During Reconstruction, many former slaves became trapped in a new system of economic exploitation known as sharecropping. Lacking capital and land of their own, former slaves were forced to work as “sharecroppers” for large landowners. Initially, planters sought to restore gang labor under the supervision of white overseers. But the freedmen, who wanted autonomy and independence, refused to sign contracts that required gang labor. Ultimately, sharecropping emerged as a compromise. Landowners divided plantations into 20- to 50-acre plots suitable for farming by a single family. In exchange for land, a cabin, and supplies, sharecroppers agreed to raise a cash crop (usually cotton) and to give half the crop to their landlord. The high interest rates landlords and sharecroppers charged for goods bought on credit (sometimes as high as 70 percent a year) transformed sharecropping into a system of economic dependency and poverty. Nevertheless, the sharecropping system did allow freedmen a degree of freedom and autonomy greater than that experienced under slavery. However, the sharecropping system ensured the continued dependence and poverty of African Americans in the south.

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