Race, Gender and Class in America

“Race, Class, and
Gender in Rural
Jan L. Flora
Professor of
Sociology and
Extension Community
Sociologist, ISU
What Factors Determined the Kind of
Farming Systems that Emerged in the
U.S. after the Civil War?
The difficulty in securing and
managing an effective work force
High level of risk associated with
farm production (commercial focus
of farming)
These two factors may have been
more important than the initial
pattern of land tenure in
determining the origins of
different systems of farming
In all regions of the country, land
Three systems of farm
production in the US and
their labor sources:
Corporate farming in California
Sharecropping in the South
Intensive commercial production encouraged
by irrigation works of early 1900s;
importation of hired labor force
African slaves imported to work on plantations,
which were both commercially and subsistence
oriented; sickle cell gene was a protection against
Family labor farming in the Midwest
and Great Plains, and to a degree, in
the Northeast.
Extensive grain and livestock agriculture favorable
to family labor farms. Settlement of Great Plains
and Midwest favored by northern European
Relation of labor,
management, and ownership:
Corporate farm
All three separate
Ownership separate from
labor; management
shared with owner in
dominant role
Family labor
Labor and management
(and often ownership)
united in farm family
Corporate Farming in
Wage labor, workers do not own the
means of production: Marx said
"California is very important for me
because nowhere has the upheaval most
shamelessly caused by capitalist
concentration taken place with such
Diversified fruit and vegetable
farming is very labor intensive; work
force from China, Japan, the
Philippines, and Mexico
Laborers only work seasonally, mainly
Immigrant Labor Force in
U.S. Agriculture
1860 1870
1880 1890 1900 1910 1920 1930
1898 Spanish
1885 Chinese American War
Exclusion Act
1940 1950 1960
Bracero Program (P.L.
78), 1942-1965
1924 Immi- 1935
gration Act
1986 IRCA-Amnesty, H2A, &
Penalties for Employers
Slavery in the South
Native Americans of the Southeast
were not a “reliable” labor force—Trail
of Tears resulted.
Triangular trade--rum, slaves, and
Sickle cell gene made Africans more
suitable as workers in malarial South
Culture developed with strict roles
according to race, class, and gender.
Male and female slaves did farm labor.
Before the Civil War ended
Even before the Civil War was over, Congress
enacted and President Lincoln signed a law that land
that had been confiscated during the war would be
returned to the heirs of the original owners.
In the South Carolina Sea Islands, of 16,000 acres
offered for sale because of delinquent taxes in 1863,
freedmen were able to pool money to buy only 2000
In early 1965, General Sherman agreed to reserve
the tidewater area of Georgia for exclusive Negro
settlement (“40 acres and a mule”). By June 40,000
freedmen had moved onto new farms in the area.
Two months later, Pres. Andrew Johnson restored—
sometimes at bayonet point—the land to its former
Andrew Johnson’s
President Andrew Johnson vetoed laws to help
African Americans
He allowed Southern states to re-enter the
Union without guaranteeing equal rights to
African Americans.
Various Southern states enacted “Black Codes”:
In 1865, Mississippi made it illegal for freedmen
to rent or lease farmland, allowed courts to
assign black children under 18 to forced labor
(“apprenticeships”), and provided for
punishment for runaways.
Johnson was impeached, but was one vote from
being convicted. He served out his term.
President Grant, who
succeeded Andrew Johnson
(1869-77), was more favorable
to black rights in the South.
 Blacks were elected to
legislatures, to Congress, and
two to the U.S. Senate.
 Union troops enforced this
political equality.
The end of Reconstruction
Compromise of 1877—Rutherford Hays (Republican) beat
Tilden by one electoral vote because three states voted
for him in the electoral college when it was agreed that
troops would be withdrawn and that Southern states
would have a free hand in governing “their” Negroes.
The Southern Homestead Act was withdrawn, allowing
speculators to buy up the 1/3 of land that was public in
the states of the Deep South.
An alliance began to develop between northern capitalists
and their junior Southern-capitalist partners.
Healing the wounds between whites of North and South
was deemed more important than providing African
Americans the opportunity to have a piece of the
American dream. Could both have been accomplished?
Sharecropping in the South:
When Blacks were freed after the Civil war they were
promised land, but the failure of Reconstruction left them
with only their labor.
Landowners needed a secure workforce to grow cotton.
They felt there was no assurance that workers would
show up at right time.
Vagrancy laws and “false pretense” laws used to keep
Black sharecroppers tied to the land.
Lynching and other forms of violence also kept Blacks in
their place.
Mississippi passed a law making it illegal for blacks to
vote. Poll taxes.
Norms of ‘white womanhood’ kept women and AfricanAmericans in their place. “Rosewood” as an example.
Sundowner ordinances in Iowa.
“Sharing” Risk with
Share of crop went to ‘cropper; also shared in
paying for inputs.
Plantation owners shifted crop liens to
‘croppers. Sharecropping based on
crop lien form of credit
(sharecroppers received groceries,
seed, fertilizer, implements,
etc., on loan) then at the end of
the year the value of these
“commodities” was deducted from
income from their share of the
This system was abused by the
Demise of the
Sharecropping System
Demand for African American workers in
Northern factories during WWI and WWII: The
Great Migration
Boll weevil infestation beginning in 1929;
exhausting of the soil from growing cotton
During WWII, mechanization of Southern
agriculture due to labor shortage; advent of the
mechanical cotton picker; diversification of crops
in post WWII period; advent of family labor
farm, but plantation legacy is still there too.
Rural Southern African Americans left in the
lurch—Ag employment dried up; legacy of
segregation still present.
Black Land Loss
In 1920, 1 in every 7 farmers was Black.
In 1982, 1 in every 67 farmers was Black.
In 1910, black farmers owned 15.6 million acres of
farmland nationally.
In 1982, Black farmers owned 3.1 million acres of
farmland nationally.
Between 1920 and 1992 the number of Black farmers in
the U.S. declined from 925,710 to 18,816 or by 98%.
In 1984 and 1985, the USDA lent $1.3 billion to farmers
nationwide to buy land. Of the almost 16,000 farmers
who received those funds, only 209 were Black.
Almost half of all black-operated farms are < 50 acres.
In the late 1980's, there were less than 200 AfricanAmerican farmers in the United States under 25.
In 1996, 0.5 percent of 1.31 million farmers were Black.
Family Farming on the
Great Plains:
Only 1/8 of public lands in the Great Plains was
distributed to farmers through the Homestead Act of
1862; the rest was sold mainly to corporations and
Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862, LGUs established by
selling off the large tracts of land
The railroads acquired enormous landholdings from
the government in return for building the transportation
Corporate farming did not take hold in the Great Plains
because of great difference between production time
and labor time.
The railroads recruited N. European immigrants to buy
and farm the land, who in turn grew their own labor
Farm Labor Trends: WWII
to present
Increasing returns to capital; diminishing
returns to labor.
California—End of Bracero Program and IRCA (1986).
Power of Corporate Ag and failure of UFW. Today vast
majority of farm workers (Mexican and Central
American) are undocumented.
Midwest—Industrial agriculture given push by Farm
Crisis of 1980s/ ethanol crisis of 2010s? Beginning in
1990s, immigrant Latinos employed in packing plants
and later CAFOs
South-Demise of Black Farmers; Latino industrial
workers in processing plants and as farm laborers.
Discuss the social, ethical, and legal
issues behind the question of whether
blacks, at the end of the Civil War,
should have been given land that had
previously belonged to planters.
 How does the land issue after the Civil
War relate to the recent suit of black
farmers against the USDA?
Flora, Jan L., and Cornelia B. Flora. “Race, Gender and
Class in Rural America.” Pp. 369-383 in Jean Ait Belkhir and
Bernice McNair Barnett, with Anna Karpathakis, Eds.
Introduction to Sociology: A Race, Gender and Class
Perspective. Race, Gender and Class Book Series. New
Orleans: Southern University, 1999.
 Pfeffer, M. 1983. “Social origins of three systems of farm
production in the United States.” Rural Sociology 48(4):
Howard Zinn, “Slavery without Submission, Emancipation
without Freedom, ” in his A People’s History of the United
States, pp. 196-210.