For years, Renee has been photographing the abandoned houses and churches in which sharecroppers lived and worshiped after the end of the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves. She invited the other three of us to join her in this image-making activity.
A bit of history: Because landowners no longer had laborers to plant, tend, and harvest their crops and because the freed men and women had no employment, sharecropping arrangements were made between the two. Freed families- men, women and children- worked a farm in exchange for a portion of the profit from the cotton crop. Most often this agricultural system worked to the advantage of the landowners and at the expense of the laborers. By some accounts, there were just under two million black and white tenant farmers in the South by 1930.
In addition to our encountering the mystery and intrigue the dilapidated shacks and churches had to offer, we were housed in a renovated sharecropper’s shack at an inn called The Shack Up Inn. Our shack included two bedrooms, a kitchen, a bath, and a screened-in front porch with rockers and a church pew. The tin walls and roof, the uneven wooden floors, and the portraits hanging from the walls gave us a first-hand feel of sharecropper life.
Every shack and church we entered led us to imagine the circumstances and stories of the sharecropper’s life. Our images provided here hint at the pathos we experienced in these encounters with the past.
Contributed by Sharon Brown Christopher