Abstract

Scholars have paid a great deal of attention to the Sharecroppers’ Roadside Demonstration by evicted farmworkers, who camped out along rural highways in Missouri’s southeastern Bootheel in January 1939. This article differs from previous works by focusing on Fannie Cook and Marcus "Al" Murphy and their interactions with the sharecroppers. Cook, an affluent Jewish woman, and Murphy, an African-American member of the Communist Party, both participated in the St. Louis Committee for the Rehabilitation of the Sharecroppers. After state officials removed the demonstrators from the highways, Cook traveled to the Bootheel to observe conditions there and wrote a novel about what she saw. She also helped support the Sharecroppers’ Camp, or Cropperville, a privately funded refuge for displaced farmworkers. Murphy came to St. Louis in the mid-1930s to teach farmworkers how to organize. When the demonstrators went out onto the roadsides, he worked with labor organizations to collect and deliver supplies. Ultimately, the connections between these urban supporters and rural protesters were personal, not ideological, reminding us that history is not about abstractions, but people.

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Notes

1 Louis Cantor, A Prologue to the Protest Movement: The Missouri Sharecropper Roadside Demonstration of 1939 (Durham: Duke University Press, 1969)
Lorenzo J. Greene, "Lincoln University’s Involvement with the Sharecropper Demonstration in Southeast Missouri, 1939-1940," Missouri Historical Review 82 (Oct. 1987): 24-50
Arvarh E. Strickland, "The Plight of the People in the Sharecroppers’ Demonstration in Southeast Missouri," Missouri Historical Review 81 (July 1987): 403-16
Bonnie Stepenoff, Thad Snow: A Life of Social Reform in the Missouri Bootheel (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2003), 89-114.
2 Leon Parker Ogilvie, "Governmental Efforts at Reclamation in the Southeast Missouri Lowlands," Missouri Historical Review 64 (Jan. 1970): 151-76
Bonnie Stepenoff, "The Last Tree Cut Down: The End of the Bootheel Frontier," Missouri Historical Review 90 (Oct. 1995): 61-78
Bonnie Stepenoff, "Cotton Comes to the Bootheel: Thad Snow and Social Change in Southeast Missouri, 19231939," Red River Valley Historical Journal 2 (Fall 2002): 37-57.
Snow’s autobiographical book, From Missouri (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1954)
3 Cantor, A Prologue to the Protest Movement and Strickland, "The Plight of the People."
Candace O’Connor and Steven John Ross, Oh, Freedom After While (San Francisco: California Newsreel, 1999).
Agricultural History 75 (Winter 2001): 119-22.
4 Al Murphy to O. H. Whitfield, Jan. 9, 1939, Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union Papers, 1934-1970 (Glen Rock, NJ: Microfilm Corporation of America, 1971), Reel 10 (hereafter STFU Papers)
Daily (New York) Worker, Jan. 10, 1939.
5 "M. A. Murphy" obituary, Sikeston Daily Standard, June 23, 1978, 8
Joan Tinsley Feezor, "Marcus Alphonse Murphy and Communism on Trial: The Smith Act in Missouri" (master’s thesis, Southeast Missouri State University, 1993), 27, 54-55, 71-74
Nell Irvin Painter, The Narrative of Hosea Hudson: His Life as Negro Communist in the South (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979), 13-14
Harry Haywood, Black Bolshevik: Autobiography of an Afro-American Communist (Chicago: Liberator Press, 1978), 401.
6 Lowell K. Dyson, Red Harvest: The Communist Party and American Farmers (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982), 86-87
Robin D. G. Kelley, Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990), 43-45
Lowell K. Dyson, Farmers’ Organizations (New York: Greenwood Press, 1986), 301.
7 Report on Session of Farm School for Sharecroppers, Apr. 1934, Reel 287, Folder 3714, Communist Party of the USA Records, Manuscripts Division, Library of Congress, Washington, DC (hereafter CPUSA Records).
8 Ibid.
9 Letter from Puro to Comrade Harry, Apr. 16, 1934, Reel 287, Folder 3714, CPUSA Records
Kelley, Hammer and Hoe, 95, 160-61
Brian E. Birdnow, Communism, AntiCommunism, and the Federal Courts in Missouri, 1952-1958: The Trial of the St. Louis Five (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2005), 73
10 Birdnow, Communism, Anti-Communism, 8
11 David Eugene Conrad, The Forgotten Farmers: The Story of Sharecroppers in the New Deal (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1965).
12 "Farmers and Sharecroppers Demand an End to Poverty and Misery," 1935 leaflet, Reel 287, Folder 3714, CPUSA Records; Murphy to Whitfield, STFU Papers.
13 Dyson, Farmers’ Organizations, 301
Donald H. 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 (1936; repr., Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1997)
H. L. Mitchell, Mean Things Happening in this Land: The Life and Times of H. L. Mitchell, Co-Founder of the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union (Montclair, NJ: Allenheld, Osmun, 1979).
14 Cantor, Prologue to Protest, 26
Stepenoff, Thad Snow, 73-78
Rebecca B. Schroeder and Donald M. Lance, "John L. Handcox, The Sharecropper Troubadour," Missouri Folklore Society Journal 8-9 (1986-1987): 123
Thad Snow, "Why ShareCroppers Join the CIO," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Aug. 9, 1937
O. H. Whitfield to H. L. Mitchell, Jan. 10,1939, Reel 10, STFU Papers.
Erik S. Gellman and Jarod H. Roll, "Owen Whitfield and the Gospel of the Working Class in New Deal America, 1936-1946," Journal of Southern History 72 (May 2006): 303-48.
15 Snow, From Missouri, 249
Stepenoff, Thad Snow, 90-93.
16 "Evicted Tenants to March," Sikeston Daily Standard, Jan. 10, 1939, 1
"Sharecroppers Ordered Evicted to Camp on Road," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 8, 1939, 1
"Sharecroppers Evicted, Camp Along Highways," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 10, 1939, 1
"Evicted Campers on Roads Await Food from State," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 11, 1939, 1
"Evicted Farmers Short of Food in Road Camps," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 12, 1939, 3
"Evicted Tenants Being Removed from Highways," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 14, 1939, 1
"Dispossessed by the AAA," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 12, 1939, 2-C.
17 Daily Worker, Jan. 14, Jan. 15, and Jan. 16, 1939
"FBI Agents Arrest Negro Communist Here," Charleston (Mo.) Enterprise-Courier, Sept. 18, 1952, 1
Al Murphy to T. J. North, Jan. 18, 1939, Reel 10, STFU Papers.
18 Cantor, Prologue to Protest, 95.
Rosemary Feurer, Radical Unionism in the Midwest, 1900-1950 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006).
19 Helen Frances Levin Goldman, "Parallel Portraits: An Exploration of Racial Issues in the Art and Activism of Fannie Frank Cook" (PhD diss., St. Louis University, 1992), 2
Jean Douglas Streeter, "Fannie Cook Papers: Register," Directory of the Collection, Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis, 1988, p. 3 (hereafter Cook Papers).
Susan A. Glenn, Daughters of the Shtetl: Life and Labor in the Immigrant Generation (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990), 238-41.
20 Clarissa Start, "Gets Up at 5 a.m. to do her Writing," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Aug. 10,1941, 3-H.
Bonnie Stepenoff, "The Doctor’s Wife—Fannie Cook and Social Protest in Missouri, 1938-1949," in Women in Missouri History: In Search of Power and Influence, ed. Lee Ann Whites, Mary Neth, and Gary Kremer (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2004), 236-52.
21 Goldman, "Parallel Portraits," 28-30.
22 Fannie Cook to Thad Snow, Apr. 24, 1939
Maude Gilmore to Fannie Cook, Apr. 27, 1939, Folder 2, Box 5, Cook Papers
Start, "Gets Up at 5 a.m.," 3-H.
23 Fannie Cook to Edna Gellhorn, Apr. 17, 1939, Folder 2, Box 5, Cook Papers.
24 Ibid.
Start, "Gets Up at 5 a.m.," 3-H.
25 Zella Whitfield to Fannie Cook, Aug. 13, 1940, Folder 5, Box 5, Cook Papers.
26 Fannie Cook, Boot-Heel Doctor: A Novel (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1941)
27 Bonnie Stepenoff, "Survival Strategies of Farm Laborers in the Missouri Bootheel, 1900-1958," in The Other Missouri History: Populists, Prostitutes, and Regular Folk, ed. Thomas Spencer (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2004), 142-64.
Cedric Belfrage, "Cotton-Patch Moses," Harper’s Magazine 36 (Nov. 1948): 94-103.
28 From Missouri, especially on pp. 214-24.
29 Cook, Boot-Heel Doctor, 137-38
Cantor, A Prologue to Protest, 75
30 Jean Douglas Cadle, "’Cropperville,’ from Refuge to Community: A Study of Missouri Sharecroppers Who Found an Alternative to the Sharecropper System" (master’s thesis, University of Missouri-St. Louis, 1993).
31 Steve Mitchell, "Homeless, Homeless Are We ..." Preservation Issues 3 (Jan./Feb. 1993): 1, 9-10.
Alex Cooper’s interview with David Whitman, July 27, 1994, Portageville, Mo., Bootheel Project, Audiocassette 15, Western Historical Manuscript Collection, University of Missouri-Columbia.
Bonnie Stepenoff, June 1, 2001.
32 Fannie Cook, "Cropperville Gets a School," undated MS, Folder 8, Box 26, Cook Papers.
33 Belfrage, "Cotton-Patch Moses," 102
Clarence H. Yarrow to Fannie Cook, July 8, 1942, Folder 4, Box 7, Cook Papers
Lawrence O. Christensen, Dictionary of Missouri Biography (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999), 793.
34 Cadle, "’Cropperville,’" 58.
Annora K. Koetting, "Four St. Louis Women: Precursors of Reform" (master’s thesis, St. Louis University, 1973)
Mary K. Dains et al., Show Me Missouri Women: Selected Biographies, 2 vols. (Kirksville, Mo.: Thomas Jefferson University Press, 1989), 1:227-28
Curtis D. MacDougall, Gideon’s Army, Volume HI: The Campaign and the Vote, 3 vols. (New York: Marzani and Munsell, 1965), 3:805-807.
35 Birdnow, Communism, Anti-Communism, 73-74
"FBI Agents Arrest Negro Communist Here," 1.
36 Robert J. Donovan, Tumultuous Years: The Presidency of Harry S. Truman, 19491953 (New York: W. W. Norton, 1982), 25
"5 Reds on Trial Rest Case after Sentner is Cross-Examined," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 19, 1954, 3-A
Birdnow, Communism, Anti-Communism, 78, 85
Stepenoff, Thad Snow, 151-54.
37 "FBI Produces 3 Documents on Sentner at Trial of Reds," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 5, 1954, 3-A
"Trial of Reds Recessed Until May 17, Due to End Week Later," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 6, 1954, 3-A
"Sentner Tells Jury of Effort to Aid Unions," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 18, 1954, 3-A
"Reds on Trial Rest Case After Sentner is Cross-Examined," 3-A
"Case of 5 Reds on Trial Here Likely to Go to Jury Tomorrow," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 27, 1954, 3-A.
38 "5 Communists Convicted Here, Sentencing Set for Next Friday," St. Louis PostDispatch, May 29, 1954, 1, 3-A
"Sentner and 3 other Reds Given 5 Years in Prison, Mrs. Forest Gets 3 Years," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 4, 1954, 1, 6
"Appeals Court Reverses Smith Act Conviction, Orders New Trial," New York Times, Apr. 5, 1958, 2
"Government Drops Case," New York Times, Oct. 11, 1958, 11
Birdnow, Communism, AntiCommunism, 122.
Stepenoff, Thad Snow, 153.
39 "M. A. Murphy" (obituary), 8.
40 Barbara Whitfield Fleming interview in the film, Oh, Freedom After While; Barbara Whitfield Fleming, interview with the author, Sept. 10, 2002
Shirley Whitfield Farmer, interview with the author, Apr. 7, 2002.