SHARECROPPING Following the Civil War and the collapse of the slavery-regime new economic and labor arrangements between white landowners and black freedmen had to be devised. For the most part, southern blacks remained attached to the land as either sharecroppers or tenant farmers. In fact, by 1900 over seventy-five percent of all southern blacks were classified in one or the other of these two categories.
Sharecropping involved a system whereby the owner of farmland furnished the farmer with the land, seed, fertilizer and equipment in return for a certain share of the farmer's harvested crop. Sharecropping was not a universally uniform system in the South since there were infinite varieties of arrangements. Some landowners, for example, only furnished the land, entitling them to perhaps twenty-five percent of the crop, while others furnished the land and all supplies, entitling them to as much as fifty percent of the harvested crop. Moreover, it should not be assumed that sharecropping was dominated by black farmers. In fact, there were always more white croppers in the South than black. In addition, the sharecropping system was intricately linked to the so-called crop-lien system, whereby the farmer could obtain credit from local merchants by pledging future crops as security. Since the local merchants (the major source of rural southern credit) often charged exorbitant interest rates, the cropper found himself in a vicious circle, very often having to surrender his complete crop-share to the merchant in order to retain a good credit standing to feed his family.
Tenant farming was more popular with southern white landowners than the sharecropping system. The tenant farmer (again, an interracial phenomenon) either farmed an owner's land for wages and shelter, relinquishing the entire crop to the owner, or he might rent the land and shelter from the owner, retaining the entire crop himself. In either case, the tenant farmer was dependent on the landowner and generally had little chance of improving his economic condition. In fact, as historian C. Vann Woodward has pointed out, the black freedmen "not only worked the white man's land but worked it with a white man's plow drawn by a white man's mule." In other words, although technically free, the black ex-slave remained wedded to the land and to a certain degree of economic dependency.