Sunday, November 08, 2009

sharecropper cabin on hillside farm

Preparing to write a book on Dorothea Lange1, Anne Whiston Spirn visited some of the places that were sites for Lange's photographs. She posted an entry in her blog about her efforts to locate one place,2 a small hillside farm and a sharecropper shack on the property. She drove to the general area and began to ask around; told that a woman named Mary Jacobs would know, she seeks her out and eventually located the place. It turns out that the farm is not across from a service station3 (as field notes had said) but along side it.

She and Mary drive into the yard of the farm where Lange had found the sharecropper cabin. She writes:
We drive up to the house and park beside various trucks, step out, wooing the dog, a setter of mixed breed. To the back door, of course. Knock.

After long minutes, a man comes to the door. Tall, in a blue T-shirt, very hospitable, his name Greg. I show him the photo of the house. “We have that photo on our refrigerator,” he says. “My wife found it on the Internet.” May we walk around? “Of course.” The tobacco barn is well preserved. Mary walks with me up the hill to the barn, and Greg comes after, opens it up so we can see the tier poles and tobacco-string poles. As for the sharecropper’s cabin, Greg thinks it was torn down.4
Here are Lange's photos of the cabin and the young family that inhabited it, of the sharecrop farm, and of the larger farm where it was located. I've also included a photo that Spirn made showing the farm as it looks these days.

Lange's photos were taken in July 1939. They come from the Farm Services Administration collection in the Prints and Photos Division of the Library of Congress. Captions and field notes were prepared by Lange and a research assistant who accompanied her. Click image to view full size.

This is the cabin itself, followed by a few detail images:

{LC caption: Negro sharecropper house. "They treat us better here than where we did live. No privy in sight, had to get water from the spring, so far away that the man was gone twenty minute getting a bucket of water." Person County, North Carolina
Field notes say: 'The woman had been through seventh grade, the husband not much education. She would not let us take photographs of interior — "Ain't cleaned up in ever so long — too big a mess." No privy in sight, had to get water from "the spring" so far away the man was gone about 20 minutes to get a bucket of water.'}

Details of this image:

{Although the woman asked Lange not to photograph inside the cabin, you can see part of it it this shot. There is a water pitcher and washbowl on the table. As the notes say, the source of water was not close by. The baby girl seems to have been playing with the kitten and has just turned to see what her mother was saying.}

{Here are some herbs and garden produce by the doorside.}

{You can see that this is hill country; note the Queen Anne's Lace beyond the little garden plot.}

{This seems to be a chicken house. As notes say, there does not seem to be a privy. Needless to say there was no electricity and, as noted above, no well.}

Like most of Lange's rural portraits, this one shows dignity and strength; in this case they seem be accompanied by a bit of curiosity, cheerfulness, and a shy vulnerability in the man's face.

{LC caption: Young sharecropper and his first child. Hillside Farm. Person County, North Carolina
Field notes: The man was shy of having his photograph made but finally held the baby in front of the house for one picture. They have just moved here this year — "They treat us better here than where we did live"; did not know how many acres he had, tobacco, corn, a potato patch, "and such." He said they did not measure up the land this year — everybody did last year when they were cut down in acreage, but this year everybody planted all they wanted to.}

Detail of this image:

{There is no LC caption for this image; as you can see, it shows the cabin from further away}

{Negro sharecropper house. Note chimney leanto with kitchen stove pipe stuffed through side of wall and cap off with joint of tobacco flue to keep smoke from blowing back into house. Note also flower garden protected by slender fence of lathes. Person County, North Carolina
Field notes: Negro sharecropper's house: shows different aspects of house, chimney, lean-to with kitchen stovepipe, stuffed through side of wall and capped off with joint of tobacco flue to keep smoke from blowing back into house, flower garden in front protected by a slender fence of laths, young Negro couple and baby. Note guano sacks washed and drying on a line in back.}

{There is no LC caption for this image; it shows the other side of the cabin}

{LC caption: Wife and child of young sharecropper in cornfield beside house. Hillside Farm, Person County, North Carolina}

{LC caption: Negro tenant topping tobacco. Person County, North Carolina}

{There is no LC caption. Field notes: "Other side of hill: this side has been terraced — the sharecropper said before the government erosion work began, not tended now. In background is a sweet potato patch with a Negro man chopping. Could hear the sound of the hoe on the small rocks in the soil. Up the hill is the log and frame house the family live in. Steep rocky drive up hill from highway to owner's house [see below] and passed it along a single track to Negro house in background."}

Sprin took this photo of the same property when she visited:

{LC caption: Hillside Farm road leading from sharecropper's house back to the public road. Disc harrow rusting in field and tobacco pack house with log "odering house" adjoining. Person County, North Carolina
Field notes: Note disc harrow standing rusted in the field. House in background of this photograph is the pack house with log "ordering house" adjoining it.}

{General view of a hillside farm which faces the road showing owner's house, outbuildings, and tobacco field showing erosion. The Negro sharecropper farm is on the other side of this same hill. Person County, North Carolina
Field notes: Owner's house: general view of hillside farm opposite [actually beside] Tucks Service Station, shows home, outbuildings, and tobacco field beyond. The fields show erosion. The owner usually makes, according to the man at the filling station, about 500 pounds to the acre which is a small yield for Person County. Better yields run from 900 to 1,200 pounds.}

Details of this image:

{It says "R.H. Evans" on the mailbox}



1 Daring to look: Dorothea Lange's photographs and reports from the field, by Anne Whiston Spirn

2 The blog is simply called Anne Whiston Spirn.

3 This is A. P. Tucks Service Station; see previous post on this blog: Tucks.

3 Source: Person County, North Carolina.

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