Wednesday, February 23, 2011

In the voice of a sharecropper, John L. Hancox (1904-1992)

Raggedy, Raggedy Are We is one of the songs of John L. Hancox (1904-1992) who knew about the life of a poor cotton farmer all too well.  I remember some of the stories that my father told me about having to pick cotton in Memphis as a child in the 40's.   Take a moment and listen to the song.

Oklahoma Sharecroppers-1914  By dok1 Don O'Brien

The Southern Tenant Farmers Union was formed to protect tenant farmers.  Handcox had to escape Arkansas for Memphis leaving his wife and family behind and those who sought to hang him for his support of the STFU. This is the same path my family took leaving Mississippi to Arkansas and on to Memphis.

"Born in Brinkley, Arkansas on February 5, 1904, to a large African-American family, Handcox knew the hard life of a poor cotton farmer early on. His father, the son of slaves, owned animals, tools, and even some land in eastern Arkansas, near -- but not in -- the fertile Delta of the Mississippi River. Handcox joked, "You couldn't even raise a fuss on that land." Even though the earth was poor and they had to raise cotton on other people's property for money, their land ownership gave the family a measure of security that many other farmers of the era did not enjoy. Young John even attended school up to the ninth grade, much longer than many of his peers, and idolized the poetry of Paul Lawrence Dunbar. With Dunbar's work in mind, Handcox first began writing his own poetry and songs.

When his father was accidentally crushed to death by a wagon in 1921, Handcox and the rest of his expanding family entered some particularly hard times. They lost their homestead, leaving them no choice but to live and work others' land as tenant farmers. During this time, many people -- both black and white -- made a precarious living as tenant farmers raising cotton in the rich lands of the Arkansas Delta region and throughout the South and Southwest."   See The Planter And The Sharecropper.

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