Cry from the Cotton


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The Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union was founded in eastern Arkansas in 1934 to protest the New Deal’s enrichment of Southern cotton barons at the expense of suffering sharecroppers, both black and white. Their courageous struggle, in the face of determined and often violent resistance from their landlords, is the subject of this thorough study from Donald H. Grubbs, which was published to critical acclaim in 1971.


Cry from the Cotton was the first full-scale look at the STFU and its leaders. It discloses that, although the union operated under noticeable socialist party sponsorship in its infancy, it drew much more upon the native Southern evangelical and populist traditions, much as the civil rights movement would do twenty-five years later. Grubbs convincingly demonstrates that while the STFU failed to gain immediate social justice for its members, it resulted in the formation of the Farm Security Administration, which even today continues to aid the rural poor, and it played a large part in forcing the formation of the La Follette Civil Liberties Committee, whose spotlight on management terrorism helped the CIO toward success. The volume stands as a classic on labor issues and class struggle and still echoes with the haunting plea of the dispossessed for equity.

Donald H. Grubbs is emeritus professor of history at the University of the Pacific, Stockton, California.

“It was in Arkansas—in the rich cotton land of the Mississippi Delta-that the desperation and hope of the early New Deal years led thousands of tenant farmers to do the unimaginable, to rebel and to organize in their own defense.”

—Dewey W. Grantham, Vanderbilt University, author of The South in Modern America