Southern tenant farmers' union

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The Southern Tenant Farmers' Union, organized at Poinsett County, Ark., in 1934, was especially active in Arkansas, Missouri, and Texas. The Union spread into the southeastern states and to California, affiliating off and on with larger national labor federations, and maintaining headquarters at Memphis, Tenn., or, from 1948 to 1960, at Washington, D.C. It has become successively the National Agricultural Workers Union and the Agricultural and Allied Workers Union.

From the description of Southern Tenant Farmers' Union records, 1934-1991. WorldCat record id: 25327512

The Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union was organized in 1934 in Tyronza, Arkansas, to serve the interests of tenant farmers in the South. The headquarters moved to Memphis, Tennessee, in 1935. The union affiliated with the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing, and Allied Workers of America from 1937-1939. In 1946 it affiliated directly with the AFL and changed its name to National Farm Labor Union.

H. L. Mitchell was a co-founder of the S.T.F.U. and was active in it and its successors.

From the guide to the Southern Tenant Farmers' Union Collection AR164., 1934-1980, (Special Collections, The University of Texas at Arlington Library)

The Southern Tenant Farmers' Union (STFU), a bi-racial union of sharecroppers, tenant farmers, and small landowners, came into existence in the cotton plantation country of Arkansas in July, 1934, under the leadership of a group of socialists, including H.L. Mitchell and Howard Kester. Although locals were soon established in Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama, the union's base of operation remained in Arkansas until 1945.

Farm mechanization and the impact of World War II shifted the union's focus from tenant farmers to migrant farm workers, whose numbers were rapidly increasing. The union also began supplying temporary cannery workers during the 1940's.

From 1937 to 1939, the STFU was affiliated with the CIO through the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing and Allied Workers of America (UCAPAWA). After the STFU's withdrawal from the CIO in response to ideological differences with the UCAPAWA, it remained independent until it secured direct affiliation with the A.F.of L. in 1946. At that time, the organization's name changed to the National Farm Labor Union (NFLU) and organizing efforts shifted to farm workers in California. During the 1950's, the NFLU's successor, the National Agricultural Workers' Union (NAWU), focused on organizing sugar, rice, and strawberry workers in Louisiana.

In 1960, the NAWU surrendered its AFL-CIO charter and merged with the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen. H.L. Mitchell, former secretary of the SFTU, headed Local 300 of the Allied and Agricultural Workers' Union, organizing rice mill workers and fishermen in Louisiana.

From the description of Southern Tenant Farmers' Union records, 1934-1970. [microform] (Cornell University Library). WorldCat record id: 64091534

The Southern Tenant Farmers Union (STFU) was founded in 1934 in Tyronza, Arkansas by H.L. Mitchell and Clay East.

Despite extreme persecution by planters and deputy sheriffs, the movement quickly developed interracial locals in communities throughout the delta region, numbering 31,000 members at its peak in 1938. The STFU influenced legislation creating programs to underwrite loans to sharecroppers to buy their own farms, as well as programs to build emergency housing for agricultural laborers.

From the description of Oral histories [sound recording], 1935-1988. 1971-1985 (bulk). (New York University). WorldCat record id: 477252719

The Southern Tenant Farmers' Union (STFU), an organization of tenant farmers, sharecroppers, and farm laborers, was an outgrowth of the plight of agricultural workers during the Great Depression. Its immediate impetus was the Federal Agricultural Adjustment Act (Triple A) program that required landowners to plow up every third row of cotton. As a result, mass evictions of sharecroppers took place.

From its beginning, the STFU was an integrated organization. Seven African Americans and eleven Caucasian men held the first meeting in 1934 near Tyronza Township, Poinsett County, Ark. H. L. Mitchell, one of the founders, served the STFU in many capacities, including as executive secretary and president. From Arkansas, STFU activities spread to other southern and southwestern states. Headquarters were established in Memphis, Tenn., although the STFU's greatest strength was in Arkansas, Missouri, and Texas.

The long-range aims of the STFU included the general betterment of conditions for agricultural workers and affiliation with the mainstream labor movement, but at first its activities were chiefly directed at gaining for its members their share of the Triple A money paid for reducing the cotton crop. The law actually required landowners to maintain the same number of tenant farmers, but many landlords ignored their tenants' rights. The STFU secured legal aid for exploited sharecroppers and focused national attention on their suffering. It often faced active and, in many cases, violent opposition during the early years.

STFU history may be divided into the following periods:

  • July 1934 - September 1937 : Organization as an independent union.
  • September 1937 - 2 April 1939 : STFU joined the United Cannery Agricultural Packing and Allied Workers of America (UCAPAWA), a CIO affiliate, on the condition that the STFU maintain its independent status. When the UCAPAWA refused to respect this condition, members of the STFU voted overwhelmingly to withdraw. On 2 April 1939, H. L. Mitchell led the STFU delegation out of the UCAPAWA convention.
  • 3 April 1939 - 24 August 1946 : Operated as an independent union.
  • 25 August 1946: Charter issued 25 August 1946 affiliating the STFU with the AFL-CIO. By 1959, the STFU's official name had changed to the National Agricultural Workers' Union. The National Agricultural Workers' Union later merged with the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen.

From the guide to the Southern Tenant Farmers' Union Records, 1934-1991, (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library. Southern Historical Collection.)

The Southern Tenant Farmers' Union (STFU), a biracial union of sharecroppers, tenant farmers, and small landowners, came into existence in the cotton plantation country of Arkansas in July, 1934, under the leadership of a group of socialists, including H.L. Mitchell and Howard Kester. Although locals were soon established in Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama, the union's base of operation remained in Arkansas until 1945.

Farm mechanization and the impact of World War II shifted the union's focus from tenant farmers to migrant farm workers, whose numbers were rapidly increasing. The union also began supplying temporary cannery workers during the 1940's.

From 1937 to 1939, the STFU was affiliated with the CIO through the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing and Allied Workers of America (UCAPAWA). After the STFU's withdrawal from the CIO in response to ideological differences with the UCAPAWA, it remained independent until it secured direct affiliation with the A.F. of L. in 1946. At that time, the organization's name changed to the National Farm Labor Union (NFLU) and organizing efforts shifted to farm workers in California. During the 1950's, the NFLU's successor, the National Agricultural Workers' Union (NAWU), focused on organizing sugar, rice, and strawberry workers in Louisiana.

In 1960, the NAWU surrendered its AFL-CIO charter and merged with the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen. H.L. Mitchell, former secretary of the SFTU, headed Local 300 of the Allied and Agricultural Workers' Union, organizing rice mill workers and fishermen in Louisiana.

From the guide to the Southern Tenant Farmers' Union records, 1934-1970., (Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, Cornell University Library)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Cohen, Ronald D., 1940-. Ronald D. Cohen collection, 1914-2005. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
referencedIn American Fund for Public Service records, 1922-1941 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn Socialist Party (U.S.). Socialist Party of America papers, 1897-1964 (inclusive), [microform]. Yale University Library
referencedIn Mitchell, H. L. (Harry Leland), 1906-1989. An oral history with Mr. H.L. Mitchell / interviewer: Carl Duncan. University of Southern Mississippi, Regional Campus, Joseph Anderson Cook Library
referencedIn Grubbs, Donald H., 1936-. Henry Clay East papers : correspondence and printed materials, 1934-1973. University of Arkansas - Fayetteville, University Libraries
referencedIn Schick, David S., 1906-1970. David S. Schick papers, 1934-1969. Wayne State University. Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs
referencedIn Kester, Howard A., 1904-1977. Papers, 1923-1978. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
creatorOf Southern Tenant Farmers' Union. Southern Tenant Farmers' Union records, 1934-1991. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
creatorOf American Fund for Public Service. American Fund for Public Service records, 1922-1941. New York Public Library System, NYPL
creatorOf Southern Tenant Farmers' Union. Southern Tenant Farmers' Union papers, 1934-1970 (inclusive), [microform]. Yale University Library
referencedIn Mitchell, H. L. (Harry Leland), 1906-1989. Reminiscences of H.L. Mitchell : oral history, 1957. Columbia University in the City of New York, Columbia University Libraries
creatorOf Southern Tenant Farmers' Union Collection AR164., 1934-1980 Special Collections, The University of Texas at Arlington Library
referencedIn Kester, Howard, 1904-1977. Howard Kester papers, 1923-1972. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
referencedIn Wiley, Bell Irvin, 1906-1980. Early life, H.L. Mitchell : co-founder Southern Tenant Farmer's Union : transcript, 1972. Mervyn H Sterne Library, University of Alabama at Birmingham, UAB Sterne Library
referencedIn Southern Tenant Farmers' Union collection, 1934-1980. University of Texas at Arlington, Central Library
referencedIn The Nation, records, 1879-1974 (inclusive), 1920-1955 (bulk). Houghton Library
referencedIn Southern Tenant Farmers Union. The Green Rising, 1910-1977. Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, Cornell University Library
referencedIn Gilbert, Viola D. William A. Gilbert papers : correspondence and papers, 1923-1969. University of Arkansas - Fayetteville, University Libraries
referencedIn Amberson, William Ruthrauff, b. 1894. William Ruthrauff Amberson papers, 1919-1968; 1971 [manuscript]. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
creatorOf Southern Tenant Farmers' Union Records, 1934-1991 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library. Southern Historical Collection
creatorOf Southern Tenant Farmers' Union records, 1934-1970. Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, Cornell University Library
creatorOf Southern Tenant Farmers' Union. Southern Tenant Farmers' Union papers, 1934-1970. UC Berkeley Libraries
referencedIn Betton, Farish R. Farish R. Betton papers, 1952-1963 [manuscript]. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
referencedIn National Sharecroppers' Fund (U.S.). National Sharecroppers Fund, inc. records, 1942-1969, (bulk 1958-1968). Wayne State University. Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs
referencedIn Dallas, Jerry Webster, 1941-. Jerry Dallas Delta Cooperative Farm collection : 1936-1987 / [researched and compiled by Jerry Dallas]. Delta State University, Roberts-LaForge Library
creatorOf Southern Tenant Farmers' Union. Southern Tenant Farmers' Union records, 1934-1970. [microform] Cornell University Library
referencedIn The green rising: a supplement to the Southern Tenant Farmers' Union papers, 1910-1977 (inclusive), [microform]. Yale University Library
referencedIn The Green rising, 1901-1977 : a supplement to the Southern Tenant Farmers' Union papers, 1910-1977. [microform] Cornell University Library
referencedIn Hays, Brooks. Brooks Hays letter and memorandum, 1935. University of Arkansas - Fayetteville, University Libraries
creatorOf Southern Tenant Farmers' Union. Southern Tenant Farmers' Union. Research files. Louise Boyle, Collector. Cornell University Library
referencedIn Myra Page Papers, 1910-1990 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library. Southern Historical Collection
referencedIn Williams, Claude Clossey, 1895-1979. Claude C. Williams papers, 1929-1979. Wayne State University. Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs
referencedIn Providence Plantation (Miss.). Delta and Providence cooperative farms papers, 1925-1963. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
referencedIn Jackson, Gardner, 1896-1965. Papers, 1927-1964. Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
referencedIn Norman Thomas papers, 1904-1967, 1933-1967 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
creatorOf Southern Tenant Farmers' Union. Oral histories [sound recording], 1935-1988. 1971-1985 (bulk). Churchill County Museum
creatorOf Thomas, Norman, 1884-1968. Norman Thomas papers, 1904-1967, bulk (1933-1967). New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing, and Allied Workers of America Publications, 1939-1940 Syracuse University. Library. Special Collections Research Center
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee. corporateBody
associatedWith Allied and Agricultural Workers Union. Local 300 (La.) corporateBody
associatedWith Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America. corporateBody
associatedWith Amberson, William Ruthrauff, b. 1894. person
associatedWith American Fund for Public Service. corporateBody
associatedWith Betton, Farish R. person
associatedWith Boyle, Louise. person
associatedWith Cohen, Ronald D., 1940- person
associatedWith Dallas, Jerry Webster, 1941- person
associatedWith East, Clay. person
associatedWith Hays, Brooks. person
associatedWith Jackson, Gardner, 1896-1965. person
associatedWith Kester, Howard, 1904-1977. person
associatedWith Kester, Howard A., 1904-1977. person
associatedWith Mitchell, H. L. 1906- person
associatedWith Mitchell, H. L. 1906-1989. person
associatedWith Mitchell, H. L. (Harry Leland), 1906- person
associatedWith National Agricultural Workers Union. corporateBody
associatedWith National Farm Labor Union (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith National Sharecroppers' Fund (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith Nation (New York, N.Y. : 1865). corporateBody
associatedWith Page, Myra, 1897-1993 person
associatedWith Schick, David S., 1906-1970. person
associatedWith Socialist Party corporateBody
associatedWith Socialist Party (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union corporateBody
associatedWith Souther Tenant Farmers Union. corporateBody
associatedWith Thomas, Norman, 1884-1968. person
associatedWith United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing, and Allied Workers of America. corporateBody
associatedWith Wiley, Bell Irvin, 1906-1980. person
associatedWith Williams, Claude Clossey, 1895-1979. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Southern States
United States
United States
United States
Mississippi--Delta (Region)
United States
Southern States
United States
Southern States
Louisiana
Subject
Farmers
Labor movement
African Americans--Employment
Agriculture
Working class
African American farmers
Agricultural laborers--Labor unions--History
Farm tenancy--Southern States
Labor
Cotton picking
African Americans
Agricultural laborers--Southern States--History
Sharecropping
African American agricultural laborers
Agricultural laborers--Political activity
Agriculture--Economic aspects
Migrant agricultural laborers--United States
Afro--American agricultural laborers--Southern States
Collective bargaining
Land reform
Migrant agricultural laborers
Agricultural laborers--Labor unions
Sharecroppers
Labor leaders
Strikes and lockouts
Agricultural laborers
Sugar workers
Migrant labor--United States
Labor and laboring classes
Afro--Americans--Employment--Southern States
Migrant labor
Farm tenancy
Labor unions
Emergency housing
Occupation
Function
Agricultural laborers
Farmers

Corporate Body

Active 1922

Active 1941

Information

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