Read CHAPTER IV. THE PRESENT SITUATION. of The Negro Farmer , free online book, by Carl Kelsey, on ReadCentral.com.

The southern states are not densely populated. Alabama has an average of 35 per square mile; Georgia, 37; South Carolina, 44. These may be compared with Iowa, 40; Indiana, 70, taking two of the typical northern farming states, while Connecticut has 187. In the prairie section of Alabama the Negro population ranges from 30 to 50 per square mile, and this is about the densest outside of the city counties. There is thus an abundance of land. As a matter of fact there is not the least difficulty for the Negro farmer to get plenty of land, and he has but to show himself a good tenant to have the whites offering him inducements.

Negroes on the farms may be divided into four classes: Owners, cash tenants, share tenants, laborers. Share tenants differ from the same class in the North in that work animals and tools are usually provided by the landlord. Among the laborers must also be included the families living on the rice and cane plantations, who work for cash wages but receive houses and such perquisites as do other tenants and whose permanence is more assured than an ordinary day hand. They are paid in cash, usually through a plantation store, that debts for provisions, etc., may be deducted. Both owners and tenants find it generally necessary to arrange for advances of food and clothing until harvest. The advances begin in the early Spring and continue until August or sometimes until the cotton is picked. In the regions east of the alluvial lands advances usually stop by the first of August, and in the interim until the cotton is sold odd jobs or some extra labor, picking blackberries and the like, must furnish the support for the family. The landlord may do the advancing or some merchant. Money is seldom furnished directly, although in recent years banks are beginning to loan on crop-liens. The food supplied is often based on the number of working hands, irrespective of the number of children in the family. This is occasionally a hardship. The customary ration is a peck of corn meal and three pounds of pork per week. Usually a crop-lien together with a bill of sale of any personal property is given as security, but in some states landlords have a first lien upon all crops for rent and advances. In all districts the tenant is allowed to cut wood for his fire, and frequently has free pasture for his stock. There is much complaint that when there are fences about the house they are sometimes burned, being more accessible than the timber, which may be at a distance and which has to be cut. The landlords and the advancers have found it necessary to spend a large part of their time personally, or through agents called “riders,” going about the plantations to see that the crops are cultivated. The Negro knows how to raise cotton, but he may forget to plow, chop, or some other such trifle, unless reminded of the necessity. Thus a considerable part of the excessive interest charged the Negro should really be charged as wages of superintendence. If the instructions of the riders are not followed, rations are cut off, and thus the recalcitrant brought to terms.

For a long time rations have been dealt out on Saturday. So Saturday has come to be considered a holiday, or half-holiday at least. Early in the morning the roads are covered with blacks on foot, horse back, mule back and in various vehicles, on their way to the store or village, there to spend the day loafing about in friendly discussion with neighbors. The condition of the crops has little preventive influence, and the handicap to successful husbandry formed by the habit is easily perceived. Many efforts are being made to break up the custom, but it is up-hill work. Another habit of the Negro which militates against his progress is his prowling about in all sorts of revels by night, thereby unfitting himself for labor the next day. This trait also shows forth the general thoughtlessness of the Negro. His mule works by day, but is expected to carry his owner any number of miles at night. Sunday is seldom a day of rest for the work animals. It is a curious fact that wherever the Negroes are most numerous there mules usually outnumber horses. There are several reasons for this. It has often been supposed that mules endure the heat better than horses. This is questionable. The mule, however, will do a certain amount and then quit, all inducements to the contrary notwithstanding. The horse will go till he drops; moreover, will not stand the abuse which the mule endures. The Negro does not bear a good reputation for care of his animals. He neglects to feed and provide for them. Their looks justify the criticism. The mule, valuable as he is for many purposes, is necessarily more expensive in the long run than a self-perpetuating animal.

In all parts it is the custom for the Negroes to save a little garden patch about the house, which, if properly tended, would supply the family with vegetables throughout the year. This is seldom the case. A recent Tuskegee catalog commenting on this says:

“If they have any garden at all, it is apt to be choked with weeds and other noxious growths. With every advantage of soil and climate, and with a steady market if they live near any city or large town, few of the colored farmers get any benefit from this, one of the most profitable of all industries.”

As a matter of fact they care little for vegetables and seldom know how to prepare them for the table. The garden is regularly started in the Spring, but seldom amounts to much. I have ridden for a day with but a glimpse of a couple of attempts. As a result there will be a few collards, turnips, gourds, sweet potatoes and beans, but the mass of the people buy the little they need from the stores. A dealer in a little country store told me last summer that he would make about $75 an acre on three acres of watermelons, although almost every purchaser could raise them if he would. In many regions wild fruits are abundant, and blackberries during the season are quite a staple, but they are seldom canned. Some cattle are kept, but little butter is made, and milk is seldom on the bill of fare, the stock being sold when fat (?). Many families keep chickens, usually of the variety known as “dunghill fowls,” which forage for themselves. But the market supplied with chickens by the small farmers, as it might easily be. Whenever opportunity offers, hunting and fishing become more than diversions, and the fondness for coon and ’possum is proverbial.

In a study of dietaries of Negroes made under Tuskegee Institute and reported in Bulletin N, Office of Experimental Stations, U. S. Dept. of Agriculture, it is stated:

“Comparing these negro dietaries with other dietaries and dietary
standards, it will be seen that

“(1) The quantities of protein are small. Roughly speaking, the food of these negroes furnished one-third to three-fourths as much protein as are called for in the current physiological standards and as are actually found in the dietaries of well fed whites in the United States and well fed people in Europe. They were, indeed, no larger than have been found in the dietaries of the very poor factory operatives and laborers in Germany and the laborers and beggars in Italy.

“(2) In fuel value the Negro dietaries compare quite favorably with
those of well-to-do people of the laboring classes in Europe and
the United States.”

This indicates the ignorance of the Negro regarding the food he needs, so that in a region of plenty he is underfed as regards the muscle and bone forming elements and overfed so far as fuel value is concerned. One cannot help asking what effect a normal diet would have upon the sexual passions. It is worthy of notice that in the schools maintained by the whites there is relatively little trouble on this account. Possibly the changed life and food are in no small measure responsible for the difference.

Under diversified farming there would be steady employment most of the year, with a corresponding increase of production. As it is there are two busy seasons. In the Spring, planting and cultivating cotton, say from March to July, and in the Fall, cotton picking, September to December. The balance of the time the average farmer does little work. The present system entails a great loss of time.

The absence of good pastures and of meadows is noticeable. This is also too true of white farmers. Yet the grasses grow luxuriantly and nothing but custom or something else accounts for their absence; the something else is cotton. The adaptability of cotton to the Negro is almost providential. It has a long tap root and is able to stand neglect and yet produce a reasonable crop. The grains, corn and cane, with their surface roots, will not thrive under careless handling.

The average farmer knows, or at least utilizes few of the little economies which make agriculture so profitable elsewhere. The Negro is thus under a heavy handicap and does not get the most that he might from present opportunities. I am fully conscious that there are many farmers who take advantage of these things and are correspondingly successful, but they are not the average man of whom I am speaking. With this general statement I pass to a consideration of the situation in the various districts before mentioned.

TIDE WATER VIRGINIA.

The Virginia sea shore consists of a number of peninsulas separated by narrow rivers (salt water). The country along the shore and the rivers is flat, with low hills in the interior. North of Old Point Comfort the district is scarcely touched by railroads and is accessible only by steamers.

Gloucester County, lying between York River and Mob Jack Bay, is an interesting region. The hilly soil of the central part sells at from $5 to $10 per acre, while the flat coast land, which is richer although harder to drain, is worth from $25 to $50. The immediate water front has risen in price in recent years and brings fancy prices for residence purposes. Curiously enough some of the best land of the county is that beneath the waters of the rivers the oyster beds. Land for this use may be worth from nothing to many hundreds of dollars an acre, according to its nature. The county contains 250 square miles, 6,224 whites and 6,608 blacks, the latter forming 51 per cent of the population.

This sea coast region offers peculiar facilities for gaining an easy livelihood. There are few negro families of which some member does not spend part of the year fishing or oystering. There has been a great development of the oyster industry. The season lasts from September 1 to May 1, and good workmen not infrequently make $2 a day or more when they can work on the public beds. This last clause is significant. It is stated that the men expect to work most of September, October and November; one-half of December and January; one-third of February; any time in March is clear gain and all of April. According to a careful study of the oyster industry it was found that the oystermen, i. e., those who dig the oysters from the rocks, make about $8 a month, while families occupied in shucking oysters earn up to $400 a year, three-fourths of them gaining less than $250. The public beds yield less than formerly and the business is gradually going into the hands of firms maintaining their own beds, with a corresponding reduction in possible earnings for the oystermen.

The effect of this industry is twofold; a considerable sum of money is brought into the county and much of this has been invested in homes and small farms. This is the bright side; but there is a dark side. The boys are drawn out of the schools by the age of 12 to work at shucking oysters, and during the winter months near the rivers the boys will attend only on stormy days. The men are also taken away from the farms too early in the fall to gather crops, and return too late in the spring to get the best results from the farm work. The irregular character of the employment reacts on the men and they tend to drift to the cities during the summer, although many find employment in berry picking about Norfolk. Another result has been to make farm labor very scarce. This naturally causes some complaint. I do not say that the bad results outweigh the good, but believe they must be considered.

The population is scattered over the county, there being no towns of any size, and is denser along the rivers than inland. The relations between the two races are most friendly, although less satisfactory between the younger generation. The Negroes make no complaints of ill treatment. In the last ten years there have been only four Negroes sentenced to the state prison, while in the twelve months prior to May 1, 1903, I was told that there was but one trial for misdemeanor. It may be that the absence of many of the young men for several months a year accounts in part for the small amount of crime. The jail stands empty most of the time. The chief offenses are against the fish and oyster laws of the state. Whites and blacks both claim that illegitimate children are much rarer than formerly. I was told of a case in which a young white man was fined for attempting to seduce a colored girl. The races have kept in touch. White ministers still preach in negro churches, address Sunday-schools, etc.

In all save a few of the poorer districts the old one-roomed cabin has given place to a comfortable house of several rooms. The houses are often white-washed, although their completion may take a good many years. Stoves have supplanted fireplaces. The fences about the yards are often neat and in good repair. So far as housing conditions are concerned, I have seen no rural district of the South to compare with this. The old cabin is decidedly out of fashion.

Turning to the farm proper, there are other evidences of change. There are no women working in the fields, their time being spent about the house and the garden. The system of crop liens is unknown. Each farmer raises his own supplies, smokes his own meat or buys at the store for cash or on credit. Wheat and corn are ground in local mills. The heavy interest charges of other districts are thus avoided. It is stated that a great number of the Negroes are buying little places, and this bears out the census figures, which show that of the Negro farmers 90.9 per cent in this county are owners or managers; the average for the negroes as a whole is 27.1 per cent.

Although so many earn money in the oyster business, there are others who have gotten ahead by sticking to the farm. T now owns part of the place on which he was a slave, and his slave-time cabin is now used as a shed. He began buying land in 1873, paying from $10 to $11.50 per acre, and by hard work and economy now owns sixty acres which are worth much more than their first cost. With the help of his boys, whom he has managed to keep at home, he derives a comfortable income from his land. His daughter, now his housekeeper, teaches school near by during the winter. What he has done others can do, he says.

Y is another who has succeeded. His first payments were made from the sale of wood cut in clearing the land. In 1903 his acres were planted as follows:

Orchard                    2 acres.
Woodland                 8 acres.
Pasture                     10 acres.
Corn                         8 acres.
Rye                           3/4 acres.
Potato patch
Garden and yard.

His children are being trained at Hampton, and he laughingly says that one boy is already telling him how to get more produce from his land.

B is an oysterman during the winter. He has purchased a small place of four acres, for which he paid $18 per acre. This ground he cultivates and has a few apple, plum and peach trees in his yard. His case is typical.

Wages in the county are not high. House servants get from $3 to $8 per month. Day laborers are paid from 50 to 75 cents a day. Farm hands get about $10 a month and two meals daily (breakfast and dinner). I have already mentioned that farm laborers were getting fewer, and those left are naturally the less reliable. Many white farmers are having considerable difficulty in carrying on their places. The result is that many are only partially cultivating the farms, and many of the younger men are abandoning agriculture. What the final result will be is hard to tell.

In summarizing it may be said that agriculture is being somewhat neglected and that the opportunity to earn money in the oyster industry acts as a constant deterrent to agricultural progress, if it is not directly injurious. Here, as elsewhere, there is room for improvement in methods of tilling the soil and in rotation of crops, use of animal manures, etc.

The general social and moral improvement has been noted. It is a pleasure to find that one of the strongest factors in this improvement is due to the presence in the county of a number of graduates of Hampton who, in their homes, their schools and daily life, have stood for better things.

CENTRAL VIRGINIA.

The difficulty of making general statements true in all districts has elsewhere been mentioned. The reader will not be surprised, therefore, to find many things said in the immediately preceding pages inapplicable to conditions in the tobacco districts. The little town of Farmville, Va., is the market for some 12,000,000 pounds of tobacco yearly. The county Prince Edward contained in 1890 9,924 Negroes and in 1900 but 9,769, a decrease of 155. The county does not give one the impression of agricultural prosperity. The surface is very rolling, the soil sandy and thin in many places. Along the bottoms there is good land, of less value than formerly because of freshets. Practically all of the land has been under cultivation at some time, and in heavily wooded fields the corn rows may often be traced. On every side are worn-out fields on which sassafras soon gets a hold, followed by pine and other trees.

Labor conditions have been growing worse, according to common report. It is harder to get farm hands than formerly, and this difficulty is most felt by those who exact the most. The day laborer gets from 40 to 50 cents and his meals, while for special work, such as cutting wheat, the wage may rise to $1.50. Women no longer work in the fields, and about the house get 35 cents per day. Formerly women worked in the fields, and wages for both sexes were lower. Hands by the month get $7 to $8 and board. In this county are many small white farmers who work in the fields with the men, and the white housewife not infrequently cooks the food for the Negroes quite a contrast to typical southern practice.

The movement from the farm is not an unmixed evil in that it is compelling the introduction of improved machinery, such as mowing machines, binders. On many a farm only scythes and cradles are known.

Another element in the problem is the fact that many negroes have been getting little places of their own and therefore do less work for others. There are many whites who think this development a step forward and believe that the land owners are better citizens. There are others who claim that the net result is a loss, in that they are satisfied merely to eke out some sort of an existence and are not spurred on to increased production. It is quite commonly reported that there were some organizations among the Negroes whose members agreed not to work for the whites, but I cannot vouch for their existence.

Although agriculture here is much more diversified than in the cotton belt, the Negro finds it necessary to get advances. These are usually supplied by commission merchants, who furnish the fertilizers and necessary food, taking crop liens as security. Advances begin in the spring and last until the following December, when the tobacco is marketed. The interest charged is 6 per cent, but the goods sold on this plan are much enhanced in price; interest is usually charged for a year, and the merchant receives a commission of 2-1/2 per cent for selling the tobacco, so the business appears fairly profitable.

It is difficult to estimate the average value of an acre of tobacco, as it varies so much in quality as well as quantity. It is probably safe to say that the Negroes do not average over $20 per acre, ranging from $15 to $25, and have perhaps three or four acres in tobacco. It is generally expected that the tobacco will about pay for the advances. This would indicate, and the commission men confirm it, that the average advance is between $50 and $75 per year. The rations given out are no longer merely pork and meal, with which it is stated that the Negroes are not now content, but include a more varied diet.

The customary rent is one-fourth of all that is produced, the landlord paying one-fourth of the fertilizer (universally called guano in this district). Tobacco makes heavy demands on the soil and at least 400 pounds, a value of about $4.50 per acre, should be used. When the landlord furnishes the horse or mule he pays also one-half of the fertilizer and gets one-half of the produce. The rent on tobacco land is thus large, but the average cash rental is between $2 and $3.

The standard rotation of crops is tobacco, wheat, clover, tobacco. The clover is not infrequently skipped, the field lying fallow or uncultivated until exhausted. The average farmer thus has about as many acres in wheat as in tobacco and raises perhaps twelve bushels of wheat per acre. Some corn is also raised, and I have seen fields so exhausted that the stalk at the ground was scarcely larger than my middle finger. The corn crop may possibly average 10 to 15 bushels per acre, or, in Virginia terminology, 2 to 3 barrels.

The average farmer under present conditions just about meets his advances with the tobacco raised. He has about enough wheat to supply him with flour; perhaps enough corn and hay for his ox or horse; possibly enough meat for the family. The individual family may fall short on any of these. The hay crop is unsatisfactory, largely through neglect. In May, 1903, on a Saturday, I saw wagon after wagon leaving Farmville carrying bales of western hay. This is scarcely an indication of thrift.

The impression one gets from traveling about is that the extensive cultivation of tobacco, in spite of the fact that it is the cash crop and perhaps also the most profitable, is really a drawback in that other possibilities are obscured. It may be that the line of progress will not be to abandon tobacco, but to introduce more intensive cultivation, for the average man, white or black, does not get a proper return from an acre. To-day there is always a likelihood that more tobacco will be planted than can be properly cultivated, for it is a plant which demands constant and careful attention until it is marketed.

B has a big family of children and lives in a large cabin, one room with a loft. He owns a pair of oxen and manages to raise enough to feed them. He also raises about enough meat for his family. During the season of 1902 he raised $175 worth of tobacco; corn valued at $37.50 and 16 bushels of wheat, a total of about $221. Deducting one-fourth for rent and estimating his expenses for fertilizer at $25, he had about $140 out of which to pay all other expenses. B is considered a very good man, who tends carefully and faithfully to his work. It is evident, however, that his margin is small.

The farmer has opportunities to supplement his earnings. Cordwood finds ready sale in the towns at $2 per cord, and I have seen many loads of not over one-fourth of a cord hauled to market by a small steer. Butter, eggs and chickens yield some returns and the country produces blackberries in profusion.

There are some Negroes who are making a comfortable living on the farms and whose houses and yards are well kept. As has been said, this is not the general impression made by the district. Considerable sums of money are sent in by children working in the northern cities. This is offset, however, by those who come back in the winter to live off their parents, having squandered all their own earnings elsewhere.

The situation in a word is: A generation or more of reliance on one crop, neglect of other crops and of stock, resulting in deteriorated land. The labor force attracted to the towns and the North by higher wages. Natural result: Decadence of agricultural conditions, affording at the same time a chance for many Negroes to become land owners. When the process will stop or the way out I know not. Perhaps the German immigrants who are beginning to buy up some of the farms may lead the way to a better husbandry.

For an interesting account of conditions in the town of Farmville see “The Negroes of Farmville,” by W. E. B. DuBois, Bulletin Department of Labor, January, 1898.

THE SEA COAST.

The low-lying coast of South Carolina and Georgia, with its fringe of islands, has long been the seat of a heavy Negro population. Of the counties perhaps none is more interesting than Beaufort, the southernmost of South Carolina. The eastern half of the county is cut up by many salt rivers into numerous islands. Broad River separates these from the mainland. The Plant System has a line on the western edge of the county, while the Georgia Railroad runs east to Port Royal. According to the census, the county contains 943 square miles of land and a population of 32,137 blacks and 3,349 whites, the Negroes thus forming 90 per cent of the total. There are 37 persons to the square mile. With the exception of Beaufort and Port Royal, the whites are found on the western side of the county. The islands are almost solid black. Just after the war many of the plantations were sold for taxes and fell into the hands of the Negroes, the funds realized being set apart for the education of the blacks, the interest now amounting to some $2,000 a year. In the seventies there was a great development of the phosphate industry, which at its height employed hundreds of Negroes, taken from the farms. Enormous fertilizer plants were erected. Most of this is now a thing of the past and the dredges lie rotting at the wharves. It is the general opinion that the influence of this industry was not entirely beneficial, although it set much money in circulation. It drew the men from the farms, and now they tend to drift to the cities rather than return.

A livelihood is easily gained. The creeks abound with fish, crabs and oysters. There is plenty of work on the farms for those who prefer more steady labor. Land valued at about $10 per acre may be rented for $1. More than ten acres to the tenant is not usual, and I was told that it is very common for a family to rent all the land it wants for $10 per year, the presumption being that not over ten acres would be utilized. The staple crop for the small farmer is the sea island cotton. Under the present culture land devoted to this lies fallow every other year. The islands are low and flat, subject to severe storms, that of 1893 having destroyed many lives and much property. The county was originally heavily wooded and there is still an abundance for local purposes, though the supply is low in places. On the islands the blacks have been almost alone for a generation and by many it is claimed that there has been a decided retrogression. By common consent St. Helena Island, which lies near Beaufort, is considered the most prosperous of the Negro districts. On this island are over 8,000 blacks and some 200 whites. The cabins usually have two rooms, many having been partitioned to make the second. They are of rough lumber, sometimes whitewashed, but seldom painted. There are few fences and some damage is done by stock. Outbuildings are few; privies are almost unknown even at the schools there are no closets of any kind. The wells are shallow, six feet or so in depth with a few driven to 12 or 17 feet. A few have pumps, the rest are open. At present there is no dispensary on the island but there are a number of “blind tigers.” The nearest physician is at Beaufort and the cost of a single visit is from five to ten dollars. The distance from the doctors is said not to be an unmixed evil as it saves much foolish expenditure of money in fancied ills.

In slavery times there were 61 plantations on the island and their names, as Fripps Corner, Oaks, still survive to designate localities. There was in olden times little contact with the whites as Negro drivers were common. Each plantation still has its “prayer house” at which religious services are held. Meetings occur on different nights on the various plantations to enable the people to get all the religion they need. These meetings are often what are known as “shouts,” when with much shouting and wild rhythmic dancing the participants keep on till exhausted. The suggestion of Africa is not vague. The Virginia Negro views these gatherings with as much astonishment as does any white. Many of the blacks speak a strange dialect hard to understand. “Shum,” for instance, being the equivalent for “see them.”

The land is sandy and should have skillful handling to get the best results. Yet the farming is very unscientific. The first plowing is shallow and subsequent cultivation is done almost entirely with hoes. When a Hampton graduate began some new methods last year the people came for miles to see his big plow. It is said that there was more plowing than usual as a result. The daily life of the farmer is about as follows: Rising between four and five he goes directly to the field, eating nothing until eight or nine, when he has some “grits,” a sort of fine hominy cooked like oat meal. Many eat nothing until they leave the field at eleven for dinner, which also consists of grits with some crabs in summer and fish in winter. Some have only these two meals a day. Corn bread and molasses are almost unknown and when they have molasses it is eaten with a spoon. Knives and forks are seldom used. One girl of eighteen did not know how to handle a knife. There are numbers of cows on the island, but milk is seldom served, the cattle being sold for beef. The draft animals are usually small oxen or ponies, called “salt marsh tackies,” as they are left to pick their living from the marshes. Some chickens and turkeys are raised, but no great dependence is placed on them. There are no geese and few ducks. Little commercial fertilizer is used, the marsh grass, which grows in great abundance, being an excellent substitute of which the more progressive take advantage. The following statement will illustrate the situation of three typical families, an unusual, a good, and an average farmer. The figures are for 1902:

The rice is grown without flooding and known as “Providence Rice.”

With the great ease of getting a livelihood the advances necessarily are small. From January 1, 1902, to July 15 (which is near the close of the advancing season) several average families had gotten advances averaging $15.00. The firm which does most of the advancing on the island writes: “We have some that get more. A few get $50.00 or about that amount, but we make it a point not to let the colored people or our customers get too much in debt. We have to determine about what they need and we have always given them what was necessary to help them make a crop according to their conditions and circumstances as they present themselves to us.” The firm reports that they collect each year about 90 per cent of their outstanding accounts.

This is then recorded in the County Court as is an ordinary mortgage.

On this island considerable money has been saved and is now deposited with a firm of merchants in whom the people have confidence. In July, 1902, there were about 100 individual depositors having some $4,000 to their credit. The money can be withdrawn at any time, all debts to the firm being first settled. Interest at five per cent. is allowed. Some of this money comes from pensions. There are round about Beaufort a considerable number of U. S. pensioners, as the city was headquarters for Union soldiers for a long time. The effect of the pensions is claimed both by whites and blacks to be bad.

A great deal of the credit for the good conditions, relatively speaking, which prevail on St. Helena is given to the Penn School which for years has come into close touch with the lives of the people. The Negroes have also been in touch with a good class of whites, who have encouraged all efforts at improvement. Wherever the credit lies, the visitor is struck by the difference between conditions here and on some other islands, for instance, Lady’s Island, which lies between St. Helena and Beaufort. Even here it is claimed that the older generation is more industrious.

In the trucking industry, which is very profitable along the coast, the Negroes have only been engaged as ordinary laborers. On the main land, wherever fresh water can be obtained, is the seat of a considerable rice industry. In recent years, owing to the cutting of the forests in the hills, the planters are troubled by freshets in the spring and droughts in the summer. The work is done by Negroes under direction of white foremen. The men work harder on contract jobs, but work by the day is better done. Women are in better repute as laborers than the men and it is stated that more women support their husbands than formerly was the case. Wages range from $.35 to $.50 per day, varying somewhat according to the work done. They are paid in cash and the planters have given up the plantation store in many cases. All work must be constantly supervised and it is said to be harder and harder to get work done. A planter found it almost impossible in the winter of 1901 to get fifty cords of wood cut, the work being considered too heavy. When I left the train at Beaufort and found twelve hacks waiting for about three passengers it was evident where some of the labor force had gone.

In this county there is a great development of burial and sick benefit societies. The “Morning Star”, “Star of Hope”, “Star of Bethlehem” are typical names. The dues are from five to ten cents a week. Many of the societies have good sized halls, rivaling ofttimes the churches, on the various islands, which are used for lodge and social purposes.

Beaufort and the other towns offer the country people an opportunity to dispose of fish and any garden produce they may raise, while it is not uncommon to see a little ox dragging a two-wheeled cart and perhaps a quarter of a cord of wood to be hawked about town. During part of the summer a good many gather a species of plant which is used in adulterating cigarettes and cigars.

This little account indicates that, so far as the farmers are concerned, there are few evidences of any decided progress save in the district which has been under the influence of one school. The ease of getting a livelihood acts as a deterrent to ambition. Yet the old families say that they have the “best niggers of the South” and certain it is that race troubles are unknown.

CENTRAL DISTRICT.

In the central district life is a little more strenuous than on the sea coast. The cabins are about the same. The average tenant has a “one mule farm,” some thirty or thirty-five acres. Occasionally the tenant has more land, but only about this amount is cultivated and no rent is paid for the balance. The area of the land is usually estimated and only rarely is it surveyed. This land ranges in value from $5.00 to $15.00 per acre on the average. The customary rental for a “one mule farm” is about two bales of cotton, whose value in recent years would be in the neighborhood of $75.00, thus making the rental about $3.00 per acre. On this farm from four to six bales of cotton are raised. The soil has been injured by improper tillage and requires an expenditure of $1.75 to $2.00 per acre for fertilizers if the best results are to be obtained. As yet the Negroes do not fully appreciate this. The farmer secures advances based on 1 peck of meal and 3 pounds of “side meat,” fat salt pork, per week for each working hand. About six dollars a month is the limit for advances and as these are continued for only seven months or so the average advance received is probably not far from $50.00 per year. An advance of $10.00 per month is allowed for a two horse farm. The advancer obligates himself to furnish only necessities and any incidentals must be supplied from sale of poultry, berries and the like. Clothing may often be reckoned as an incidental. The luxuries are bought with cash or on the installment plan and are seldom indicated by the books of the merchant. The cost of the average weekly advances for a family in 1902 was:

Conditions throughout this district are believed to be fairly uniform, but the following information was gathered in Lowndes County, Alabama, so has closest connection with the prairie region of that state:

Lowndes County lies just southwest of Montgomery and there are 47 persons to the square mile. The Negroes form 86 per cent. of the population. East and West throughout the county runs the Chennenugga Ridge, a narrow belt of hills which separate the prairie from the pine hills to the South. The ridge is quite broken and in places can not be tilled profitably. The county is of average fertility, however.

There are not an unusual number of one-room cabins. Out of 74 families, comprising 416 people, the average was 7 to the room, the greatest number living in one room was 11. The families were housed as follows:

The cabins are built of both boards and logs as indicated by cuts on pages 43 and 44 while the interior economy is well shown by the photograph on page 29.

Field work is from sun to sun with two hours or so rest at noon. The man usually eats breakfast in the field, the wife staying behind to prepare it. It consists of pork and corn bread. The family come from the field about noon and have dinner consisting of pork and corn bread, with collards, turnip greens, roasting ears, etc. At sundown work stops and supper is eaten, the menu being as at breakfast. The pork eaten by the Negroes, it may be said, is almost solid fat, two or three inches thick, lean meat not being liked. The housewife has few dishes, the food being cooked in pots or in small ovens set among the ashes. Stoves are a rarity. Lamps are occasionally used, but if the chimney be broken it is rarely replaced, the remainder being quite good enough for ordinary purposes. The cabins seldom have glass windows, but instead wooden shutters, which swing outward on hinges. These are shut at night and even during the hottest summer weather there is practically no ventilation. How it is endured I know not, but the custom prevails even in Porto Rico I am told. In winter the cabins are cold. To meet this the thrifty housewife makes bed quilts and as many as 25 or 30 of these are not infrequently found in a small cabin. The floors are rough and not always of matched lumber, while the cabins are poorly built. The usual means of heating, and cooking, is the big fireplace. Sometimes the chimney is built of sticks daubed over with mud, the top of the chimney often failing to reach the ridge of the roof. Fires sometimes result. Tables and chairs are rough and rude. Sheets are few, the mattresses are of cotton, corn shucks or pine straw, and the pillows of home grown feathers.

The following regarding the cooking of the Alabama Negro is taken from a letter published in Bulletin N, U. S. Department of Agriculture, Office of the Experiment Stations:

“The daily fare is prepared in very simple ways. Corn meal is mixed with water and baked on the flat surface of a hoe or griddle. The salt pork is sliced thin and fried until very brown and much of the grease tried out. Molasses from cane or sorghum is added to the fat, making what is known as ‘sap,’ which is eaten with the corn bread. Hot water sweetened with molasses is used as a beverage. This is the hill of fare of most of the cabins on the plantations of the ‘black belt’ three times a day during the year. It is, however, varied at times; thus collards and turnips are boiled with the bacon, the latter being used with the vegetables to supply fat ‘to make it rich.’ The corn meal bread is sometimes made into so-called ‘cracklin bread,’ and is prepared as follows: A piece of fat bacon is fried until it is brittle; it is then crushed and mixed with corn meal, water, soda and salt, and baked in an oven over the fireplace.... One characteristic of the cooking is that all meats are fried or otherwise cooked until they are crisp. Observation among these people reveals the fact that very many of them suffer from indigestion in some form.”

As elsewhere the advances are supplied by the planter or some merchant. The legal rate of interest is 8 per cent, but no Negro ever borrows money at this rate. Ten per cent. per year is considered cheap, while on short terms the rate is often 10 per cent. per week. The average tenant pays from 12.5 per cent. to 15 per cent. for his advances, which are sold at an average of 25 per cent. higher than cash prices on the average. To avoid any possible trouble it is quite customary to reckon the interest and then figure this into the face of the note so that none can tell either the principal or the rate. Below is an actual copy of such a note, the names being changed:

$22.00. Calhoun, Alabama, June 2, 1900.

Value received.

And so far as this debt is concerned, and as part of the consideration thereof, I do hereby waive all right which I or either of us have under the Constitution and Laws of this or any other State to claim or hold any personal property exempt to me from levy and sale under execution. And should it become necessary to employ an attorney in the collection of this debt I promise to pay all reasonable attorney’s fees charged therefor.

Attest: C. W. James. his
A. T. Jones. John X. Smith.
mark.

The possibility of extortion which this method makes possible is evident.

It is worth while also to reproduce a copy, actual with the exception of the names, of one of the blanket mortgages often given. The italics are mine.

The state of Alabama,
Lowndes county.

On or before the first day of October next I promise to pay Jones and Co., or order, the sum of $77.00 at their office in Fort Deposit, Alabama. And I hereby waive all right of exemption secured to me under and by the Laws and Constitution of the State of Alabama as to the collection of this debt. And I agree to pay all the costs of making, recording, probating or acknowledging this instrument, together with a reasonable attorney’s fee, and all other expenses incident to the collection of this debt, whether by suit or otherwise. And to secure the payment of the above note, as well as all other indebtedness I may now owe the said Jones and Co., and all future advances I may purchase from the said Jones and Co. during the year 1900, whether due and payable during the year 1900 or not, and for the further consideration of one Dollar to me in hand paid by Jones and Co., the receipt whereof I do hereby acknowledge, I do hereby grant, bargain, sell and convey unto said Jones and Co. the entire crops of corn, cotton, cotton seed, fodder, potatoes, sugar cane and its products and all other crops of every kind and description which may be made and grown during the year 1900 on lands owned, leased, rented or farmed on shares for or by the undersigned in Lowndes County, Alabama, or elsewhere. Also any crops to or in which the undersigned has or may have any interest, right, claim or title in Lowndes County or elsewhere during and for each succeeding year until the indebtedness secured by this instrument is fully paid. Also all the corn, cotton, cotton seed, fodder, peas, and all other farm produce now in the possession of the undersigned. Also all the live stock, vehicles and farming implements now owned by or furnished to the undersigned by Jones and Co. during the year 1900. Also one red horse “Lee,” one red neck cow “Priest,” and her calf, one red bull yearling. Said property is situated in Lowndes County, Alabama. If, after maturity, any part of the unpaid indebtedness remains unpaid, Jones and Co., or their agents or assigns, are authorized and empowered to seize and sell all or any of the above described property, at private sale or public auction, as they may elect, for cash. If at public auction, before their store door or elsewhere, in Fort Deposit, Alabama, after posting for five days written notice of said sale on post office door in said town, and to apply the proceeds of said sale to the payment, first of all costs and expenses provided for in the above note and expense of seizing and selling said property; second, to payment in full of debt or debts secured by said mortgage, and the surplus, if any, pay to the undersigned. And the said mortgagee or assigns is hereby authorized to purchase at his own sale under this mortgage. I agree that no member of my family, nor anyone living with me, nor any person under my control, shall have an extra patch on the above described lands, unless covered by this mortgage; and I also agree that this mortgage shall cover all such patches. It is further agreed and understood that any securities held by Jones and Co. as owner or assignee on any of the above described property executed by me prior to executing this mortgage shall be retained by them, and shall remain in full force and effect until the above note and future advances are paid in full, and shall be additional security for this debt. There is no lien or encumbrance upon any property conveyed by this instrument except that held by Jones and Co. and the above specified rents. If, before the demands hereby secured are payable, any of the property conveyed herein shall be in danger of (or from) waste, destruction or removal, said demands shall be then payable and all the terms, rights and powers of this instrument operative and enforceable, as if and under a past due mortgage.

Witness my hand and seal this 10th day of January, 1900.

Attest: B. C. Cook. Sam small. L. S.
R. J. Bennett.

It may be granted that experience has shown all this verbiage to be necessary. In the hands of an honest landlord it is as meaningless as that in the ordinary contract we sign in renting a house. In the hands of a dishonest landlord or merchant it practically enables him to make a serf of the Negro. The mortgage is supposed to be filed at once, but it is sometimes held to see if there is any other security which might be included. The rascally creditor watches the crop and if the Negro may have a surplus he easily tempts him to buy more, or more simply still, he charges to his account imaginary purchases, so that at the end of the year the Negro is still in debt. The Negro has no redress. He can not prove that he has not purchased the goods and his word will not stand against the merchant’s. Practically he is tied down to the land, for no one else will advance him under these conditions. Sometimes he escapes by getting another merchant to settle his account and by becoming the tenant of the new man. When it is remembered that land is abundant and good labor rare, the temptation to hold a man on the land by fair means or foul is apparent. Moreover, the merchant by specious reasoning often justifies his own conduct. He says that the Negro will spend his money at the first opportunity and that he might just as well have it as some other merchant. I would not be understood as saying that this action is anything but the great exception but there are dishonest men everywhere who are ready to take advantage of their weaker fellows and the Negro suffers as a result, just as the ignorant foreigner does in the cities of the North.

The interest may also be reckoned into the face of the mortgage. In any case it begins the day the paper is signed, although the money or its equivalent is only received at intervals and a full year’s interest is paid, often on the face of the mortgage, even if only two-thirds of it has actually been advanced to the Negro, no matter when the account is settled. The helplessness of the Negro who finds himself in the hands of a sharper is obvious when that sharper has practical control of the situation. In many and curious ways the landlord seeks to hold his tenants. He is expected to stand by them in time of trouble, to protect them against the aggressions of other blacks and of whites as well. This paternalism is often carried to surprising lengths.

The size of a man’s family is known and the riders see to it that he keeps all the working hands in the field. If the riders have any trouble with a Negro they are apt to take it out in physical punishment, to “wear him out,” as the phrase goes. Thus resentment is seldom harbored against a Negro and there are many who claim that this physical discipline is far better than any prison regime in its effects upon the Negro. In spite of all that is done it is claimed that the Negroes are getting less reliable and that the chief dependence is now in the older men, the women and the children. One remark, made by a planter’s wife, which impressed me as having a good deal of significance, was, “the Negroes do not sing as much now as formerly.”

An examination of the accounts reveals that there is a charge for extra labor, which for the third family was very heavy. This results from the fact that the average family could, but does not pick all the cotton it makes, so when it is seen that enough is on hand to pay all the bills and leave a balance it is very careless about the remainder. Planters have great difficulty in getting all the cotton picked and a considerable portion is often lost. Extra labor must be imported. This is hard to get and forms, when obtained, a serious burden on the income of the tenant.

On the plantation from whose books the above records were taken the system of bookkeeping is more than usually careful and the gin account thus forms a separate item so that although all planters charge for the ginning the charge does not always appear on the books.

These three families are believed to be average and indicate what it is possible for the typical family to do under ordinary conditions. It is but fair to state that the owners of this plantation make many efforts to get their tenants to improve their condition and will not long keep those whose accounts do not show a credit balance at the end of the year. A copy of the lease in use will be of interest and its stipulations form quite a contrast to the one quoted from Alabama. The cash and share leases are identical save for necessary changes in form. The names are fictitious.

“This Contract, made this date and terminating December 31, 1902, between Smith and Brown, and John Doe, hereinafter called tenant, Witnesses: That Smith and Brown have this day rented and set apart to John Doe for the year 1902 certain twenty acres of land on James Plantation, Washington County, Mississippi, at a rental price per acre of seven dollars and fifty cents. Smith and Brown hereby agree to furnish, with said land, a comfortable house and good pump, and to grant to the said tenant the free use of such wood as may be necessary for his domestic purposes and to advance such supplies, in such quantity and manner as may be mutually agreed upon as being necessary to maintain him in the cultivation of said land; it being now mutually understood that by the term “supplies” is meant meat, meal, molasses, tobacco, snuff, medicine and medical attention, good working shoes and clothes, farming implements and corn. It is also hereby mutually agreed and understood that anything other than the articles herein enumerated is to be advanced to the said tenant only as the condition of his crops and account and the manner of his work shall, in the judgment of Smith and Brown, be deemed to entitle him. They also agree to keep said house and pump in good repair and to keep said land well ditched and drained.

Being desirous of having said tenant raise sufficient corn to supply his needs during the ensuing year, in consideration of his planting such land in corn as they may designate, they hereby agree to purchase from said tenant all corn over and above such as may be necessary for his needs, and to pay therefor the market price; and to purchase all corn raised by him in the event be wishes to remove from James plantation at the termination of this contract. In consideration of the above undertaking on Smith and Brown’s part, the said tenant hereby agrees to sell to them all surplus corn raised by him and in the event of his leaving James’ plantation at the termination of this contract to sell to them all corn he may have on hand: in each case at the market price.

The said Smith and Brown hereby reserve to themselves all liens for rent and supplies on all cotton, cotton seed, corn and other agricultural products, grown upon said land during the year 1902, granted under Sections 2495 and 2496 of the Code of 1892. They hereby agree to handle and sell for the said tenant all cotton and other crops raised by him for sale, to the best of their ability, and to account to him for the proceeds of the same when sold. They also reserve to themselves the right to at all times exercise such supervision as they may deem necessary over the planting and cultivating of all crops to be raised by him during the year 1902.

The said John Doe hereby rents from Smith and Brown the above mentioned land for the year 1902 and promises to pay therefor seven dollars and a half per acre on or before November the first, 1902, and hereby agrees to all the terms and stipulations herein mentioned.

He furthermore represents to Smith and Brown that he has sufficient force to properly plant and cultivate same, and agrees that if at any time in their judgment his crops may be in need of cultivation, they may have the necessary work done and charge same to his account.

He furthermore agrees to at all times properly control his family and hands, both as to work and conduct, and obligates himself to prevent any one of them from causing any trouble whatsoever, either to his neighbors or to Smith and Brown.

He also agrees to plant and cultivate all land allotted to him, including the edges of the roads, turn rows, and ditch banks, and to keep the latter at all times clean and to plant no garden or truck patches in his field.

He also agrees to gather and deliver all agricultural products
which he may raise for sale to said Smith and Brown, as they may
designate to be handled and sold by them, for his account.

He also agrees not to abandon, neglect, turn back or leave his
crops or any part of them, nor to allow his family or hands to do
so, until entirely gathered and delivered.

In order that Smith and Brown may be advised of the number of tenants which they may have to secure for the ensuing year, in ample time to enable them to provide for the same, the said tenant hereby agrees to notify them positively by December 10, 1902, whether or not he desires to remain on James’ Plantation for the ensuing year. Should he not desire to remain, then he agrees to deliver to Smith and Brown possession of the house now allotted to him by January 1st, 1903. In order that said tenant may have ample time in which to provide for himself a place for the ensuing year, Smith and Brown hereby agree to notify him by December 10, 1902, should they not want him as a tenant during the ensuing year.

Witness our signatures, this the 15th day of December, 1901.

Smithand brown.
John Doe.

Witness: J. W. James.

The owners have been unable to carry out their efforts in full, but the result has been very creditable. The lease is much preferable to the one given on page 46.

If, as I believe, the families above reported are average and are living under ordinary conditions, it seems evident that a considerable surplus results from their labors each year. I wish I could add that the money were being either wisely spent or saved and invested. This does not seem to be the case and it is generally stated that the amount of money wasted in the fall of the year by the blacks of the Delta is enormous. In the cabins the great catalogs of the mail order houses of Montgomery Ward & Co., and Sears, Roebuck & Co., of Chicago are often found, and the express agents say that large shipments of goods are made to the Negroes. Patent medicines form no inconsiderable proportion of these purchases, while “Stutson” hats, as the Negro says, are required by the young bloods. The general improvidence of the people is well illustrated by the following story related by a friend of the writer. At the close of one season an old Negro woman came to his wife for advice as to the use to be made of her savings, some $125. She was advised to buy some household necessities and to put the remainder in a bank, above all she was cautioned to beware of any who sought to get her to squander the money. The woman left but in about two weeks’ time returned to borrow some money. It developed that as she went down the street a Jewess invited her to come in and have a cup of coffee. The invitation was accepted and during the conversation she was advised to spend the money. This she did, and when the transactions were over the woman had one barrel of flour, one hundred pounds of meat, ten dollars or so worth of cheap jewelry, some candy and other incidentals and no money. Foolish expenditures alone, according to the belief of the planters, prevent the Negroes from owning the entire land in a generation. I would not give the impression that there are no Negro land owners in this region. Thousands of acres have been purchased and are held by them, but we are speaking of average families.

Some curious customs prevail. The planters generally pay the Negroes in cash for their cotton seed and this money the blacks consider as something peculiarly theirs, not to be used for any debts they may have. Although the prices for goods advanced are higher than cash prices, the Negroes will often, when spring comes, insist that they be advanced, so have the goods charged even at the higher prices, even though they have the cash on hand. This great over-appreciation of present goods is a drawback to their progress.

In this district I found little dissatisfaction among the Negro farmers. They felt that their opportunities were good. Those who come from the hills can scarce believe their eyes at the crops produced and constantly ask when the cotton plants are going to turn yellow and droop. That there is little migration back to the hills is good evidence of the relative standing of the two districts in their eyes.

Wages for day labor range from 60 to 75 cents, but the extra labor imported for cotton picking makes over double this.

THE SUGAR REGION.

South of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the alluvial district is largely given over to the growing of sugar cane with occasional fields of rice. The district under cultivation stretches back from the river a couple of miles or so to the edge of the woods beyond which at present there is no tillable ground, though drainage will gradually push back the line of the forest. These sugar lands are valued highly, $100 or so an acre, and the capital invested in the great sugar houses is enormous. Probably nowhere in agricultural pursuits is there a more thorough system of bookkeeping than on these plantations. This land is cultivated by hired hands, who work immediately under the eye of overseers. Nowhere is the land let out in small lots to tenants. Conditions are radically different from those prevailing in the cotton regions. The work season, it is claimed, begins on the first day of January and ends on the 31st of December, and every day between when the weather permits work in the fields there is work to be done.