Black Farm Workers Protest Housing Discrimination in 1941

“We demand, by this petition, that the Farm Security Administration stand its ground and that these 80 homes in question be given to Colored as was the plan in the beginning.”

In my last post I highlighted the fact that African Americans have been historically excluded from parts of the Bootheel.  This exclusion affected land ownership, employment, and access to housing and education.  There are many examples of African Americans fighting against rural apartheid and resource inequities, but this history is infrequently told.  This post highlights one of those instances.  While some residents of the Bootheel might know about the Delmo housing projects, they may not know they were born out of worker activism.

In the 1930s, as a result of changes in federal farm policy and farm mechanization, many white landowners decided not to renew the (usually verbal) contracts of sharecroppers and chose to hire farm day laborers.  This meant hundreds of families were evicted from their homes, because housing was tied to sharecropping arrangements. This affected Black and white families, but Black families were hit the hardest, in part because they were often excluded from housing and employment opportunities.  The Farm Security Administration, in January 1940, agreed (after a large roadside sharecropper protest) to build small housing communities for farm workers.  One of these communities, South Wardell (later renamed Homestown) was slated to be for African American farm workers.  White residents in Wardell and the surrounding area, with the support of Representative Orville Zimmerman, signed petitions against the housing for Black workers.  Black farm workers and sharecroppers fought back, many of whom were members of the Missouri Agricultural Workers’ Council at Hayti, a union affiliated with UCAPAWA, the United  Cannery, Agricultural, Packing and Allied Workers of America.

Here is a partial transcription of that petition, including the names of those who signed.  Note that I have transcribed the names as they were typed in the government copy.   A full copy from the National Archives can be found here.  Also, see the photos and interview of Mozetta Hull Henry for the story of a family who grew up in the community these workers saved.

If anyone recognizes these names/families and has stories to share, I would love to hear more.

“We, the Colored sharecroppers, tenant-farmers and farm day laborers, are making a strong protest to our Seat of Government, at Washington, D.C., against any such action [exclusion].  We have suffered most, we have suffered longest.  When more homes were built for Whites than were built for Colored, we kept silent, even when we knew that the Colored of the group greatly outnumbered the Whites.

Now that there is an attempt to cheat us out of the meager allotment that the Farm Security Administration has given us, we say again, it is wrong and we resent it.

We demand, by this petition, that the Farm Security Administration stand its ground and that these 80 homes be given to Colored as was the plan in the beginning.

If this petition is ignored, we, the sharecroppers, tenant-farmers and farm day laborers of Pemiscot County shall depart from this County in a body on March 20, 1941.  And it is agreed that in other Counties that the sharecroppers, tenant-farmers, and farm day laborers shall not accept the group homes offered them, if their brothers in Pemiscot County are denied the homes due them.

And once again this great American Nation and the World shall know that this Government of our United States of America, that preaches Democracy so loudly, has failed to practice its own preaching.”

  1. J. W. Littlefield
  2. Mamie Littlefield
  3. Boyd Wade
  4. Birdee Wade
  5. Samuel Collins
  6. Oliva Collins
  7. Horace Vaughn
  8. Alice Vaughn
  9. Willie Ward
  10. Pearl Ward
  11. Alford Anderson
  12. Amanda Anderson
  13. Lush Berry
  14. Johnie Williams
  15. Sam Fredrick
  16. A. Garland
  17.  Agusta Garland
  18. Mary Nailer
  19. Florence Goberson
  20. Isaac Byrd
  21. Maggie Byrd
  22. Major Johns
  23. E. K. Tipler
  24. Andrew Hall
  25. Sullivan Hall
  26. H. D. Rowe
  27. John Rhodes
  28. Leoeta Rhodes
  29. John Reed
  30. Laura Reed
  31. Henry Drew
  32. Joseph Farrell
  33. Jessie Seewood
  34. M. C. Williams
  35. John Helem
  36. Jessie Bordens
  37. Louise Bordens
  38. C. Milton
  39. Sharan Moore
  40. Jessie Dirling
  41. Lee Deerings
  42. Randolph Wilson
  43. Clarense Cerasby
  44. Laura Weed
  45. Frank Walker
  46. Ruben Ford
  47. Joshua Ford
  48. Georgia Ford
  49. E. D. Crawford
  50. Minnie Crawford
  51. J. B. Butler
  52. Louis Butler
  53. Louis T. Johnson
  54. Lucile Johnson
  55. John Thomas
  56. Emma Thomas
  57. Alvin Mayfield
  58. Will King
  59. Dack Sharp
  60. Gennie King
  61. Morris Mayfield
  62. Bud Noble
  63. Will Singrams
  64. John Wynch
  65. Deeda Clarks
  66. Rosa Smith
  67. Vernon Loyd
  68. Emmet Salker
  69. Shed Harris
  70. Delmer Boon
  71. Alvin Boyd
  72. Louis Dunn
  73. Levi Shaw
  74. Alma Shaw
  75. L. Q. Shaw
  76. Frank Faulkes
  77. Dora Williams
  78. Ben Bailey
  79. Ora Bailey
  80. Sylvester Huffman
  81. Prentice Washington
  82. Wm. Griffins
  83. Lillie Griffin
  84. Charlie Kelly
  85. Inex Kelly
  86. D. C. Mathew
  87. Mamie Mathew

[Below the numbered signatures are the following names]

Martha Maples, Ola Williams, Augusta Holms, Emma Mabins, Elouise Bridgeford, Lillie Esten, John Crawford, Jack Esters, Joseph Smith, Inez Moore, C. J. Varney, Nelson Barns, S. D. Jones, Robert Redditt, W. L. Harris, Joseph Ross, Albert Roger, Ike Daters, Pearl Cooks, Versia Mitchel, Annie Mae Hunt, Bertha Mansfield, Beatrice Patterson, R. B. Mayfield, J. W. Littlefield.

 

About Heidi Dodson

Heidi Dodson is currently CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow at University at Buffalo.
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