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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with John Raymond Shute, June 25, 1982. Interview B-0054-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Sharecropping as the South's only post-Civil War option

Most financial transactions in the late nineteenth-century South were personal, Shute says. Sharecropping was one of these face-to-face transactions, and was in Shute's opinion the only labor system that would have worked in the impoverished post-Civil War South. He defends sharecropping as both natural and beneficial to all parties.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with John Raymond Shute, June 25, 1982. Interview B-0054-1. 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

JOHN RAYMOND SHUTE, Jr.: The opportunity for investment has always been available in America. Most of the local men of affluence in Union County would put their money into personal loans and into real estate, the development of real estate, rental property, and things like that. There wasn't too much investment in stocks and bonds, unless they were local in nature. You mentioned the courthouse. That would not be considered an unusual thing to happen at all. Then as we later developed a few small industries, stocks were purchased by people who were able to. But mostly it was in the form of personal loans and development of local investment opportunities in real estate and farming. And a lot of these fellows would finance sharecroppers, where they would furnish the money to buy fertilizers and the seed and stuff like that, and the farmer out there with the land and the livestock and the labor would furnish the other. They'd usually work this out on sharecropping, usually a fifty-fifty basis, which was a good investment, apparently, for both parties. This was particularly true immediately following the Civil War, when the slaves were emancipated, in the South. This was not so much true here, where there was a minimum number of slaves, but throughout the South, the tenant farming, the sharecropper, was the only economic system that would work. People don't realize that; they frown upon it today, and indeed they should, because it's something that's outlived its time. But after the War, there was no money in this part of the country. Consequently, the great landowners had the land, the slaves were unemployed with nowhere to live, and it was perfectly natural that the two would combine. One would furnish the land, the other the labor, and they'd share in the proceeds from it. This developed until later, as the little farmer arose, he carried it a step further with the man that would furnish the money and let him be the manager. Rather than tenant farming, we called it sharecropping. But that was a perfectly natural thing to occur. People don't seem to realize it today; they're too far away from reality. But it was the only system that would have worked in the South after the War.