Revolt among the Sharecroppers

  • Author(s): Kester, Howard
  • Series:
  • Imprint: Univ Tennessee Press
  • Publication Date: 1997-03-12
  • Status: Active
  • Available in Paper: Price $22.95 | Buy Now

This paperback facsimile edition restores to print Howard Kester’s Revolt among the Sharecroppers, a lost classic of southern radicalism. First published in 1936, Kester’s brief, stirring book provides a dramatic eyewitness account of the origins of the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union (STFU), the Arkansas Delta sharecroppers’ organization whose cause was championed by religious radicals and socialists during the 1930s. Accompanying Kester’s original text is a substantial new introductory essay by historian Alex Lichtenstein.
This edition will introduce general readers, scholars, and students to a social movement with significant historical implications. In its commitment to interracialism, the STFU challenged long-standing southern traditions. In its hostility to the agricultural recovery programs of the 1930s (which tended to benefit landowners at the expense of tenant farmers), the union offered an early critique of New Deal liberalism. And, finally, in its insistence that the dispossessed could assume control of their own destiny, the STFU foreshadowed the progressive social movements of the 1960s. Thus, Revolt among the Sharecroppers is an important primary document that makes a signal contribution to our understanding of labor history, African American history, and the history of Depression-era America.

Kester’s text recounts the early history of the STFU and its criticisms of the New Deal in compelling, accessible prose. Lichtenstein’s introduction offers biographical background on Kester, explores the religious and socialist beliefs that led him to work with the STFU, describes the racial and social climate that shaped the union’s emergence, places the union’s rise and decline within the context of 1930s politics, and outlines the legacy of this remarkable organization.

Howard Kester (1904–1977), a committed socialist and devout Christian, grew up in Virginia and West Virginia, studied at Vanderbilt University’s divinity school, and spent his life as a social activist. In addition to his association with the STFU, he worked with the YMCA, Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Socialist Party, the NAACP, the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen, and other organizations.

Alex Lichtenstein, assistant professor of history at Florida International University, is the author of Twice the Work of Free Labor: The Political Economy of Convict Labor in the New South.