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Vintage Photos Show Life in Mississippi Delta Plantations During the Great Depression by Marion Walcott

Marion Post Wolcott was a talented photographer, she worked for the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression and documented the poverty and deprivation in the most rural area of the United States. She confronted the reality of the Depression and the brutality of grinding poverty during her job as a school teacher. Wolcott was inspired by Trude Fleischmann’s work, he was a Viennese photographer. Wolcott showed Fleischmann some of her photographs and was told to Fleischmann and he was very inspired and suggested to pursue photography.

During the Great Depression Wolcott worked for Farm Security Administration and she visited many rural areas of the country to document the lives of people. In October 1939, Wolcott found herself on the Mississippi Delta, where she met with the people living and working on the cotton plantations. It was one of the racially segregated states in the United States. The bottomlands of the Mississippi Delta were still 90% undeveloped after the Civil War. Thousands of migrants, both black and white, entered the area for a chance at land ownership. They sold timber while clearing land to raise money for purchases.

During the reconstruction period, many freedmen became the owners of farms. After white Democrats regained control of the state legislature in the late 19th century, in 1890 they passed a disfranchising constitution, resulting in the exclusion of African Americans from political life until the 1960s. Most lost their lands due to disenfranchisement, segregation, financial crises, and an extended decline in cotton prices. By 1920 most were landless sharecroppers and tenant farmers. In the 1940s, some blacks acquired land under low-interest loans in the New Deal.

#1 Interior of school on Mileston Plantation. Mississippi Delta, November 1939

Interior of school on Mileston Plantation. Mississippi Delta, November 1939

School begins very late in the year and the attendance is poor until December because the children pick cotton.

#3 Rex Theatre for colored people. Leland, Mississippi Delta. November 1939

#4 Hopson Plantation, Clarksdale. Mississippi Delta, August 1940.

#6 Day laborers picking cotton, near Clarksdale, Mississippi. November 1939

#8 Day laborers brought in truck from nearby towns, waiting to be paid off for cotton picking and buy supplies inside plantation store on Friday night, Mississippi Delta. November 1939

#10 Day laborers picking cotton, near Clarksdale. Mississippi Delta, November 1939

#11 Facsimile of a letter written by President Roosevelt to a resident painted on the side of a building. Port Gibson, Mississippi, August 1940

#12 Jitterbugging in the juke joint, Saturday evening, outside Clarksdale, Mississippi. November 1939

#13 Going in the ‘colored’ entrance of a movie house on Saturday afternoon, Belzoni, Mississippi Delta, Mississippi. November 1939

#14 Itinerant salesman selling goods from his truck to workers in center of town on Saturday afternoon. Belzoni, Mississippi Delta. November 1939

#15 Fishing in a creek near cotton plantations outside Belzoni. Mississippi Delta, October 1939

#16 Backyard of a tenant’s home, Marcella Plantation, Mileston. Mississippi Delta, September 1939

#17 Billboard advertising fertilizer dusted over the cotton fields by aeroplanes. Mississippi Delta, October 1939

#18 Wagehand purchasing groceries after being paid off on Saturday in plantation store. Mileston Plantation. Mississippi Delta, November 1939

#19 Gambling with their cotton money in a juke joint outside of Clarksdale. Mississippi Delta, November 1939

#20 Photograph shows a 1934-1936 International C30 truck transporting people who might be farm workers.

#22 Playing dominoes or cards in front of drug store in center of town in Mississippi Delta, 1939.

#23 Project farmer with his cotton samples in the living room of his new home. Sunflower Plantations, Merigold. Mississippi Delta, November 1939

#24 Big sales go on after cotton picking season to get the money cotton pickers have made. Mississippi Delta, 1939.

#25 Farmers bring samples of cotton to sell in brokers’ offices. Clarksdale, Mississippi Delta, 1939.

#26 Saturday night juke joint outside of Clarksdale. Mississippi Delta, November 1939

#28 Day labor is used almost exclusively on Hopson plantation, displacing the old tenants on the place. Mississippi Delta, 1939.

Day labor is used almost exclusively on Hopson plantation, displacing the old tenants on the place. Mississippi Delta, 1939.

Cotton choppers are hired in nearby towns for seventy-five cents to one dollar a day and trucked to the plantation.

#29 King and Anderson Plantation. Clarksdale, Mississippi Delta, August 1940.

#31 Chitterlings, fish and sugarcane on street in Negro section, Clarksdale, Mississippi Delta. On a Saturday afternoon, November 1939.

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Written by Aung Budhh

Husband + Father + librarian + Poet + Traveler + Proud Buddhist. I love you with the breath, the smiles and the tears of all my life.

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