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Abolition of slavery


Ku Klux Klan of Tennessee
Ku Klux Klan of Tennessee

Tennessee recovered slowly from the economic ravages of the Civil War. During Reconstruction, Northern investors brought capital into the cities and expanded industry. East Tennessee, particularly Chattanooga and Knoxville, rapidly gained in industrial importance, and new businesses and industries were established in Nashville and Memphis, which became an important center of cottonseed processing. Agriculture continued to be the main source of income, however, and many cotton plantations and other large holdings were broken up into smaller farms worked by tenants and sharecroppers.

With slavery abolished, blacks and whites had to adjust to wage labor. Most blacks and many poor whites had no land of their own. They had to work for large landowners, who had little cash to pay them. Under these conditions, a system of sharecropping and tenant farming evolved.

A sharecropper raised part of the landlord’s crop and was paid a share of the profit after deductions for living expenses and the cost of tools and supplies. A tenant farmer sold what he raised and paid the landlord a share of the profit as rent. If the profit was low, the landlord was paid first. The cropper or tenant took what was left or, if none was left, got an advance to keep going until the next harvest.

Cotton was the preferred cash crop. Unfortunately, the price of cotton fell soon after the Civil War and stayed depressed until the end of the century. Thus the tenants and sharecroppers found themselves in an endless cycle of debt that they could not earn enough to get out of. Laws were passed limiting the freedom of croppers and tenants and restricting their economic opportunities. For instance, they forfeited any share in crops they abandoned, and their personal property could be seized through chattel mortgages. It was not until World War II (1939-1945) that the tenant farming and sharecropping system began to disappear because widespread mechanization of agriculture made it unprofitable. "Tennessee" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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