Rural Arkansas Family (about 1940)


Figure 1.--This photo shows an African-American family in Wilson, Mississippi Co., Arkansas, about 1940. They had the photo taken in front of their home and with their car. The car helps date the photograph, but of course it does not look like a new car, but it does not look real old either. We do not know if they owned the farm or were share cropers. The car rather suggests that they owned the farm. The children are barefoot. One boy wears overalls. The girls wear simple frocks.

This photo shows an African-American family in Wilson, Mississippi Co., Arkansas, about 1940. They had the photo taken in front of their home and with their car. The car helps date the photograph, but of course it does not look like a new car, but it does not look real old either. We do not know if they owned the farm or were share cropers. The car rather suggests that they owned the farm. The children are barefoot. One boy wears overalls. The girls wear simple frocks. A Southern reader writes, "The family in the 1940 Arkansas photo would be well to do for their times. The car looks to be from about 1936-40, and the Depression was not yet over. If the car and house don't belong to the family, it seems unusual that they would photographed in front of them, doesn't it? I think it may their way of saying, 'We're doing all right.'" Well, HBC didn't mean to suggest that the family didn't own the car. They almost certainly did. And like other American families, they were very proud of it and as our reader suggests were making a statement. Actually this image is a liitle confusing and would have mistified Europeans at the time. In Europe only the very affluent could afford cars. Even the middle class generally did not have cars unless they were doing very well. Yet some of the other indicators suggest as the clothes and bare feet suggest poverty. Their home is another matter. While it might look like a shack to modern Americans, many Americans in the 1930s would have been glad to have a home like that. And having lived in the South during the 1950s, I remember as a boy seeing a lot of rural homes that were a lot worse than the home here which seems fairly well built and cared for. The ownership of the farm is another matter. Many poor rural people, both black and white, did not own the farms they worked, but were share croppers. They worked farms owned by others for a share of the crop. The car here suggests that this family, despite the clothing, were doing alright and probably owned their farm. Despite the Jum Crow laws and terrible racist oppression, there were many black landowners in the South. Much of it was acquired during Reconstruction which followed the Civil War and Emancipation. Landownership is an important indicator of financial success. There are studies which show that Afro-American land ownership today is lower than it was at the turn-of-the 20th century. This is a topic that we do not yet fully understand. There are several factors involved here. The vicious racisn of the early 20th century is surely a factor. Another factor is the Great Migration which transformed Afro-Americans from a rural Southern population to a more widely dustributed urban population. We welcome any suggestions as to atthritative studies on Afro-American land ownership.








HBC





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Created: 10:21 PM 3/15/2009
Last updated: 12:06 AM 3/18/2009