Black Populism for kids: The History of Black Populism
Following the Civil War 1861-1865, the majority of the black population (90%) were engaged in agricultural labor. Despite obtaining freedom from slavery, the lives of many African Americans did not improve. Racial discrimination and the system of segregation was rife. Living and working conditions were appalling. The history of Black Populism began when African American farmers formed the Colored Farmers' National Alliance and Cooperative Union in 1886. Other farming organizations also emerged such as the Cooperative Workers of America and the Colored Agricultural Wheels. The Colored Farmers Alliance, whilst being segregated from the white Southern and Northern Farming Alliances, was however integrated in the farmer-led pressure groups which came to be known as the Populist movement. Between 1886 and 1898 Black farmers, sharecroppers and the laborers on the farms organized their communities to fight against the infamous Jim Crow laws. The Jim Crow Laws were statutes enacted by Southern states in the 1880s that legalized segregation between African Americans and whites. Black Populism was fiercely resisted by the white plantations owners and other wealthy farmers who, through the political power of the Democratic Party, maintained tight control in the South.
Black Populism for kids: The Granger Movement
The ideals of Populism were shared by both black and white farmers. There was an affinity between black and white farmers based on common grievances. Black and white farmers in the south shared a common goal to fight injustice and oppression suffered by all of the small farmers of the United States. The farmers in the south followed the example of the northern farmers who had established the Granger Movement whose goals were to promote the social needs of farmers by reducing isolation, addressing the economic needs of farmers and advancing new methods of agriculture. The Granger movement then began to fight against exploitation by merchants, the grain elevator operators and the railroads. The farmers in the south went on to fight the injustice and oppression suffered in the cotton farming industry.
Black Populism for kids: Similarities between Black and White Farmers in the South
The livelihoods of the southern farmers were based on the cotton crop. The similarities between poor white farmers and African American farmers were:
Poverty, debt and oppression
Lack of education and high levels of illiteracy
Poor living conditions that had few comforts and only just met basic requirements
The enforced, strict labor conditions of the Sharecropping system
They were forced to pay the same high prices for rent and farm supplies
They were both equally burdened with heavy taxes
Black Populism for kids: Differences between Black and White Farmers in the South
The Black and poor white farmers in the South shared common problems but attempts to unite in a common cause failed because of basic differences between the two groups:
Black Populism for kids: Racial Discrimination
In addition to the shared problems the African American farmers also had suffered from the injustices afforded to them because of their race and the color of their skin:
Immediately following the Civil War and the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, the Black Codes were passed. The Black codes were a series of laws passed by southern states were passed to restrict the ex-slaves new found freedom
Black Segregation and racial discrimination prevented freedmen from buying land
White Supremacists groups terrorized the Black population
In 1880 the plight of African American farmers were increased when the Jim Crow Laws were passed in the South legalizing segregation
Black Populism for kids: The Rise of Populism in America
The rise of Populism during the late 1800's incorporated a political strategy that strongly appealed to the interests of ordinary, working class people - black and white. Populism supported the rights of the common working people in their struggle against Big Business and Corporations that were owned by the ruthless and powerful Robber Barons. Populism in America sparked a movement to increase the political power of farmers and laborers and to work for legislation in their interest against the financial magnates, the railroad owners and the Democratic party in the South who supported their interests and promoted racial discrimination. Black Populism was largely supported by the American African farmers in the South who also added the fight against black segregation and racial discrimination to their political agenda.
The Goals of Black Populism
The following table provides fast facts and a brief overview about the Goals of Black Populism.
Goals of Black Populism
|Goals of Black Populism||To abolish segregation and racial discrimination|
|Goals of Black Populism||Publishing newspapers such as the 'National Alliance'|
|Goals of Black Populism||Raise funds for sick and disabled members and to establish schools|
|Goals of Black Populism||Protest against lynching and other violent activities of White Supremacists|
|Goals of Black Populism||Protesting against the system Convict Leasing that put freed slaves back into forced labor on the plantations|
|Goals of Black Populism||Establishing agricultural trusts and cooperatives|
|Goals of Black Populism||To Protest, Demonstrate and organize strikes |
|Goals of Black Populism||Promoting political and economic reforms|
Goals of Black Populism
Black Populism: The Colored Farmers' National Alliance and Cooperative Union
White farmers formed various organizations across the United States and in 1886 Black farmers formed the Colored Farmers' National Alliance and Cooperative Union to assist the economic plight of Black farmers. Its founders included the American Africans J.J. Shuffer who was elected as its president and H.J. Spencer who was the Secretary of the association. Its goal was "...to elevate the colored people of the United States..." and strongly supported Black Populism. The Colored Farmers' National Alliance and Cooperative Union cooperated with, but remained separate from, the white-run farmer groups.
Black Populism for kids: The Farmers Alliance
The Black and White Farmers soon realized that independent political action was necessary to achieve their economic ends. They also realized that they needed to unite and the Farmers Alliance was established. The Farmers Alliance formed a coalition of the major farming groups, including the Colored Farmers' National Alliance and Cooperative Union, and began to operate large cooperatives. The farmers became politically ambitious and, pushing for political and economic reforms, the Populist Party was established.
Black Populism: The Populist Party aka the People's Party
The Southern cotton farmers and the Northern wheat farmers established the Populist Party in 1891. The Populist Party promoted collective economic action by farmers and nominated candidates to run for Congress and the state legislature. The Populist Party platform that was commonly known as the Omaha Platform. The goal of the Populist Party, or People's Party was:
"...to restore the government of the Republic to the hands of the plain people, with which class it originated"
Henry S. Doyle (1867–1913) became a prominent African American Populist who campaigned energetically for Equal Rights. Henry S. Doyle narrowly escaped being lynched by a white mob for his political beliefs.
Black Populism: The Cotton Pickers Strike of 1891
The Colored Alliance called a general strike of black cotton pickers in 1891 to demand a wage increase from 50 cents to $1 per hundred pounds of cotton but lacked the resources to gain wide support. The Cotton Pickers Strike of 1891 was crushed by mobs of white vigilantes and posses that resulted in the death of fifteen strikers, including several who were lynched. Other strikers were thrown into jail. The violent response to the strike action prevented similar future protests.
Black Populism is Destroyed
In 1896 the Populist Party made a decision to combine with the Democratic Party and the presidential candidacy of William Jennings Bryan. Important members of the Colored Farmers Alliance, vigorously objected to this action but their views were overridden. The Populist Party lost its political independence and Black Populism was destroyed.
Black Populism for kids: The Call for Reform
The appalling living and working conditions of black farmers led to the creation of the Progressive Movement which gave rise to the many social and political Progressive Reforms. The Progressive Movement evolves from a variety of different ideas and activities of reformist pressure groups adhering to the belief that the government should take a more active role in solving the problems of society, restoring order and protecting the welfare of Americans. Progressive activists fight against discrimination and inequality on the grounds of race, religion and ethnic background. Industrialization in America led to the Great Migration of black farmers from the rural farming areas to new opportunities in the urban cities. The number of black people employed in the farming industry dropped form 90% to just 50% in less than fifty years. The early 1900's saw the advocates of Black Populism become activists in the Civil Rights Movement and the reformists in the Progressive movements such as the Niagara Movement and the founding of the NAACP.