Magazine May 2, 2011, Issue

A Nation of Sharecroppers

(Brian Snyder/Reuters)
From slavery to six figures

In the 1950s, when cotton was still king in Texas, picking it was a common form of casual employment. Cotton-pickers were paid by weight, and though the gin had long since mechanized the process of seeding cotton, bringing the bolls in was still done in the ancient fashion: by hand and burlap sack. Children getting out of school, men and women finishing their regular jobs in the afternoon, and otherwise unoccupied people would make a little extra money picking cotton, and in other seasons they would harvest pecans or other crops.

These were not, it should be noted, remarkably poor people.

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