Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sharecroppers Contracts or Lease Agreements

My great grandfather Robert Harrell was determined not to spend his life working as a sharecropper or tenant farmer. He and his son Alexander Harrell purchased two hundred acres of land in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, to farm and work their own land. I often heard some of the elderly people in our communities talking about horror stories associated with tenant farming. Some said that you couldn't get out of debt no matter how hard you worked. At the end of the year you still owed the landlord.

I researched the "Freedmen Contracts" in the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and found contracts of many newly freed slaves who signed the contracts my making their mark (x) to work on plantations in exchange for shelter, clothes, tools and money. In many cases tenant farmer didn't received what they were promised according to the contract. "Children as young as five years old made their mark bonding themselves to an agreement that they couldn't read or understand just like their parents and other newly freed slaves on the plantation who signed the contract."

Many had no idea that they was entering into a new form of slavery called peonage and involuntary servitude. A new system of credit was created and some of your family members had to borrow against the crops. Crop liens was a system equal to that of sharecropping.
Freedmen Bureau Contract/Yazoo, Mississippi

Crop Lien of Jasper and Emma Harrell
My grandfather Jasper Harrell, Sr., and his mother Emma Mead Harrell borrow $110.00 dollars from Amite Strawberry Company 1938 against their crops, using their land to secure the loan. They worked hard to repay the loan to keep from losing the family land. My great uncle Palmer Harrell couldn't say the same. He borrowed some money to purchase a mule and was told that he defaulted on his loan, he lost his land. This wasn't unusual for many blacks and white who was cheated out of their land and money.