Please click the image above to view photos from the dedication ceremony. The photos were provided by Assistant District Engineer Matt Seiler and Senior Historic Preservation Specialist Michael Meyer.
A ceremony was held Sept. 27 in Charleston, Mo., to celebrate the unveiling of the 1939 Sharecroppers Historical Marker.
The marker honors sharecroppers who were part of the 1939 strike following the New Deal, in which the government granted subsidies for cutting farm production. Instead of giving the sharecroppers a portion of their payments, many farmers kept the subsidy in entirety, leaving sharecroppers without payment and forcing them to move.
On Jan. 9, 1939, sharecroppers moved into Southeast Mo., camping near Route 60 and Route 61 at Sikeston. Others made their way to Charleston, Hayti, Morley, Lilbourn, Caruthersville and New Madrid, Mo. According to some reports, there were nearly 2,000 people taking part of the demonstration and fighting for fair treatment for sharecroppers.
Two individuals, Thad Snow and Owen Whitfield, were instrumental during the strike and were the main topics of discussion during the recent ceremony. Snow, according to the program for the event, was an “eccentric farmer and writer, who was best known for his involvement in Missouri’s 1939 Sharecropper Protest.”
Snow started growing cotton in the early 1920s. “Although he employed sharecroppers, he became a bitter critic of the system that exploited labor and fostered racism,” according to Thad Snow: A Life of Social Reform in the Missouri Bootheel by Bonnie Stepenoff.
Despite Snow’s strong stance on the plight of cotton workers and their exploitation, he remained confident in the belief that the world could be peacefully changed.
Snow became close to Whitfield, a preacher and organizer of the 1939 Missouri Sharecropper Roadside Demonstration. While many initially viewed his actions as propaganda, according to the event program, Whitfield felt that change was best achieved through the government and wanted to show plight of the homeless sharecroppers first hand. Whitfield also became involved in the Southern Tenant Farmers Union and eventually served as the union’s vice president.
Demonstrators were forced to leave the roadsides, citing that they were impacting public health. During this time,
former Missouri Governor Lloyd Stark immediately ordered state highway officials to transport the demonstrators. The U.S. Farm Security Administration (FSA) eventually constructed homes for the homeless laborers.
Ten communities or groups collectively known as the Delmo Farm Labor Homes in five counties in southeast Missouri were built: the Kennett Group in Dunklin County; the East Prairie and North Wyatt Groups in Mississippi County; the Morehouse, North Lilbourn, and South Lilbourn Groups in New Madrid County; the Gobler, North Wardell, and South Wardell Groups in Pemiscot County; and the Grayridge Group in Stoddard County. The project involved the construction of 595 prefabricated homes as well as community buildings, wells, and utilities.
In regard to the new historical marker, Assistant District Engineer Matt Seiler attended the ceremony and expressed the significance of what occurred. MoDOT helped in providing access for visitors to the site of the historical marker. In addition, Senior Historic Preservation Specialist Michael Meyer also attended the ceremony.
More information about the roadside demonstration and Delmo Farm Homes Project is available at: www.modot.org/ehp/sites/Delmo.htm.