Like many freedmen in rural Georgia, my great-great-grandfather, Ike Pinkard, worked as a sharecropper after slavery ended. The setup was simple: in exchange for housing, sharecroppers worked the land and gave their employers a portion of the crops they picked. But in reality, the structure was not far removed from the slavery into which my great-great-grandfather was born. Sharecroppers were often bound by unfair contracts designed to keep them indebted to their employers.
According to an 1890 tax list, Ike Pinkard, is a freedman living in Chattahoochee County, Ga . He is employed by W.M. Smith, who lists 17 other freedmen as his employees. Ike and his wife, Narsis have three sons, all under the age of 10. The worth of his personal belongings: $10.
Sharecropping sustained the maternal side of my family for three generations, even as the Pinkards migrated from Chattahoochee County to neighboring Stewart County, where my mom grew up.
“They called it sharecropping, but it wasn’t a big share,” my mother told me.
My mother’s childhood home in Omaha, Ga., was a sharecropper’s home. The land once belonged to Ansel Rood, a Northern expatriate. The home was built on a tucked away nook of land nestled against the Chattahoochee River that still bears his name– Rood Creek.
My mom recalled Ansel Rood’s grandson spending summers there with his family. He, his wife and their two sons– including one named Opie– would travel from Atlanta and vacation in Stewart County. The Rood children spent a lot of time with my mom and her siblings, my mom said, sometimes staying overnight while their parents were out on the town.
The Roods eventually sold the land and it ended up with St. Regis, a paper company. The company planted pine trees, which in turn were used for papermaking. As the company’s presence expanded in Omaha, farming dried up and people moved out. They flocked wherever an opportunity presented itself– mostly to large northern cities like Cleveland, Philadelphia and New York. The Pinkards, however, remained in Rood Creek.
“Nobody was farming anymore,” my mom remembered. “But they didn’t put us out (of our house). They let us stay. . . It wasn’t the best house, but we stayed there.”
The dreary trifecta of being black and poor in the rural South dared to cast a long shadow over the Pinkards. But my grandmother, Lula Pinkard (nee Bryant, 1925-1983) was determined to end the cycle of poverty that had trapped the family for three generations. My grandfather, Willie Pinkard (1915-1985), would be the last sharecropper in my family.