The AAA cotton plow-up campaign in Arkansas
Keith J VolantoArkansas Historical Quarterly. Fayetteville:  Winter 2000. Vol. 59, Iss. 4;  pg. 388, 19 pgs

Abstract (Article Summary)
During the "First Hundred Days" of his presidency, Franklin Roosevelt's administration pushed through Congress a farm bill that included a provision creating the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA). A look at how this new government agency placed within the Department of Agriculture dealt with cotton production in Arkansas is presented.
Full Text (8100   words)
Copyright Arkansas Historical Association, Department of History, University of Arkansas Winter 2000
 

ON MARCH 4, 1933, FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT assumed the presidency and, thus responsibility for leading the nation through its darkest economic hour. The country was entering the fourth year of a severe depression that devastated all major sectors of the U.S. economy. Cotton farmers in Arkansas and elsewhere in the South had faced hard times for over ten years, beset by the post-World War One slump in prices and natural disasters. But bad went to worse after 1929. These farmers saw their incomes plummet as cotton prices fell from 18 cents per pound in April 1929 to 6.1 cents by April 1932. Continuing production of large amounts of cotton, a drastic drop in domestic and foreign consumption, and an ever-increasing carryover of unconsumed cotton combined to produce the great price decline.1

The situation looked to get even worse as 1933 wore on. All available evidence pointed to a bumper crop that would drive cotton prices to record lows, leading very possibly to vast farm foreclosures and tenant and sharecropper displacement. Not only cotton growers would be affected by this calamity. All those individuals who were tied into the trade through the financing, ginning, shipping, and marketing of the crop would also be in great financial trouble if the cotton market collapsed. In the early 1930s, this meant a significant portion of the population of Arkansas and other southern agricultural states.

The response that Franklin Roosevelt's administration eventually developed to this crisis would epitomize the improvisational nature and complex legacy of the New Deal. The policies initiated with the 1933 plow-up of the crop would aid many Arkansas cotton growers but slighted and ultimately displaced large numbers of the state's tenant farmers and sharecroppers. In the three years preceding Roosevelt's inauguration, Herbert Hoover's administration had attempted to aid America's sluggish agricultural sector through the creation of so-called "stabilization corporations" directed by the Federal Farm Board. These corporations were set up to purchase surpluses of various farm commodities in order to temporarily remove them from the market in hopes of stabilizing prices. The Farm Board eventually purchased some 3.4 million bales of cotton before its appropriations ran out. The Board's actions, however, succeeded only in temporarily holding prices. In the end, the Farm Board failed because no effort was made to control production beyond pleas for voluntary reductions in acreage. When the Farm Board began to liquidate some of its holdings and put more cotton back on the market prices declined even further.2

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A cotton harvest during the 1930s on a Lee Wilson & Company farm near Wilson, Arkansas. From the "Arkansas Giant" photographs. Courtesy Special Collections Division, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville.

 

During the "First Hundred Days" of his presidency, Franklin Roosevelt's administration pushed through Congress a farm bill that included a provision creating the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA-a new government agency placed within the Department of Agriculture. The AAA was charged with the responsibility of boosting farm prices by subsidizing decreased production.3

The AAA's chief weapon would be the "Voluntary Domestic Allotment Plan" perfected by Montana State College agricultural economics professor Milburn Lincoln "M. L." Wilson. According to Wilson's plan, the government would enter into voluntary contracts with producers of numerous agricultural commodities to reduce production by decreasing acreage in cultivation. As an incentive to join the program, the government would compensate all cooperating producers who agreed to decrease their output.4

The AAA needed to act hurriedly to aid American farmers. Because Roosevelt was not inaugurated until early March, and Congress then took two long months to debate various details of the farm bill, the president did not sign the Agricultural Adjustment Act until May 12. This delay was an added burden on the AAA to quickly fill its bureaucratic positions and to develop a workable cotton reduction program for the South after most of the region's crop had already been planted.'

AAA officials soon determined that the government would have to induce cotton producers to destroy a portion of their growing crop for the 1933 season. But, because the AAA was tied up with organizational matters in its formative weeks, the new Secretary of Agriculture, Henry A. Wallace, did not present the government's proposed plan until June 19. On that day Wallace announced that there would have to be a plow-- up campaign to reduce the size of the 1933 cotton crop. Producers who agreed to reduce their cotton acreage by a minimum of 25 percent but not more than 40 percent (soon raised to 50 percent) would receive a government check drawing on a fund collected through a tax on domestic processing of cotton. Any land that was taken out of cotton production under the program could still be utilized for the cultivation of soilimprovement crops not sold on the open market. The land could also be converted to the raising of food and feed crops for home use.6

Growers wishing to participate in the government program could choose between two payment plans. One was a "cash-only" plan that offered farmers payments based on a sliding scale corresponding to the average yield of their acreage during the previous five years. The payments would range from $7 per acre (for land averaging 100 pounds per acre) to $20 per acre (for land with an average yield of 275 pounds and above per acre.)7 Under the second "cash and option" plan, a farmer could also receive a cash payment, but for a lesser amount than under the cash-only plan (ranging from $6 per acre to $12 per acre). He would also receive an "option contract" allowing him to receive title to a quantity of prime government-owned Farm Board cotton equivalent to the amount he had plowed for six cents per pound. Secretary Wallace would agree to sell the option cotton at any time designated by the producer, should the price rose above six cents per pound.8

Because Secretary Wallace issued a July 8 deadline for the South's 10 million cotton acres to be pledged before he would authorize the plow-up, farmers needed to be signed up very quickly. After the sign-up, farms would then have to be inspected, yields estimated, and portions of fields selected for plowing. Once the plow-up had taken place, farms would have to be re-inspected to ensure compliance before the AAA would approve the payments.9

The AAA assigned each state a cotton acreage quota, based on a 30 percent reduction from 1931 production figures, which for Arkansas meant 1,002,300 of the 3,341,000 acres planted in cotton that year. These quotas were to serve as a working guide during the sign-up.10 All pledges were irrevocable until July 31. After that date, if the government had not yet informed growers that their pledges had been accepted, the farmers could cancel their offers to plow up their cotton. II

To oversee the implementation of the plow-up, AAA officials decided to use the Agricultural Extension Service. The AAA had to act quickly to educate farmers about the benefits of the plan, and the Extension Service already had agents in place in a majority of southern counties. Cully Cobb, the head of the AAA's Cotton Division and himself a former Mississippi state extension official, strongly desired that the AAA utilize the Extension Service because there was simply no time to organize, train, and place a new field force from scratch. With Roosevelt's approval, Wallace drafted the Extension Service to oversee AAA work in the localities. 12

The Extension Service, in turn, benefited from an important part of the allotment plan-a provision authorizing the use of farmer and citizen committees to help administer the programs. These committees, under Extension Service supervision, would monitor compliance with provisions of the legislation and eliminate the need for a large new bureaucracy at the local level.

This use of farmer and citizen committees was an essential part of the domestic allotment plan. Their inclusion reflected M. L. Wilson's belief in what historian Ellis Hawley has labeled "associationalism." Adherents of associationalism (which had many supporters, including Herbert Hoover) generally feared the rise of big government bureaucracies as a solution to the problems arising of the industrial age. But, rather than supporting the view of laissez-faire conservatives who often shunned any government action to address national problems, believers in the associative state felt that the government could still play a positive role. It could advance the common good by fostering partnerships between the public and private sectors to tackle individual problems. 13

The extension agents began their part in the campaign when they selected members for their so-called "county committees"-people who shared county-wide responsibility for carrying out the provisions of the program. Cully Cobb instructed southern state extension leaders to tell their agents to appoint "men of outstanding ability and integrity and in full sympathy with the program" as county committeemen. Cobb expected them to be well-known leaders in their counties, and strongly desired that agents place bankers and merchants as well as large farmers on the committees. It would be the main task of these county committees to oversee the various community or "local" committees, typically consisting of three farmers, one for every 100 producers in a given township area. 14

Following Cobb's wishes, the vast majority of the men who served as county and local committeemen were individuals that possessed large holdings in wealth and property. What historian Jeannie Whayne found regarding the makeup of the county and local committees in Poinsett County, Arkansas, was typical of the state as a whole and the entire South: the largest landholders tended to predominate.15

On June 22 a statewide meeting of county agents and county committeemen was held at the Federal Building in Little Rock. Dan T. Gray, the dean of the College of Agriculture at the University of Arkansas, and T. Roy Reid, the director of the Arkansas Extension Service, led the proceedings. The two men explained the upcoming campaign to the agents and committeemen, detailing how the AAA expected the agents and county committeemen to go back to their counties, form their local committees, and lead local educational meetings for the farmers. The local committees were to perform the basic tasks of enrolling farmers, inspecting pledged acreage, making yield estimations, and checking compliance with the plow-up agreements. The extension agents and county committeemen were to verify that local committees made reasonable estimates of the producers' average yield, insure that all paperwork was completed correctly, and investigate and settle complaints. Reid announced that the AAA would provide counties that lacked regular extension agents with temporary "emergency agricultural assistants" to assist with the campaign. The AAA also pledged funding for temporary assistant county agents to help out regular agents in heavy cotton-producing counties. Following the Little Rock meeting, the extension agents and county committeemen returned to their respective counties and formed local committees. In most cases the agents followed protocol and appointed farmers to the posts, but in at least one county (Hot Springs) the emergency agricultural assistant later reported: "At each community meeting we set up the qualifications for local committeemen and let the farmers select them. This seemed more satisfactory than appointing them."16

The county agents and committeemen had from June 26 to July 8 to sign up enough farmers to meet the state's acreage quota. With the help of the statewide and local press, extension agents and committeemen engaged in a massive publicity barrage to kick off "Cotton Week," as the AAA labeled the first week of the campaign. Roy Reid and the Arkansas Extension Service's agricultural editor hosted a fifteen-minute noontime radio program every day on KARK in Little Rock to spread news about the campaign throughout the state. Newspapers rendered valuable service by publicizing the program, often carrying front-page stories on the plow-up plan and running frequent editorials supporting it. As the extension agent for Dallas County later noted: "Both of the Dallas County weekly newspapers were very liberal with the space they devoted to the campaign in making announcements, explaining the provisions of the plan, and giving information as to the progress the campaign was making. The newspapers should have much credit for keeping the program before the people until it was successfully finished.?17

Throughout the sign-up papers periodically reported on the progress of the campaign in the state, printed letters to the editor supporting the plow-- up, and occasionally carried stories about vigilantism perpetrated against cotton producers, typically dubbed "slackers" (in an echo of wartime mobilization), who did not go along with the program."

The focus of the acreage reduction program's educational phase was the series of farmer meetings held in communities throughout Arkansas's cotton counties. At these meetings, producers (both landowners and tenants) learned about the government's plan firsthand and asked questions of the extension agents and committeemen. Large numbers of farmers and interested citizens attended these meetings throughout the state. Local businessmen often lent their influence by voicing approval of the plan. Few farmers spoke publicly against it. As occurred elsewhere in the South, many meetings ended with the adoption of resolutions endorsing the program in principle.'9

The meetings helped to disseminate information about the plow-up, publicized the acreage reduction plan, and aided in the creation of favorable public opinion toward it. The local committeemen then had to sign up farmers. They set up places to meet, hoping farmers would appear. Later on in the sign-up, the committeemen often went to individual farms and invited growers to pledge acreage to the campaign. The sign-up turned into a great challenge as the committeemen encountered unforeseen obstacles, delays, and farmer reluctance while trying to convince enough growers to participate in the program to ensure its success.

One of the most frequent problems cited in the extension agents' annual reports was a chronic shortage of government contract forms or "blanks" needed by the farmers to sign up. Agents frantically sent word to extension headquarters that they had scores of willing farmers ready to participate, but they had no forms to sign them up. Reid wired Cobb in Washington: "Need contract blanks immediately. Campaign being greatly retarded by shortage of blanks. Please rush supply." A few days later, Reid reported another slowdown to Cobb, then stressed his belief that the "committeemen could finish this week if blanks [were] available." To such pleas, Cobb could only explain that the Government Printing Office was operating day and night to get the contract blanks printed and shipped off. As he explained to Director Gray: "This is a gigantic task requiring literally carloads of paper and every thing possible is being done. Encourage your people to be patient."20

Some agents went to neighboring counties to borrow forms from agents there, while others improvised by telling their committeemen to get pledges from farmers on any type of "suitable paper" and worry later about making the pledges legal by getting them on official forms." The delays caused some farmers to believe that the plan could not possibly work if the government could not even provide the forms for the farmers to sign in the first place.22

Committeemen found many farmers eager to sign up but many others who had to be further convinced of the plan's efficacy. The Lee County extension agent stated that many farmers were initially "knocked blind" by the proposal and needed much persuasion before they accepted the plan. Some agents later reported that they experienced resistance from growers who simply distrusted the government and felt the plan was some sort of trick. One farmer told the emergency agricultural assistant for Columbia County: "I am capable of running my own business. The plan is a trap."23

Many other Arkansas farmers wished to sign up for the government's plan but changed their minds after disagreeing with their committeemen on the estimated yield of the acreage that they offered up for plowing. Oftentimes, the growers were upset because a neighbor was supposedly getting a better deal for what was, in their judgment, the same type of land or worse. Though some newspaper editors castigated farmers for quibbling over differences in estimating their five-year average, many farmers simply would not go along with the plan if they felt they were not getting a fair shake.24 As one Newark farmer wrote to Secretary Wallace, coplaining about his neighbor getting a better estimate: "My cotton will ake more to the acre that his. I want to do what is right. Don't think for a minute I am opposed to the plan. For I was one of the first signed up. I only want to be treated [right]. I am willing for any one from any other township to prase my cotton but I am not willing to let it stand like it is."23

Another Arkansas farmer,. I am willing for any one from Russellville other township to pras after the sign-up was over, tried to explain to the AAA cotton but I am not willing to let it stand like it is.."25 the grower and his brother Arkansas farmer, writing to join the program Russellville stated that the after the sign-up who ins over, tried to explain to the AAA cotton chief wed partiality or discriminated" against some grower and his brother refused to join the community (certainly a potential program. He stated that the Wilson's associative committees). "There was a man namen who inspected Sparks," their cotton "showed partiality or discriminated" against some farmer wrote, "who had cotton near my community (certainly and I potential problem with a hundred percent associate committees). "There was a man named mine at $6.00 and Sparks," the farmer acre. That is why we failed te, "who had cotton near my cotton and I know my cotton and I know my cotton was a hundred per major obstacle that committeemen encountered during the men valued mine at $6.00 and Sparks sign-up was a large speculative rise in cotton per acres. That is why we failed to cotton sold ate. only six cents per major but by June that committeemen encountered during the price had shot up to over ten cents sign-up was a larger pound on many spot markets in anticipation of the rise in cotton prices. In April cotton sold at only six cento operation. Many farmers per pound, but by June the price had shot began to over ten cents that it would be best for pound on many spot markets in antin full production and reap the government's plan going into operation. Many farmers throughout the elevated prices. If south began to believers did not sign up in great number and the quota was not reached, however, the AAA would be best for them to maintain full production and reap the benefits of the elevated prices. If southern growers did not sign up in great number and the quota was not reached, however, the AAA would terminate the program and the speculation would come to nothing. The AAA, extension agents, committeemen, and the cooperating press had to work doubly hard to convince farmers that the artificially-inflated prices brought about by speculation would disintegrate if enough farmers held out. As Roy Reid told reporters in a July 8 interview:

The farmers generally seem to realize the need of the success of the plan, but sufficient numbers of them have not yet shown their faith in it by signing the contract offers. Some have been deluded by the speculative price rise in the cotton market which has taken place since the plan was announced. Those who understand the real situation must know there is no foundation, with present and prospective supplies of cotton, for any price which will give the grower a return for his labor.

... the only way that any appreciable price for cotton this year or in the immediate future years can be expected is for some of the growing crop to be removed.

... It is the patriotic duty of every citizen to help the government in carrying out this plan which has been proposed and which offers so much promise for relieving the distress of Southern cot27 ton farmers.

Despite such obstacles, the campaign continued. At the end of every day, local committeemen delivered the contracts to the extension agents and the county committeemen. Into the late hours these individuals analyzed the completed forms, checking for errors, and telephoned Arkansas state extension headquarters to report the number of farmers who had signed up along with their proposed reduced acreage. By July 7, AAA headquarters in Washington received word that Arkansas farmers had signed up only 454,108 acres for plowing up and that southern growers as a whole had only pledged 5,566,169 acres of cotton for destruction. As matters stood, the July 8 deadline for ten million pledged acres would not be met. Secretary Wallace decided to extend the deadline to July 12, citing the delay in providing needed forms and the desire to reach all farmers before making a final decision.

After the second deadline had passed Cobb sent a memo to Wallace reporting that southern farmers had pledged to plow up nine million acres, and that the Cotton Section expected a final total of 9.5 million. He then recommended that the plow-up be implemented. On July 14, Wallace announced that the cotton acreage reduction plan for 1933 would be adopted. Ultimately, almost 97,000 Arkansas farmers pledged 927,185 acres for destruction, or 26.1 percent of their total cotton acreage.

Farmers were instructed that they would receive individual approvals of their contracts and that they should not plow up their cotton until that time. When mix-ups at the Government Printing Office slowed the printing of the individual acceptance forms, however, Secretary Wallace decided on July 29 to issue a blanket acceptance of all offers approved by the extension agents and county committeemen and authorized farmers to begin plowing up their cotton. After receiving word from their county agents, Arkansas cotton farmers began to destroy the sections of their crops pledged in their sign-up contracts. Cobb announced that August 23 would be the deadline for growers to complete the crop destruction.30

Most farmers had no trouble burying their cotton, but some problems were encountered. Heavy rainstorms hit some delta regions of the state, greatly hindering the plow-up. One agent from Mississippi County later reported that so much rain inundated his county that many farmers had to go out into the fields and actually pull the cotton up by hand.

There were scattered instances where farmers who had pledged to destroy their cotton decided not carry out their agreement. The Arkansas Gazette reported an instance in which the Pulaski County committee ordered one of its local committees to the farm of Ozzia Flemming, a black farmer who had refused to destroy his crop after signing a contract. The local committee plowed up seven of his twenty-five acres of cotton (according to the paper Flemming was one of only two farmers in Pulaski County who refused to comply with their contract). Another such case involved a black preacher-farmer in Lee County who refused to plow up two acres. The county agent and a local committeeman personally visited the preacher but could not convince him to plow. The agent wired state headquarters and the Washington office for instructions. Cobb wired back for the agent to do what he instructed all such inquirers to do: destroy the cotton for the farmer and deduct the cost from his check.

There were undoubtedly instances in Arkansas as there were elsewhere in the South where mules flatly refused to trample over the plants for fear of reprisal. Many of them had often been trained at the whip not to do what their owners were now asking of them: to pull the plows over growing crops.33

After the plow-up deadline passed local committeemen went back to the fields to inspect how well growers had adhered to their pledges. The committeemen typically found that the growers had done a good job in destroying the crop the first time around, but, as the emergency agent for Hot Spring County reported, "it was necessary for some local committeemen to make three trips ... before the Performance and Certification sheet [signifying compliance] could be approved." In Jefferson County, the emergency agricultural agent recalled some of the difficulties encountered while trying to ensure compliance: "In many cases farmers plowed up a little more than was pledged although when we started measuring land we found that most every one was from ten to twenty-five percent short of what they thought they had in cotton. This caused our local committeemen to have to go back the second and third time to many places before the acreage pledged was destroyed."34

Committeemen also investigated farmer complaints against other growers, especially accusations that producers had not plowed up their fair share of the crop. In one instance, an Independence County farmer was caught after someone leaked word to the county committee that the farmer actually picked cotton he claimed to have plowed up. The committee reviewed his contract and told him, for openers, it appeared that his cotton yield had been overestimated. The farmer brazenly attributed this to his ability as a salesman. Apparently this remark did not endear him to the committee: they ordered him to plow up the rest of his cotton field and also to bring back the amount of cotton picked off the field, spread it on the ground, and plow it under. Only then did he receive a check for the amount for which he had originally contracted. 15

Upon the approval of the local committeemen, growers signed a compliance sheet that was given to the county agent and county committee to be checked over, signed, and forwarded to Washington. Then the growers had to sit and wait for word from the agents that their checks had arrived. This would be a longer wait than most farmers had expected.

The extension agents reported different dates for the first arrival of government checks in their counties. Many agents reported getting the first checks at the beginning of September, but many others reported not getting any checks until the end of that month. In all Arkansas counties, the checks came in very sporadically, which upset farmers when a neighbor received money well before they did.36

In an October 10 report sent to Cully Cobb, Roy Reid gave Cobb a detailed breakdown by county of how many checks had been received by the second week of October. In urging the AAA to speed up the payments, Reid reported that only one-third of the farmers of the state had received their checks. The county-by-county breakdown shows great disparity in disbursements. For example, two-thirds of north Mississippi County's 1,727 contract-signers had received their checks, but only 28 out of 981 farmers in Prairie County had received theirs.

These long delays in payment, due to the sheer volume of contracts (over one million nationwide) flooding Washington at the same time, created great anxiety and anger among farmers, and caused some to have "feelings of being misled." The farmers were not really being presumptuous in demanding their checks. They had been told since the first day of the campaign that they would receive payment promptly. The agent for Dallas County reported that the delay in payments brought about "more unfavorable comments than any other phase" of the campaign. Indeed, the most common complaint of the extension agents in their annual reports is the length of time it took the government to send the plow-up checks and the fact that the agents were having to take the heat for the delay. Most agents reported that on December 1, the day their reports were due, there were still many farmers (on average about 5 percent of the county totals) who had not yet been paid,

Despite their burdens, most county agents viewed their added AAA responsibilities positively. Though they worked long hours, often giving up their weekends and holidays to do work for which they were not trained, a great many of the agents actually saw their AAA duties as something that could benefit their normal extension work. Numerous agents reported that the cotton reduction campaign gave them access to farmers who were formerly hard to reach, allowing them to spread information about regular extension programs. They were confident that the campaign would greatly benefit the Extension Service in the future. As the Crittenden County agent reported: "This program ... brought the agent in contact with many farmers throughout the County that regular extension work had never been able to reach, and as a result of same, other extension programs in the future will be much easier to put into effect because of the confidence gained in extension work due to the manner in which all details were handled in the cotton acreage reduction program." The Phillips County agent agreed:

The outlook for Extension work in Phillips County is very much better at this time than it has been in several years past. With the added responsibilities that the Federal Government has placed on the Extension Service and with the satisfactory manner, to the farmer, with which these have been performed the farmer has come to rely more and more on the County Agent ....

While the work this year has been more strenuous than ever before we feel that Extension work has proven itself and that we are in [a] better position to render real services to the people than ever before. 39

Though they suffered the blame for delays, the agents approved of the AAA's decision to have them dispense the government checks when they finally arrived. Most agents simply mailed cards out to farmers upon arrival of their checks and instructed the farmers to either come into the agent's office or meet the agent at a distribution point somewhere on a given day. But some agents, such as the emergency agricultural agent for Little River County, actually went from farm to farm to personally deliver the checks.4

The plow-up program succeeded in maintaining the price of cotton at ten cents per pound by the end of 1933, almost double what cotton was selling for at the beginning of the season. Arkansas cotton farmers further benefited by receiving $10.8 million in cash for their destroyed cotton and 348,000 bales of government option cotton (for which they would receive the difference between 6 cents per pound and the selling price at the time it was sold).41 If it did not generate immediate economic recovery, the plow-up money did much to provide imperative relief for tens of thousands of Arkansas growers. This much-needed cash, in turn, aided local shopkeepers and others who were tied into the cotton trade. For the first time in years, many farmers were able to pay off debts, pay back taxes, and purchase numerous items from merchants that had been denied them since the Depression struck. The money helped Arkansas growers not only economically, but psychologically as well. The county agent for Poinsett County, for example, noted that the morale of the farmers in his county was higher that it had been since the fall of 1929. The plow-up certainly inspired great optimism among rural people in Arkansas-many began to believe that the new Roosevelt Administration could actually improve the situation of the cotton growers and thus improve the overall Arkansas economy. In summing up the program's effects in his area, the Dallas County agent wrote: "Considering the whole program, it has met with favor by both the farm and town people. It has increased the average farmer's faith and confidence in his Government. It has made him know that his Government not only has the power, but also has the disposition to put the farmer in a better position than he has been in for a number of years."42

Many Arkansans had reason to be unhappy, however. Tenant farmers and sharecroppers protested to government officials that they failed to receive fair treatment under the cotton program. In their complaints to the AAA and USDA, many stated that even though they supported the government's plan, they could not sign up because their landlord forbade them to do so. As one tenant from Dell wrote to Cobb: "Dear Sear I thought to write you conserning the plowing up of the cotton in this sexion. I voice the semment of my peoples. we all wants to plow up a poshion of our trope. But the lanlord wont let us. He is plowing up 2 or 3 hundred akers [of his own land] an leaving all the teners crop stan. An we dont think it is fair.... I dont Believe that you are gonto let them treet us that way. If other teners have a write to plow up theirs we have a wright too."43

Under the law, landowners were to divide government payments with their tenants and sharecroppers, but many tenants and croppers would not participate when planters demanded a larger portion of the government benefit checks than the normal division of the crop. Still others who did participate in the plow up were denied their checks when unscrupulous landlords simply pocketed the money that was due them.44

In these situations, there was little that tenants and croppers could do. This was one of the glaring limitations of M. L. Wilson's "associational" citizen committees. When complaints arose, AAA officials in Washington simply directed them back to the county agents and committees to be settled at the local level. Because a majority of the committee members were landlords themselves, committees resolved most tenant matters in favor of the planters. Most county agents were no help to tenants and croppers either since they were most often beholden to the powerful landholders in their counties for their jobs.

In at least one instance occurring in Poinsett County a "troublesome" tenant who complained against the system almost lost his life. The tenant, a Mr. Pugh, along with other tenants renting land from a Mr. Oliver wrote to the AAA to complain that their landlord had allegedly received plow-up funds for land on which he had never planted cotton. Cully Cobb directed Extension Director Reid to have the Poinsett County agent, A. Raybon Sullivant, investigate the charges. According to Sullivant's report to Reid, the matter was resolved when a public meeting was held and the tenant supposedly admitted that the charges were made up. A subsequent letter written to Cobb and signed by individuals who were present at the meeting told quite a different story. They stated that when Agent Sullivant called the meeting it was not known that the landlord would be present. Sullivant asked Pugh in front of his landlord if he would sign an affidavit swearing that the charges made in his letter to Cobb were true. Pugh said that he would. At that point, Oliver called Pugh a "louse," drew out a gun, and threatened to kill him. The landlord's foreman and four others then rushed Pugh and severely beat him while Oliver held off all other parties at bay with his pistol. Those who endorsed this version of the meeting further reported that Oliver evicted all the tenants whose names were on the original letter to Cobb. The landlord obviously acquired the names on the letter from Agent Sullivant. As this incident shows, the AAA's decentralized administrative structure simply provided no effective means for smaller farmers, especially tenants and sharecroppers, to receive justice if it was being denied them.45 The failure to provide tenants and sharecroppers their fair share of AAA benefits-as well as the evictions that followed upon acreage reduction-would lead ultimately to the formation in Arkansas of the Southern Tenant Farmers' Union and greater national attention to "the plight of the sharecropper.",46

The AAA plow-up campaign in Arkansas is a classic case study of the early New Deal. In very little time, the Roosevelt Administration had to tackle a serious national problem and chose to do so with an entirely experimental program that had no guarantee of success. Rather than dictating a plan and enforcing it with a new cadre of government workers, the AAA worked with leading citizens in the localities to help implement its proposed solution. 'In hindsight, this approach had pluses and minuses for southern producers. The program directly benefited a majority of Arkansas's almost 100,000 cotton growers, and indirectly aided large numbers of non-producers linked to the cotton trade. It must not be forgotten, however, that an indeterminate number of ill-treated Arkansas tenant farmers and sharecroppers were effectively excluded from the program. Their situation was no better than before the plow-up began, and, in many cases, worse.

[Footnote]
Pete Daniel, Breaking the Land& The Transformation of Cotton, Tobacco, and Rice Cultures since 1880 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985), 18-22; Henry I. Richards, Cotton under the Agricultural Adjustment Act: Developments up to July 1934 (Washington: Brookings Institution, 1934), 4.

 
[Footnote]
2David E. Hamilton, From New Day to New Deal: American Farm Policy from Hoover to Roosevelt, 1928-1933 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991), 95.
3Henry I. Richards, Cotton and the AAA (Washington: Brookings Institution, 1936), 1; Arkansas Gazette (Little Rock), May 13, 1933; Memphis Commercial Appeal, May 13, 1933.
4For a comprehensive look at M. L. Wilson's development of the Voluntary Domestic Allotment Plan, see William D. Rowley, M L. Wilson and the Campaign for the Domestic Allotment (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1970).

 
[Footnote]
SFor coverage of the congressional debate over the farm bill, see Van L. Perkins, Crisis in Agriculture: The Agricultural Adjustment Administration and the New Deal, 1933 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969), 36-78.
6The full text of Wallace's announcement appears in the New York Times, June 20, 1933. See also the Arkansas Gazette, June 20, 1933, and the Memphis Commercial Appeal, June 20, 1933.
7The AAA Cotton Section decided against accepting contracts for land with an average yield of less than 100 pounds per acre.

 
[Footnote]
BThe Cotton Section favored equal acceptance of the two plans by cotton farmers. As AAA Cotton Section head Cully Cobb wired state Agricultural Extension Service directors: "Desirable that we obtain equal number of contracts for both plan number one and plan number two. We believe limitations and element of risk surrounding option on cotton will make the all cash plan number two more attractive to the smaller producers than plan number one. Neither plan should be sold at the expense of the other." Cobb to state extension directors, June 26, 1933, Cotton-Blanket Wires file, Box 24, Subject Correspondence Files 19331935, Records of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, Record Group 145, National Archives 11, College Park, Maryland [hereafter cited as SCF, AAA, NARG 145].
9Press release of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (cited hereafter as AAA P.R.) 140-33, Box 1, Entry 6, AAA, NARG 145.
lAs Cully Cobb reminded all state extension directors, the quotas were "merely for guidance and ... in no way to limit the campaign" to any minimum or maximum figures. He stated further that the campaign had to continue until every farmer had the opportunity to pledge reduction of acreage. Cobb to state extension directors, June 27, 1933, Cotton-- Blanket Wires file, Box 24, SCF, AAA, NARG 145.
"AAA P.R. 1421-33, Box 1, Entry 6, AAA, NARG 145.
12 Roy V. Scott and J. G. Shoalmire, The Public Life of Cully A. Cobb (Jackson: University and College Press of Mississippi, 1973), 211-212. The Extension Service, established in 1914 under the Smith-Lever Act, was responsible for disseminating research information from the various land-grant colleges to the farm population.

 
[Footnote]
13 On associationalism in general, see Ellis W. Hawley, The Great War and the Search for a Modern Order: A History of the American People and Their Institutions, 1917-1933 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1979). For the clearest explanation of how Wilson's views on associationalism influenced his domestic allotment plan, see the work of Hawley student David E. Hamilton in From New Day to New Deal, especially ch. 9.
"Cobb to T. Roy Reid, June 17, 1933, Cotton-A.R. (Acreage Reduction) file, Box 20, SCF, AAA, NARG 145; Richards, Cotton under the Agricultural Adjustment Act, 18.

 
[Footnote]
15 Jeannie M. Whayne, A New Plantation South: Land, Labor, and Federal Favor in Twentieth-Century Arkansas (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1996), 160-165.
16Arkansas Gazette, June 22, 23, 1933; Memphis Commercial Appeal June 22-23, 1933; annual narrative report of Phillip Anderson, emergency agricultural assistant for Hot Spring County, Box 0078, Federal Extension Service-Arkansas Annual Reports, 1917-1970, National Archives and Records Administration-Southwest Region, Fort Worth, TX [hereafter cited as 1933 Arkansas Extension Agent Reports, NA-SWR] (quotation). The AAA implored the Extension Service to keep the estimated average yields for the counties in 1933 within each county's five-year average for the 1928-1932 period, as compiled by the USDA Division of Crop and Livestock Estimates. See, for example, Cobb to Reid, June 27, 1933, Cotton-A.R. file, Box 20, SCF, AAA, NARG 145.

 
[Footnote]
"Annual narrative report of H. K. Sager, emergency agricultural agent for Dallas County, Box 0075, 1933 Arkansas Extension Agent Reports, NA-SWR, for other examples of extension agents' comments on the value of the press to their sign-up efforts, see annual reports of agents from Baxter, Craighead, Howard, Little River, Nevada, North Mississippi, Phillips, Sharp, and south Sebastian Counties, Boxes 0075-0078, 1933 Arkansas Extension Agent Reports, NA-SWR.
"Annual narrative report of Kenneth B. Roy, agricultural editor for the Arkansas Extension Service, Box 0072, ibid. For press references to the sign-up, see Arkansas Gazette and Memphis Commercial Appeal from June 26-July 12, 1933.
"AAA P.R. 1403-33, Box 1, Entry 6, AAA, NARG 145.

 
[Footnote]
2Reid to Cobb, July 3, 5, 1933, Arkansas University-T. Roy Reid file, Box 45 (first and second quotation), and Cobb to Gray, July 4, 1933, Arkansas University-Dan. T. Gray file, Box 44 (third quotation), all in correspondence arranged alphabetically [cited hereafter as AC], 1933-1935, AAA, NARG 145. For extension agents' descriptions of the delays in their counties, see 1933 Arkansas Extension Agent reports, NA-SWR.
"See annual narrative reports of agents from Baxter, Nevada, and Sharp Counties, Boxes 0077-0078, ibid.
22 Annual narrative report of John L. Faulkner, emergency agricultural assistant for Craighead and Lawrence Counties, Box 00?77, 1933 Arkansas Extension Agent Reports, NA-SWR.

 
[Footnote]
"Annual narrative reports of W. A. Owens, County Agent for Lee County, Box 0076, (first quotation) and Jeff D. McDuffie, emergency agricultural assistant for Columbia and Clark Counties, Box 0078 (second quotation), both in ibid. See also agent reports for Cleburne and Jefferson Counties, Boxes 0076-0077, ibid.
24For examples of newspaper editorial pressure, see the Memphis Commercial Appeal, June 25, July 3, 6, 1933.
25W. H. Dauson to Wallace, July 17, 1933, Cotton-A.R. file, Box 21, SCF, AAA, NARG 145.
26Joe and Jeff Pennington to Cobb, August 26, 1933, ibid. See also Jess Dunlap to Wallace, July 18, 1933, and C. W. Rowan to Wallace, July 12, 1933, both in ibid.

 
[Footnote]
27Arkansas Gazette, July 9, 1933 (quotation). See also another interview with Reid in Arkansas Gazette, July 12, 1933. For more information on the speculative rise in cotton during this period, see Perkins, Crisis in Agriculture, 101-103.
28AAA, P.R. 36-34, Box 1, Entry 6, and Cobb to state extension directors, July 8, 1933, Cotton-A.R. file, Box 20, SCF 1933-1935, both in AAA, NARG 145.

 
[Footnote]
29Memo: "Recommendations for Carrying Out the 1933 Cotton Acreage Adjustment Program," Cobb to Wallace, n.d., Cotton-A.R. file, Box 20, and Cobb to state extension directors, July 14, 1933, Cotton-Blanket Wires file, Box 24, both in SCF, AAA, NARG 145; AAA P.R. 80-34, Entry 6, AAA, NARG 145; Arkansas Gazette July 15, 1933; Memphis Commercial Appeal, July 15, 1933; New York Times, July 15, 1933. For final pledge figures, see Arkansas Gazette, July 17, 1933; Richards, Cotton under the Agricultural Adjustment Act, 36-37.
3Richards, Cotton under the Agricultural Adjustment Act, 48-49; Perkins, Crisis in Agriculture, 109; AAA P.R. 353-334,401-434, both in Box 1, Entry 6, AAA, NARG 145. "Annual narrative report of J. E. Critz, extension agent for northern section of Mississippi County, Box 0077, 1933 Arkansas Extension Agent Reports, NA-SWR.

 
[Footnote]
32Arkansas Gazette, August 25, September 12, 1933; annual narrative report of W. A. Owens, extension agent for Lee County, Box 0076, 1933 Arkansas Extension Agent Reports, NA-SWR; Cobb to state extension directors, August 22, 1933, Cotton-A.R. file, Box 21, SCF, and AAA P.R. 401-435, Box 1, Entry 6, both in AAA, NARG 145.
33There is no mention of any incidents involving "balky mules" in any of the Arkansas extension agent reports or in the Arkansas Gazette or Memphis Commercial Appeal, but they most likely did occur to some extent. For some examples of reports of reluctant mules during the plow-up in other southern states, see: New York Times, August 10, 1933, Dallas Morning News, August 27, 1933, Houston Post, August 27, 1933, and Michael S. Holmes, New Deal in Georgia: An Administrative History (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1975), 219.
34 Annual narrative reports of Philip Anderson, emergency agricultural assistant for Hot Spring County (first quotation), and W. D. Ezell, emergency agricultural assistant for Jefferson County (second quotation), both in Box 0078, 1933 Arkansas Extension Agent Reports, NA-SWR; see also reports from agents in Clark and Miller Counties, ibid.

 
[Footnote]
"Annual narrative report of G. B. Spencer, extension agent for Independence County, Box 0077, ibid.
"See various 1933 Arkansas Extension Agent Reports, NA-SWR.
3?Reid to Cobb, October 10, 1933, Arkansas University-T. Roy Reid file, Box 45, AC, AAA, NARG 145.

 
[Footnote]
38Annual narrative report of W. D. Ezell, emergency agricultural assistant for Jefferson County (first quotation), and H. K. Sager, emergency agricultural assistant for Dallas County (second quotation), both in Box 0076, 1933 Arkansas Extension Agent Reports, NA-SWR. See other agent reports for further complaints over check delays.
39Annual narrative reports for F. D. Chastain, county agent for Crittenden County (first quotation), and A. M. Rogers, county agent for Phillips County (second quotation), both in Box 0077, 1933 Arkansas Extension Agent Reports, NA-SWR; see also the reports of extension agents for Arkansas, Lee, and Pulaski Counties, Boxes 0075-0077, ibid.

 
[Footnote]
"Annual narrative report of Ben E. Rice, emergency agricultural assistant for Little River County, Box 0078, ibid.
4'Annual narrative report of E. H. Reed, extension economist, Box 0072, 1933 Arkansas Extension Agent Reports; USDA, AAA, Agricultural Adjustment: A Report on the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, May 1933 to February 1934 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1934), 316. In Arkansas, 50 percent of the contract signers chose the "cash-and-option" plan. Richards, Cotton under the Agricultural Adjustment Act, 45.

 
[Footnote]
"Annual narrative reports of A. Raybon Sullivant, county agent for Poinsett County, and H. K. Sager, county agent for Dallas County (quotation), both in Box 0076, 1933 Arkansas Extension Agent Reports, NA-SWR; see numerous other county agent reports for comments on the improved attitude of the people toward the government, and life in general, as a result of the plow-up campaign. Cotton farmers also benefited from the Roosevelt Administration's efforts to maintain cotton prices at or above the ten-cent price level through price-support loans administered by the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) and by inflationary monetary policies. Despite these added efforts, without the plow-up, the additional supplies of cotton, when added to the record carryover, would certainly have prevented the favorable price increase enjoyed by southern cotton farmers in 1933. For a discussion on the drop in cotton prices after mid-July 1933 and the creation of the CCC, see Perkins, Crisis in Agriculture, 168-174.
43Will Jones to Cobb, July 28, 1933; see also William Barrington to Wallace, July 14, 1933, both in Cotton-A.R. file, Box 21, SCF, AAA, NARG 145.
See, for example, E. D. Hartsell to Wallace, n.d., J. R. Roophard to Wallace, July 13, 1933, John T. Spikes to U.S. Department of Agriculture, July 24, 1933, and John Land to Wallace, July 24, 1933, all in ibid.

 
[Footnote]
45 See Cobb to J. 0. Green, October 19, 1933, A. Raybon Sullivant to T. Roy Reid, December 15, 1933, Reid to Cobb, December 21, 1933, Mr. L. Hainks and twenty others to Cobb, January 4, 1934, and E. A. Miller to Reid, January 22, 1934, all in Arkansas University-T. Roy Reid file, Box 45, AC, AAA, NARG 145.
46Donald Grubbs, Cry from the Cotton: The Southern Tenant Farmers ' Union and the New Deal (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1971); Howard Kester, Revolt Among the Sharecroppers (New York: Covici-Friede, 1936); Whayne, A New Plantation South, 184-218.

 
[Author Affiliation]
Keith J. Volanto, Ph.D., is a lecturer in the Department of History at Texas A&M University. He would like to thank the staff of the National Archives, Southwest Region in Fort Worth, Texas for all their help in researching this project. The article is based on a paper delivered at "The Southwest: A Region in Transition," an interdisciplinary conference in Fort Worth, Texas, February 17, 2000. The author would like to acknowledge the panel and audience at the conference for their feedback and suggestions.

 

 
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