A lot of us are familiar with the phrase “cotton pickin..” You know what I mean.. ” That’s some cotton pickin b***sh*t, or mind your cotton pickin business, or the ever faithful, it’s cotton pickin hot out here.” The phrase comes from a long line of people whose ancestors worked in the slave master cotton fields picking cotton under the most brutal conditions any human being was subjugated to by another human being. It’s one thing to be lashed in the barn by “Boss Skinetalive,” but it a totally different thing being lashed in the cotton fields by him. “You out there minding your cotton pickin business, picking cotton under that hot cotton picking sun, when Boss Skinetalive comes by and gives you a couple of lashes to show everyone who’s the boss. You look at him and think to yourself, this is some cotton pickin b***sh*t!! If things were different I would snatch him off that cotton pickin horse and beat his cotton pickin azz!!” Anywho, we are still cotton pickin mad about those four hundred years, but that another story for another time. Right now we are going to to discuss those cotton pickin racist and the cotton pickers strike which occured in Lee County, Arkansas in 1891.
In 1886 the Colored Farmers’ National Alliance and Cooperative Union had been founded by R.M. Humphrey, a white Baptist minister, reformer, and member of the parallel white Farmers’ Alliance organization. Now as I have always said, the real war is not between blacks and whites, but between poor and rich. Although the Farmers Alliance Organization (FAO) and the Colored Farmers’ National Alliance and Cooperative Union (CFNACU) both had the same interest, in 1891 there were still folks in the FAO who felt some kinda way about joining African Americans against white Americans for fair wages against other white Americans. Remember this was a little more that 20 years after the Civil War, and redneck Cooter was still wearing his confederate uniform with the bullet holes in it to the local hootenanny to impress the flower of the south, Karen the preacher’s daughter. The FAO did not allow black members.
Now the FAO didn’t allow blacks because they called it a social club where they would be bringing their wives and daughters. It was no way they was going to let strapping handsome muscular black men and fine ass, big booty, southern cooking black women nowhere near that stuff. So that was that. Anywho, the CFNACU was founded in Houston County, Texas, in 1886 on the farm of Humphrey, the baptist minister we mentioned earlier. Of course since they met on his farm, history records him as founding the organization. The alliance elected J. J. Shuffer as its first president. Although the orders’ charter barred whites from membership, Humphrey was elected honorary superintendent… my farm.. my rules.. Anyway they needed Humphrey because they needed someone who could deliver their demands to the white landowners. “Ain’t no self respecting white man was going to take no “sass” off a newly freed black slave whose ancestors he had beaten into submission for over 400 years, looking him straight in the eye and telling him “mister please.” No siree!! They quickly after began to spread and found chapters in different states across the South. In 1890 they merged with a rival alliance, the National Colored Alliance. They also absorbed the Colored Agricultural Wheels in Arkansas, western Tennessee and Alabama. By 1890, the Colored Farmers’ Alliance claimed over 1,200,000 members.
In 1891, it hit the fan and I ain’t talking bout that cotton pickin hot air. Humphrey called for a national African-American strike of sharecroppers against planters, in response to the planters setting 50-cent-per-100-pound prices at their summer conventions. It had previously been one dollar per 100 pounds. Now fifty cents per pound was better than nothing and the strike didn’t go off as Humphrey planned it. Of course the southern racist loved it and news papers all across the south printed articles declaring the win and that the southern planters had threatened the black sharecroppers telling them in no uncertain fashion, ” they wish they would!!” Watermelon and chicken was set out on tables in the middle of the street and armed white klansmen strolled around with with salt shakers and hot sauce hanging from their necks, waiting for the first black man to violate. For the first time since reconstruction, they was getting real with it. Okay… I got a little carried away.. they didn’t have no hot sauce…
I said that the strike failed… it did… in every place except Lee County Mississippi. Now, Colonel H.P ( By God Boy!!) Rodgers had one of the largest plantations in the area and on September 20, 1891, the black sharecroppers went on strike demanding fair wages for their labor. “We want a dollar for every 100 pounds of cotton we pick under this cotton picking hot sun!!” Now I know that doesn’t sound like a lot of money, but if you figure $100 dollars was worth around $2600 in today money, then $1 was worth $26 dollars. That was a lot of money in those time. A pound of bacon would cost 14 cents. You could go to a movie for 5 cents and if you had 10 cents you could go to a movie and buy a Coke. As an aside, a Coke cost 5 cents right up until the 1940’s. A five pound sack of flour cost costed about 12 cents, but a 5 pound sack of sugar cost a whopping 35 cents!!. Check out some more prices here..
Now where were we.. oh yeah.. The sharecropper were joined by other disgruntled worker from Memphis. They were led by Ben Patterson and according to the locals, he was an uppity #@@!! who they was just itching to string up. The Lee County sharecroppers had no other supporters. Now as things went and this being near post reconstruction and all, it wasn’t unusual for black men to throw hands with white men and during the few days the strike went on, there were quite a few black eyes and busted lips walking around. But I am afraid they took it to another level when on the 28th the strikers killed a notorious plantation manager named Miller and burned his cotton gin. Now everyone in town knew old Miller was a SOB and he wasn’t very well liked by blacks or whites. However because of all the tension going on, Miller had been deputized and they couldn’t let a group of black men kill a white law officer. It just wasn’t going to happen in 1891, not in the flower of the Confederacy, not in Ole ( Anything Darker Than The White Courthouse Use To Be A Slave) Mississippi.
So Sheriff ( Bring Most Of The Darky’s Back Alive) Derrick organized a posse. According to some reports the posse consisted of not only whites, but a few blacks also. I know you are waiting for me to say something about blacks joining a posse to hunt for other blacks, but I am going to take the high road. When they go low, I go high.. as a matter of fact, I go all the way to the top floor and find the biggest bucket of !@@!!$$ I can find and hurl it down on them with all my might.. those biscuit eating turncoats.. Anywho, in an open battle the posse killed two strikers and captured nine. Somehow Patterson escaped the shoot out and made to a steamship called the James Lee. They caught him though and dragged him off that boat and shot him on the spot. We pronounce you guilty.. BAM!! Now it may not surprise you, but the other nine prisoners being escorted by Sheriff ( Bring Most Of The Darky’s Back Alive) Derrick, were accosted by a group of hooded armed men on the way back to the jail. The group of hooded men seized the prisoners and hung them.. one by one. The next day the Arkansas Gazette ran a front page banner headline which read, “Lee County Trouble Settled with Rope.” It was the end of the Colored Farmers’ National Alliance and Cooperative Union and the beginning of the era of Jim Crow and that my friends is the cotton pickin truth.