Southern Tenant Farmers Museum named a "must-do"

Friday, February 10, 2012
Southern Tenant Farmers Museum preserves the history of share-cropping, tenant farming and the Southern Tenant Farmers Union. (DT Photo/Corey Clairday)

The Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism recently named the Southern Tenant Farmers Museum at Tyronza to its list of 12 "Must-Do's" in the Arkansas Delta during 2012.

The Southern Tenant Farmers Museum's goal is to enhance knowledge of tenant farming and agricultural labor movements and to preserve the history and promote the legacy of the sharecropper and tenant farmer, as well as the history of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union.

During the Great Depression, many landowners lost their farms due to foreclosures, and many became sharecroppers on the same farms they had once owned. Then came the Agricultural Adjustment Act of the New Deal. The purpose of this act was raise the value of crops by reducing the number of crops produced, helping farmers. Many farmers reduced their number of sharecroppers, too, by either hiring them on as day laborers or through evictions.

Sharecroppers in Tyronza facing eviction and violations of the Agricultural Adjustment Act sought help from Clay East and H.L. Mitchell -- two socialists who owned the dry cleaners and gas station buildings in which the museum is now housed.

East and Mitchell went to Washington, D.C., where they met with Norman Thomas, president of the Socialist Party, who told them they should make an integrated union.

East and Mitchell organized the Southern Tenant Farmers Union. It was the first integrated union in the nation with 11 white members and seven black members. They held their first meeting on Fairview Plantation in July 1934. The Union grew quickly. Their headquarters for the first year were in East and Mitchell's business buildings, which since have been restored to house the museum.

The union later declined with the loss of farm laborers brought by the introduction of mechanical cotton pickers and other mechanical farming methods. Because of these things, a lot of farm laborers went north during World War II.

The museum does school tours, senior citizens groups, and art exhibits both by visiting artists and the EPC High School every April.

Southern Tenant Farmers Museum is an Arkansas State University Delta Heritage site.

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