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The Was Who Was Almost a Man

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The Man Who Was Almost a Man

President Abraham Lincoln signed the Proclamation Emancipation. This document gave slaves their freedom. Sharecropping was also called tenant farming. Blacks viewed this as the only opportunity to become self-sufficient. Knowing that slaves had nowhere to go and all they knew was farming or domestic work; through this system, the landowner still exercised a great degree of power, illustrated by the terms of a contract. Some plantation owners took advantage of majority of the black population, because they could not read, write or count. The plantation owners needed them to keep maintaining the fields and crops. The owners would over charge them for equipment, tools, and even rent if they lived on the land. As the most common farming arrangement, former slaves did not receive payment until the crops were harvested and turned into the landowner. In return, they would be paid, but not equally. They were typically given a portion of the crops instead of money. Many times they were told or cohered into signing a contract with the plantation owners saying they must pay back any advances received, cost of tools, and rent. Richard Wright’s short story “A Man Who Was Almost a Man” from the book of Eight Men clearly illustrate the continuous enslavement by means of sharecropping. A young boy named Dave decides the time has come for him to be a “Man”. Therefore, he makes an adult decision to purchase a gun. After purchasing a revolver he makes a series of irresponsible decisions; clearly, proving that he has some growing to do. (Wright 251)
In the story, Dave’s parents put him to work during the summer to assist with some of the financial woes. The money he made from spending the summer working for Mr. Hawkins was to provide school clothes and supplies. (Wright 251) This gave him a sense of pride, as if he was a man. He was working to earn money to provide for him. The History Channel’s documentary “Reconstruction” recalls that in the southern United States, many blacks became entrapped in debt by ternate farming or sharecropping. The black sharecroppers had an additional challenge because of the unknowns of Mother Nature. Cotton was popular for having high prices, yet it absorbed all of the nutrients out of the soil. Sometimes starting a string of diminishing returns; thus affecting payment and the food share. This also resulted in sharecroppers having to decrease their crop yield. When this happened, they were unable to seek out more fertile land as state laws mandated they remain on the property until their debts were paid. The plantation owner would also receive revenue from the harvest. If the crop, did not thrive then the cost of the loss was added on the black worker. Dave gets permission to buy a gun for his father, from his mother. Instead of plowing the field, he decides to go off far in the fields to shoot the gun. He closes his eyes, points the gun, and shoots. This resulted in Dave accidently shooting Mr. Hawkins’s mule. After finding out, Mr. Hawkins informs Dave and his father that they will have to pay for the mule. Mr. Hawkins wanted $50 for the dead mule. (Wright 252) Dave knew that by the rate of his pay it would take him two (2) years to pay for the mule. This was another debt compound unto the debt already forced on the family.
Later that night, Dave goes back to the fields, get the gun and practices shooting until the bullets were gone. At that time, he heard a train; he knew that if he stayed he would forever work as a field hand. He hopped on an empty car with his empty gun. (Wright 254). Now, situations like this occurred, the Plantation owners would just passed the debt to a relative. If caught he would be tried and sent back to the plantation. He could end up in jail, and still working off the debt. The nightriders as they were called would capture him and bring him back. The debt was often left to be repaid by a parent, or sibling. According to Blackmon, Douglas’s story Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black People in America from the Civil War to World War II, when a family member dies, the debt is also passed on. The next of kin that lived on the plantation would have to work to pay off the debt. They would even add debt to the children and they would have to begin working on the plantation. Many times as soon as the children could walk, they were place out in the fields to assist with the harvesting. As a child, there was a desire to leave a slave-like existence and the sentiments in the south. Never able to generate enough money to pay off his debts owed to the merchant and property owner, the Black farmers were forced to continue working in a system geared toward enslavement through debt. Since the property owners and merchants profits depended on black labor, they were determined to keep sharecroppers in their place. This was their incentive to leave the south for the dream of better living conditions was a main reason for the great black migrations to the North. Primarily this was the reason for the decline in sharecropping and brought about the rise in Industrial work.

Works Cited

Blackmon, Douglas Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black People in America from the Civil War to World War II Doubleday. (2008). p. 152

“Reconstruction.” 2013. The History Channel website Sep 15 2013 <>.

Wright, Richard. The Man Who Was Almost a Man from EIGHT MEN. France: HarperCollins Publishing, 1946.…...

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