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Ed A Black Sharecropper’s Story
DRAWN FROM INTERVIEWS WITH JANE MAGUIRE
February 1976 | Volume 27, Issue 2
“People have different ways to dodge the boll weevils. This is the way I want to do it. I want you to help me.”
After that some of them did a little better, but not much.
That year I was the only hand Mr. Addison had to come out of debt and make money. I did it by usin my idea as to what to do and not the idea of Mr. Huey Lindley, the new overseer, who claim the only way to make a crop was to go ahead and plow, wet or dry. The cotton come up good, but in June it rain almost every day and kept the ground boggy wet.
The other hands was workin for wages. Mr. Lindley had them sloshin around in the wet. He come to me. “Go ahead. The others are plowin.”
I knowed not to work in the mud, ‘cause if you do, your land will get hard and clodded and your crop won’t grow. So I went rabbit huntin and fishin, waitin for my farm to dry off. Whenever I seed Mr. Lindley peepin around my place, I’d get me somethin to do. Maybe I’d hoe a few bushes, or I’d take me my Dixie turnin plow and bar off some corn comin up in the Bermuda grass, or fool around with the plow like I was repairin it.
Mr. Lindley was in the habit of comin around about once a week. One time I was settin under a tree. “You still layin around the house?” The next time he brung a man with him. “Ed, if you ain’t goin to work your crop, I got another man that will.”
“I’ll work it,” I told him. I wait two more days; my crop good and dry. Then I get out early with a scrape and scooter and stayed late. I really got my crop cleaned out.
The best part was that on fifteen acres I made eleven bales of cotton behind one mule. I come clean out of debt and cleared one hundred and sixty dollars. Mr. Lindley didn’t do so good. Sun and drought come and made the ground hard and scald the crop. Most of the men under Mr. Lindley that year made one or two bales of cotton. Three was the limit. And on Mr. Addison’s hundred-acre farm Mr. Lindley made fifteen bales of cotton.
Mr. Addison turnt him off. “Ed, I’m proud to know you. If Mr. Lindley had done as good as you, I’d be a lot better off.”
“Yes, sir,” I say, “you really need a good overseer.” Mr. Lindley wasn’t no count. I was a good farmer, and I knowed how to get other people to really put out. I would have made a better overseer than Mr. Addison ever had.
He called hisself a good man. And other people, colored and white, called Colonel Addison a good man. But bein white, he was handicapped to where he couldn’t see the overseer in me.
I could really farm, and Mr. Addison knowed it. By rights I was due to make somethin. “Mr. Addison,” I say, “I want to farm on standin rent.” That’s the deal a tenant makes to pay so much rent an acre for the use of the land. The owner don’t get nothin else. But rentin can be tough too. If you have a family, they mouths never close except over food. Until you make the crop, you’ll more than likely need furnish money. The boss will get his 10 per cent interest.
If you don’t pay your rent, the landlord can level on you and take your stock up to what you owe him. He can sell anythin you got.
Several ways to farm have been figured out to be justice if the boss and the tenant both do right. There’s sharecroppin, or rentin, or thirds, or fourths. But it’s hard to find a boss or a tenant who really want to be fair to the other.
“Well, go to it, Ed,” Mr. Addison tell me when I ask about standin rent.
Mr. Addison was a sure enough lawyer. I’ve heard it said that if he was on the other side, you was a goner. But he didn’t know nothin about farmin. He let us pay him five dollars an acre rent on land we planted in cotton and three dollars an acre for land in corn and velvet beans. That was a little too cheap.
I made an extra good crop that year and bought me a Model T Ford for seventy-five dollars cash. Mr. Addison told me I had got the big end of the stick and that for the next crop we was goin to be on shares.
Me and my brother-in-law, Tom Sparrow, figure the real reason Mr. Addison change our standin rent deal back to shares was that we sold our cotton in Rochelle for the market price. When you rentin, you supposed to get the privilege to sell to anyone you want and to gin your cotton anywhere you can get the best deal.
But Mr. Addison didn’t like it that way. He want to buy cotton from his renters under the market price and to sell it in Savannah, Georgia. That way he got his lick at it. “I was expectin you to bring cotton to me. You and Sparrow took it to Rochelle.”
So my rentin come to an end after just one year. If I had had my rathers, I would have been on standin rent. But I couldn’t complain. I was back on shares, and I did get half. Mr. Addison had a divided crib to put the corn in, my half on one side and his half on the other. All around me there were tenants that didn’t fare as good as me.