The Lady Was a Sharecropper: Myrtle Lawrence and the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union

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The Lady Was a Sharecropper: Myrtle Lawrence and the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union

by Elizabeth Anne Payne, LouiseBoyle
Southern Cultures, Vol. 4, No. 2: Summer 1998

"How one woman transcended regional and gender stereotypes in her pursuit of justice for tenant farmers, black and white."

From his deathbed, Alabama native Aubrey Williams pleaded for a more textured understanding of the┬áSouth’s poor whites. Lamenting that the poor white southerner “has been despised and insulted over and over, and he has been cheated and he has been gulled and he has been exploited,” Williams hoped to share his hard-earned wisdom that the struggle of the African American was entwined intrinsically with the fate of the southern poor white. As a New Deal administrator, the director of the National Youth Administration, and an activist in numerous reform organizations, Williams had lived his life serving the southern poor of both races. The “cause of the Negro cannot be won,” he insisted. “The Soudi cannot be saved until he [the poor white] too is saved.” After a lifetime of commitment and reflection, Williams despaired that too often the South’s literary and academic liberals, and many of its political and social reformers, rejected poor white southerners as a way of distancing themselves from the region’s racial practices. Accordingly, they sought to elevate their own standing in the eyes of other liberals, especially northern supporters, by applauding the virtue, cleverness, and courage of blacks while at the same time mocking or ridiculing the social habits of impoverished whites.