Monday, January 18, 2010

men of Macon County, July 1937

Farmers in Macon County, Georgia, suffered hard times during the 1930s and sharecroppers had it particularly bad.1 As in Greene County, they tried and most often failed to make money off cotton. Depleted land, expensive fertilizers, low prices per bale, inefficient farming methods, and boll weevil devastations all kept them poor.2

In July 1937 Dorothea Lange took her cameras to this county. Working for the Farm Security Administration, she took wonderful photographs to document the hard lives of its inhabitants. Although she's best known for iconic images of women and of families, these few show her skill in portraying working men.

They come from FSA collections in the Library of Congress Prints and Photos Division. Click to view full size.

Although Lange generally gave full descriptions of her subjects and the shoot, she gave no more than bare essentials for this set. We'd like to know more, but we simply can't.

{Caption: Father of landless sharecropper family. Macon County, Georgia, 1937 July}

{Caption: Sharecropper. Receives five dollars a month "furnish" from the landowner. Macon County, Georgia, 1937 July}

{Detail of image given below}

{Detail of image given below}

{There is no caption for this photo (the one found with it is an obvious error)}

This photo is more typical of the work for which Lange became best known:

{There is no caption for this photo; it's located with one having this caption: Cotton sharecropper family. Macon County, Georgia}

This photo shows the documentary side of her work, as opposed to the more artistic side:

{Caption: Farm boy with sack full of boll weevils which he has picked off of cotton plants. Macon County, Georgia, 1937 July}

{Detail of this image}

Here is a low-resolution establishing shot for the above photo:

{Farm boy with sack full of boll weevils which he has picked off of cotton plants. Macon County, Georgia, 1937 July.}

See also:

Macon County, Georgia



Previous posts in this series:



1 As I explained in my post on the Greene County county photo shoot, Lange found conditions in the Piedmont Region of North Carolina to be quite different. The landless farmers in that area were very poor but nonetheless reasonably content and somewhat hopeful. They had some reason. Their cash crop, tobacco, paid better then and in the coming decade than did the cotton grown in Georgia's Greene and Macon Counties.

2 Pioneering sociological research by Arthur F. Raper clearly documented the plight of these farmers. His book — Preface to peasantry: a tale of two black belt counties by Arthur F. Raper (University of North Carolina Press, 1936) — provided a statistical portrait of Greene and Macon Counties. Here's an excerpt.

The major agricultural products of Greene County are cotton and corn, with minor dairy and poultry enterprises supplementing the home production of part of the meat and other foods consumed by the county's farm families. In addition to cotton and corn Macon County's agricultural products include peaches, asparagus, melons, pecans, and peanuts in marketable quantities. The major portion of the county's farmers, however, are limited, as in Greene, to the production of cotton and corn and a part of the meat and other foods consumed.

Rank of the Counties.

The per capita value of all agricultural and manufactured products in 1929 was $239 in Greene, $233 in Macon, $327 in Georgia. The per capita value of taxable property in 1930 was $246.59 in Greene, $221.53 in Macon, $348.03 in Georgia. In 1925 there was one income tax return in Greene to every 154 persons, one in Macon to every 158, one in Georgia to every 46 persons; in 1932, in Greene one income tax return to every 350 persons, in Macon one to every 361, in Georgia one to every 87.16 The bank de­ posits per capita in 1925 were $43 in Greene, $ 50 in Macon, $116 in Georgia; in 1934, $2 in Greene, $41 in Macon, $91 in Georgia. The per capita retail trade in 1929 was $104 in Greene, $99 in Macon, $219 in Georgia.

In 1925 the population per automobile was 24.9 in Greene, 16.5 in Macon, 14.2 in Georgia; in 1934 the population per automobile was 10.4 in Greene, 15.0 in Macon, 7.3 in Georgia. In 1934 the population per telephone was 41.5 in Greene, 46.9 in Macon, 18 in Georgia. In March 1933, the population per residential electricity subscriber was 28.9 in Greene, 40.4 in Macon, 23.1 in Georgia.

The number of persons per medical doctor in 1930 were 1,577 in Greene, 1,492 in Macon, 1,034 in Georgia. The infant mortality rate per thousand live births in 1933 was 80.0 in Greene, 75.7 in Macon, 67.2 in Georgia.23

There is little need to present further data to establish the fact that Greene and Macon counties rank below the state average, as do most rural Black Belt counties. Black Belt states in turn rank at the bottom when the forty-eight states are rated on over fifty per capita measures, including those listed above.

Population Elements.

ln 1930, 99.9 per cent of all the people of both counties were native born whites and Negroes, the latter constituting 52.2 per cent of Greene's and 67.2 per cent of Macon's total population. Greene had but thirty-four persons of foreign or mixed parentage, Macon but thirty-two.

The whites are descended in main from the English, Scotch, Irish, and German stocks, although Norwegian, French, Italian, and Semitic strains are not altogether lacking. The Negroes are descended from various African peoples, including the Sudan and Bantu stocks, with a considerable admixture of other groups, particularly the Arabs, the American Indians, and the American whites. Despite the mixed heredity of the members of both races, there are almost no strangers in either county. From these rural families young men and women have migrated to cities in the South and North.

Man-Land Relations.

The agricultural ladder has four rungs: landowners at the top, renters next, then croppers, and wage hands at the bottom. Only one out of every ten Negro farmers owns any land, and scarcely half of these have enough to make a living on. Of the nine-tenths who own no land, about half are croppers, owning no work animals or plows or other farm equipment; nearly a fourth are farm wage hands, the poorest people in the community; the other fourth are renters, who own some work stock and farm equipment, and occupy a place midway between the owners and the croppers.

Although the whites own more than ninety-five out of every hundred acres, a little over half the rural white families are landless. They live as renters and croppers and wage hands in competition with the Negroes in these same tenure classes. About two-thirds of the resident whites who own land cultivate it.

1 comment:

CP said...

Thanks for posting these remarkable photos. I was born in Macon County in 1939 so these are like looking at old memories.