One People, One Protest Movement - The Shared Religious and Survivalist Roots of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union and the Missouri Sharecroppers Strike of 1939 Open Access

Chappell, Henry (2016)

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When a hungry Owen Whitfield dropped to his knees to cry out to God in the middle of the cotton fields he had spent his whole life working in, he asked for help. He worked fields that could produce huge amounts of valuable cotton crop, yet he could not afford to feed his family. When Whitfield, the preacher and sharecropper, stood up, he went back to his ramshackle home with a drive to claim for himself some of the great bounty the land at the tip of the Mississippi Delta could offer, a bounty he believed God had entitled him to. This dual drive to find enough food to survive and claim what God had intended to give the sharecroppers characterized Whitfield's actions far more than secondary literature on his Sharecroppers Strike of 1939 would suggest as it had quickly been branded a movement with a socialist ideological bent. This paper will show that this religious and survivalist sentiment, and not the socialist politics secondary literature plays on heavily, may have been the driving force behind the rank and file of both the Missouri Sharecroppers Strike of 1939 in the Missouri Bootheel and the founding of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union in nearby Tyronza Arkansas in 1934. Though most secondary sources focused their characterization of both the Missouri Sharecroppers Strike of 1939 and the founding of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union by highlighting a few leaders who did have significant socialist ideological influence in their thinking and motivation, this paper will attempt to show that this was in fact not the most common reason why sharecroppers in northeast Arkansas and the Missouri Bootheel would form interracial bonds in an attempt to make a better life for themselves. Instead, it was far more likely that religion and a drive to not live in constant fear of starvation that drove them, with the socialist leaders of the Union and politically driven help in the 1939 Strike being more a means of reaching that goal than an ideology to fully believe in.

Table of Contents

Page 1 - Introduction - Hard Living on Soft Earth

Page 8 - An Agrarian Freedom Struggle, The Founding of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union

Page 20 - 1934-1939, A Time of Transition and Constancy

Page 27 - The Missouri Sharecroppers Strike of 1939 - Hope for a Better Life

Page 43 - Conclusion - Different Fields, Different Methods, Same Struggle

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