SOUTHERN TENANT FARMERS UNION

February 15, 2021

 

A widely read book (and watched film) about racism in the American Deep South during the Jim Crow decades--To Kill a Mockingbird--has helped to persuade many people that back then (and now) the only white people who stand up against racial discrimination are well-educated professional upper middle class types (like the lawyer, Atticus Finch, in the book), while lower class working class whites are abject racists.

This view of white working class people as the veritable source of racism is profoundly wrong.

One of the historical facts that refutes this "poor whites are the source of racism" view is the existence in the 1930s in the Deep South of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union. The STFU  was a union of both black and white very poor tenant farmers that grew large enough to wage big strikes against the actual source of racism--the big landowners. "By 1937 it had 31,000 members. In 1935, it staged a strike of 5,000 cotton pickers and won wage increases." The black and white members of the STFU were attacked by the racist upper class which used the racist Jim Crow laws (which made it illegal for blacks and whites to be in the same union) to outlaw the STFU and "legitimize" police and vigilante (KKK) violence against it.

The historical fact about racism in the Deep South is that poor whites together with poor blacks were the primary force in OPPOSING racism! Sure, there were some anti-racist upper middle class folks, but the notion that it was ONLY such upper middle class folks who opposed racism is false.

Links to some articles about the STFU are provided below.

HOW COME YOU PROBABLY NEVER HEARD OF THE STFU?

Millions of people have read To Kill a Mockingbird or seen the movie, but hardly any of them know about the STFU? How come? The book, TKaM, has been made a part of the curriculum in countless public and private schools. Some city governments have promoted the reading of it as part of campaigns to promote using the library. Hollywood made a big film of the same title and story. In contrast, virtually nobody knows about the actual historical FACT of the integrated STFU in the Deep South in the same time period. There's no widely read book, neither fiction nor non-fiction, about it that has been promoted like TKaM has. The STFU story could have been the basis for a wonderful blockbuster film like the kind that Steven Spielberg makes, but no such film was produced by Hollywood. Why not?

Here's why.

The ruling class does all it can to censor the Big Truth about race, which is that racial discrimination against non-whites not only harms non-whites but ALSO HARMS working class whites, as you can read about in "How the Jim Crow Laws Harmed the Poor Whites in the South"  and in the articles to which it, in turn, links. This Big Truth was articulated by the Labor Movement with its wonderful slogan that (among working class people) "An Injury to One is an Injury to All." This Big Truth is the basis for unity of ALL working class people against racial discrimination. Without an understanding of this Big Truth, there cannot be a movement large enough and strong enough, i.e., with sufficient solidarity between whites and non-whites, to defeat the racial discrimination carried out by the ruling class.

To ensure that the Big Truth is kept as secret as possible, the ruling class promotes the Big Lie that working class whites BENEFIT from racial discrimination against non-whites (i.e., that they enjoy a "white privilege"). This Big Lie says that Jim Crow HELPED the poor whites of the South. This Big Lie says that, therefore, non-white people should view working class whites as their enemy, as people who benefit from the racial discrimination against non-whites. This Big Lie furthermore says that working class whites should view those who oppose racial discrimination as their enemy because they're trying to take away the benefits whites get from racial discrimination, in other words that "anti-racism is just code for anti-white."  This Big Lie, in other words, is all about Divide-and-rule!

Books like To Kill a Mockingbird only reinforce the Big Lie. Facts like the existence of the STFU undermine the Big Lie. And THAT is why you probably have read the book but didn't know about the STFU.

Read About the STFU in these linked articles:

https://www.nytimes.com/1984/03/14/us/little-known-tenant-farmers-union-will-recall-its-bold-past-at-reunion.html

https://www.ncpedia.org/southern-tenant-farmers-union

https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=SO016

https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/southern-tenant-farmers-union/

https://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/entries/southern-tenant-farmers-union-35/

https://www.zinnedproject.org/materials/southern-tenant-farmers-union/

Also, there are several books about the STFU. Here's the Amazon listing of them.

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