Segments in this Video

Introduction: Oh Freedom After While (02:05)


See archival film footage of the black and white sharecroppers who, with their children and belongings, gathered on the highways of southeast Missouri in January 1939 to take a stand against the desperate circumstances of their lives.

Missouri's Bootheel (03:03)

Learn the history of the Missouri "Bootheel" and its connection to the cotton culture. With cotton, came the plantation system; much of the work was done by sharecroppers and their children.

Corrupt Plantation Owners (03:14)

Corrupt plantation owners cheated the sharecroppers, often leaving them in debt and forcing them to indenture themselves for the next season. A former sharecropper's daughter recalls the desperation of her family when the plantation owner gives them nothing but an old suit.

Great Depression: Sharecroppers' Plight (01:58)

A sharecropper named Whitfield protests unfair treatment of the sharecroppers. When the Great Depression reduces the demand for cotton, sharecroppers have no work. In 1932, FDR gives the planters parity checks to share with their workers, but the workers are evicted.

Southern Tenant Farmers' Union (01:40)

Three men start the Southern Tenant Farmers' Union in 1934. Many white sharecroppers who had been members of the Klan joined the Union.

Planters Strike Back (02:22)

The plight of the sharecroppers gets national attention. In 1935, the union stages its first strike. During the second strike, planters punish the workers with evictions and worse. What follows is a reign of terror on the workers.

Black Organizer and White Planter (01:54)

Owen Whitfield becomes the leading organizer of evicted workers in Missouri. An eccentric white planter, Thad Snow, supports the union's efforts. Whitfield and Snow's friendship defies Bootheel culture.

Government-Sponsored Cooperative Farming Communities (01:53)

The government resettlement program builds communities across the country that would give housing, land, and education to displaced farm workers. Many landed whites accuse the government of socialism.

Influence of Owen Whitfield (02:54)

Owen Whitfield urges sharecroppers to join and stay in the union, as it was the most powerful way they could wield power to take control of their own lives. Whitfield causes these people to believe in their futures.

More Troubles for the Sharecroppers (02:20)

The Southern Tenant Farmers' Union joins forces with an affiliate of the C.I.O. In 1938, FDR cuts cotton production and orders planters to double the pay to their sharecroppers. The results are disastrous for the workers, most of whom get nothing.

Whitfield's Plan (04:59)

Owen Whitfield shares with Thad Snow that the sharecroppers will protest their desperate situation by camping along the road sides. On January 10, the sharecroppers camp alongside the highways to protest Missouri landlords' corruption.

Protest Gets National Attention (02:49)

Whitfield's planned protest gets the attention of the American people, and many send enraged letters to Congress and donations to the union. The Missouri governor and the landlords lash out against non-existent "communist agitators."

Vulnerable Sharecroppers (03:08)

Whitfield is forced to flee to St. Louis. He leaves behind a leader in every camp whose job it is to maintain order. The sharecroppers are vulnerable as are their benevolent suppliers and supporters. The Red Cross refuses to help.

Forcible Removal (02:28)

The camping sharecroppers endure snow and hunger. They remain disciplined and non-violent. The governor sends the Health Commissioner to declare the demonstration a health hazard. The workers are forcibly removed by the state and dumped into outlying areas.

Help on the Way (04:37)

Professor Lorenzo Greene influences Lincoln College to help the homeless sharecroppers. By spring, benefactors purchase land for nearly 100 black and white families. The white community is terrified. A sharecropper's son is shot for hunting ground hogs.

Sharecroppers Face Starvation (01:59)

In their new community, the sharecroppers once again face starvation. Mothers and new babies die, and rumors spread that a new wave of evictions is coming. Gov. Stark wants to avoid embarrassment. Whitfield and his wife meet President and Mrs. Roosevelt.

Cottages for Sharecroppers (03:07)

The Farm Security Administration builds 600 Delmo cottages for evicted sharecroppers in the Missouri Bootheel. The communities are segregated and workers had to find work as day laborers. In Cropperville, people begin to work together for the common good.

Cropperville Community (02:36)

In 1942 Whitfield moves his family to Cropperville so that he can be with his people, living as they do. The community does everything together and stores its food and supplies to give out as people have needs.

Passage (02:48)

Outside involvement saved nine of the 9 Delmo sharecropper communities and then sell the houses back to the people who live there. In time, the sharecropper system became obsolete. Cropperville began to dwindle.

Sharecropper Protest Legacy (03:04)

The sharecropper protest on 1939 was a small battle in the long war against injustice. It did not produce a decisive victory. The Bootheel of Missouri remains a rich land full of poor people. We hear testimonials from sharecroppers' descendants.

Credits: Oh Freedom After While (01:26)

Credits: Oh Freedom After While

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Oh Freedom After While

3-Year Streaming Price: $169.95



One morning in 1939 residents of southeastern Missouri awoke to a startling sight. More than 1,000 African-American sharecroppers had camped out alongside two state highways, taking a stand against the corrupt planters and marginalizing government decrees that made it impossible for them to ever escape economic disparity. Narrated by Julian Bond, this film tells the story of their labor strike, mixing commentary from former sharecroppers and scholars with striking archival footage. Despite the odds, the 1939 Sharecroppers’ Strike attracted national attention and changed government policies that had previously condemned rural blacks to an endless cycle of poverty. (56 minutes)

Length: 57 minutes

Item#: BVL49759

Copyright date: ©1999

Closed Captioned

Reviews & Awards

“Intelligent and thought-provoking.”  —Ken Robinson, Associate Professor of Film, Vassar College

“Oh Freedom captures an important moment when evicted sharecroppers gained national attention. The film reveals the indifference of landlords, the determination of black and white sharecroppers, and the surprising outcome. This poignant film brings this story to life and would be perfect for classroom presentations.”  —Pete Daniel, Curator National Museum of American History

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