 14 (Peter Wilderness), Case No. 101 (Walter Johnson), Case No. 72 (Ike Tripp), Case No. 41 (Daniel McClenton), Case No. 7 (Alonzo Julian), all in Folder "Tenant Farming, 1939-1944," Box 1, Official File 1650, FDR.

28. Aubrey Williams to FDR, January 19, 1939, Folder "Tenant Farming, 1939-1944," Box 1, Official File 1650, FDR.

29. Craig Winfrey to Governor Stark, January 11, 1939, Folder 1958, Stark Papers, WHMC.

30. Case No. 51 (Dave Coffey), Folder "Tenant Farming, 1939-1944," Box 1, Official File 1650, FDR.

31. "Stories Told by Sharecroppers Camped on Cold Highways," Daily American Republic, ca. January 1939, Folder 48, Box FC 2.3, Newspaper Clippings Collection, 1871-2001, SEMO.

32. Alonzo J. Julien, New Madrid, "Letters Written on Backs of Survey Blanks," ca. January 1939, Reel 10, STFU Papers.

33. Colonel Casteel to Governor Stark, January 20, 1939, Folder 1959, Stark Papers, WHMC.

34. Elijah Moore, Canalou, "Letters Written on Backs of Survey Blanks," ca. January 1939, Reel 10, STFU Papers.

35. Irene Nickerson, Portageville, "Letters Written on Backs of Survey Blanks," ca. January 1939, Reel 10, STFU Papers.

36. Natanson, The Black Image in the New Deal, 115-16, 126, 136-38; Kidd, "Dissonant Encounters," 26-27; "Evicted Sharecroppers????" Enterprise Courier, January 12, 1939.

37. Roll, Spirit of Rebellion, 142-50.

38. Harry F. Parker to Governor Stark, January 19, 1939, Folder 1938, Stark Papers, WHMC.

39. "Move to End Trek by Sharecroppers," New York Times, January 14, 1939.

40. Herbert Little to Aubrey Williams, January 16, 1939, and FDR to Henry Wallace, January 19, 1939, both in Folder "Tenant Farming, 1939-1944," Box 1, Official File 1650, FDR.

41. Clark, interview by H. L. Mitchell, quoted in H. L. Mitchell, "1939 Highway Sitdown," Rural Revolt in Missouri, SL 427, WHMC, St. Louis, University of Missouri-St. Louis.

42. FDR to Henry Wallace, January 19, 1939, Folder "Tenant Farming, 1939-1944," Box 1, Official File 1650, FDR.

43. "Police Move 500 Share-Croppers into Swamp Area," Post-Dispatch, January 16, 1939; "Sheriff Disarms Sharecroppers Near New Madrid," Post-Dispatch, January 17, 1939; FDR to Wallace, January 19, 1939, Folder "Tenant Farming, 1939-1944," Box 1, Official File 1650, FDR; Cantor, A Prologue to the Protest Movement, 89-90.

44. "Sharecropper Campers Forced to Move Again," Post-Dispatch, January 19, 1939; "Sharecroppers Moved with US Tents on the Way," Post-Dispatch, January 20, 1939; Cantor, A Prologue to the Protest Movement, 89-90.

45. Will Alexander to Eleanor Roosevelt, November 29, 1939, Folder "WW Alexander, September-December 1939," Box 328, Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, FDR; STFU Memorandum to FSA, November 30, 1939, Reel 13, STFU Papers.

46. "Press Release," Governor Stark, December 29, 1939, Folder 1941, Stark Papers, WHMC; Cantor, A Prologue to the Protest Movement, 134-36.

47. "Sharecropper Handbill," "Drafts: Roadside Demonstration," Folder 32, Thad Snow Papers, SL 88, WHMC, St. Louis.

48. FSA, "Southeast Missouri: A Laboratory for the Cotton South," (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1940), 5-8; "Tract of 2650 Acres Leased by FSA," Enterprise-Courier, February 15, 1940; "New FSA Plan for Semo Farmers Gets Under Way," Enterprise-Courier, March 7, 1940; P.G. Beck, memorandum, May 9, 1940, Folder 1954, Stark Papers, WHMC.

49. "Release on Eight Groups," June 17, 1940, Folder 1954, Stark Papers, WHMC.

50. "Release on Eight Groups," June 17, 1940, Folder 1954, Stark Papers, WHMC; P.G. Beck to C.B. Baldwin, February 11, 1941, Box 414, Missouri, Entry 4A, Records of the Farmers Homes Administration and Predecessor Agencies, RG 96, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland (hereafter NARA); McWilliams, Ill Fares the Land, 293-94.

51. Michael R. Grey, New Deal Medicine: The Rural Health Programs of the Farm Security Administration (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), 113-28; FSA, "A Laboratory for the Cotton South," 1.

52. FSA, "A Laboratory for the Cotton South," 1.

53. P. G. Beck testimony, quoted in US Congress, Select Committee Investigating National Defense Migration, House of Representatives, 77th Congress, First Session, Part 23, St. Louis, November 26-27, 1941 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1942), 9244-45.

54. Orville Zimmerman testimony, quoted in US Congress, Hearings Before the Select Committee of the House Committee on Agriculture, to Investigate the Farm Security Administration, HR, 78th Congress, First Session (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1943), 527, 687, 691-93, 701-02, 708.

55. Cindy Hahamovitch, The Fruits of Their Labor: Atlantic Coast Farmworkers and the Making of Migrant Poverty, 1870-1945 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997), 173-74; Grey, New Deal Medicine, 128.

56. W. Wilder Towle, "Delmo Saga," 2, Folder 5, Bootheel Project Records, 1993-1997, C3928, WHMC.

57. W. Wilder Towle, "Delmo Saga," 2, 20-21, Folder 5, Bootheel Project Records, 1993-1997, C3928, WHMC.

58. "Report of the Washington Delegation," April 1945, and North Lilbourn Tenant Council to the Congress of the United States, April 4, 1945, both on Reel 29, STFU Papers.

59. Charles C. Wilson, St. Louis, to Friends, November 16, 1945, Reel 31, STFU Papers; "Delmo Housing Committee Contributions," Folder 88, David Burgess Papers, The Green Rising, 1910-1977: Supplement to the Papers of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union (Glen Rock, NJ: Microfilming Corporation of America, 1978), 17 reels microfilm; Emerson, "Sharecropper Strike," 83-84.

60. "Negro Sharecropper Who Made Trip to Washington Gives His Opinion on Problem Confronting Semo District," Enterprise-Courier, December 23, 1937.

61. Whitfield, New York, to All Locals in Missouri, February 5, 1939, Reel 10, STFU Papers.

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Recommended Resources:

Print Materials:
Cantor, Louis. A Prologue to the Protest Movement: The Missouri Sharecropper Roadside Demonstration of 1939. Durham: Duke University Press, 1969.

Denning, Michael. The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century. New York: Verso, 1997.

Godden, Richard and Martin Crawford, eds. Reading Southern Poverty Between the Wars, 1918-1939. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2006.

Hall, Jacquelyn Dowd. "Women Writers, the 'Southern Front,' and the Dialectical Imagination." Journal of Southern History 69 (February 2003): 3-38.

Natanson, Nicholas. The Black Image in the New Deal: The Politics of FSA Photography. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1992.

Roll, Jarod. Spirit of Rebellion: Labor and Religion in the New Cotton South. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2010.

Stott, William. Documentary Expression and Thirties America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973.

Links and Online Publications:
"America from the Great Depression to World War II: Photographs from the FSA-OWI, 1935-1945," Library of Congress.
http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/fsowhome.html

Dodson, Heidi. "African American History in the Bootheel." University of Illinois.
https://netfiles.uiuc.edu/hdodson2/www/index.html

Mitchell, Steve. "Homeless, Homeless are we . . . " Preservation Issues online. Volume 3(1).
http://law.wustl.edu/staff/taylor/preserv/v3n1/homeless.htm

Oh Freedom After While: The Missouri Sharecroppers Strike of 1939. Stephen John Ross, director. California Newsreel, 1999. 56 minutes.
http://newsreel.org/nav/title.asp?tc=CN0064

Parker, Paul E. "A Portrait of Missouri, 1935-1943." University of Missouri Press online. 2002.
http://press.umsystem.edu/fall2002/parker.htm

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