ALEX Lesson Plan


Alabama Tenant Farmers and Sharecroppers, 1865 to Present

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  This lesson provided by:  
Author:Alabama Department of Archives and Hist
System: Informal Education Partner
School: Informal Education Partner
The event this resource created for:Alabama History Education Initiative
  General Lesson Information  
Lesson Plan ID: 33738


Alabama Tenant Farmers and Sharecroppers, 1865 to Present


This lesson explores the reasons for the development of the tenant farming and sharecropping system in the post-Civil War era. Using primary sources (pictures and labor contracts), the lesson presents some of the situations that caused the system to develop. It covers the lifestyle of the farmers and investigates the reasons for the decrease in the system of tenant farming and sharecropping after the Depression and World War II.

This lesson was created as a part of the Alabama History Education Initiative, funded by a generous grant from the Malone Family Foundation in 2009.

Author Information: Vicki Looser (Cohort 1: 2009-2010); Lanett High School; Lanett City Schools Lanett, AL

 Associated Standards and Objectives 
Content Standard(s):
Social Studies
SS2010 (2010)
Grade: 10
United States History I: Beginnings to the Industrial Revolution
16 ) Explain the transition of the United States from an agrarian society to an industrial nation prior to World War I. [A.1.a., A.1.b., A.1.c., A.1.d., A.1.e., A.1.h., A.1.i., A.1.k.]

•  Describing the impact of Manifest Destiny on the economic and technological development of the post-Civil War West, including mining, the cattle industry, and the transcontinental railroad
•  Identifying the changing role of the American farmer, including the establishment of the Granger movement and the Populist Party and agrarian rebellion over currency issues
•  Evaluating the Dawes Act for its effect on tribal identity, land ownership, and assimilation of American Indians between Reconstruction and World War I
•  Comparing population percentages, motives, and settlement patterns of immigrants from Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America, including the Chinese Exclusion Act regarding immigration quotas
Unpacked Content
Strand: Economics, Geography, History, Civics and Government
Course Title: United States History I: Beginnings to the Industrial Revolution
Evidence Of Student Attainment:
    Compare patterns of migration among groups of Americans and immigrants into America during this time period, focusing on the reasons for these movements of people, restrictions on these movements, and the results of the movements.
Teacher Vocabulary:
  • Manifest Destiny
  • migration
  • immigration
  • urban
  • rural
  • assimilation
Students know:
  • The reasons for and impact of Manifest Destiny Changes that occurred in rural American society during this time period, the reasons for these changes, and the results of them.
  • The impact of legislation and social pressures on specific groups, such as American Indians.
  • The ways various immigrant groups compare.
Students are able to:
  • Evaluate a historical time period in order to determine its causes and impact.
  • Compare social groups in order to determine the impact of political, social, and economic pressures on each.
  • Trace the movements, migration and immigration, of various groups on a map and describe the impact of these movements on the group and society.
Students understand that:
  • Changes that took place throughout American society in the years prior to World War I.

Alabama Alternate Achievement Standards
AAS Standard:
SS.AAS.10.16- Compare and contrast agricultural and industrial societies; recognize that the United States transitioned from an agricultural society to an industrial society prior to World War I.

Local/National Standards:

National Standards for History, 1996 Era 6: The Development of Industrial United States (1870-1900) p. 105 2C The student understands how agriculture, mining, and ranching were transformed.

National Council for the Social Studies, 1994 Standard VII: Production, Distribution, and Consumption – High School (p. 130) a. Explain how the scarcity of production resources (human, capital, technological, and natural) requires the development of economic systems to make decisions about how goods and services are to be produced and distributed.

Primary Learning Objective(s):

The student will be able to:

• List the reasons for the development of the tenant farming and sharecropping system;

• Describe the lifestyles of the tenant farmer and sharecropper;

• Discuss the reasons for the decline of the system of tenant farming and sharecropping;

• Analyze primary sources (pictures, labor contracts) and comprehend the role of primary sources in examining historical events.

Additional Learning Objective(s):

 Preparation Information 

Total Duration:

91 to 120 Minutes

Materials and Resources:

• Make a copy of the National Archives Photo Analysis Worksheet to guide the teacher in the discussion of the photographs in the engagement activity.

• Make copies of the Farmer Primary Source Document Analysis Sheet (attached) for each student or group.

• Download copies of the following primary source documents from the Alabama Department of Archives and History Web site:

Contract for Fred

Contract for John Henry and his aunt, Elizabeth

Contract for J. Miller

Contract for six African Americans

Sharecropping contract between Mary P. Walls and J. C. Jones

Receipt for payment received by John Edmondson

Receipt for payment received by G. N. Ward

Receipt for payment received by E. Donoho

Receipt for payment received by A. E. Henry

Receipt for payment received W. C. H. Rosser

• Alabama Tenant Farmers PowerPoint- attached 

• Sharecropper/Tenant Farmer Letter Assignment and Rubric (attached)

Technology Resources Needed:

• LCD projector

• Screen or white surface for viewing.


• The teacher should become familiar with the material by reading the article on sharecropping located at

• Students should be familiar with the Congressional plan for Reconstruction and the role of the Freedmen’s Bureau during Reconstruction.


Engagement/Motivation Activity:


Show the first two pictures on the Alabama Tenant Farmers PowerPoint. Discuss each picture, asking questions such as:

• What do you see in the picture?

• Who are the people in the picture?

• What are they doing?

• Where do you think they are?

• What time period do you think this picture represents?


After discussing the pictures, use the next slide to guide your comparison of the two pictures. Both photos are taken about 1890. Students may observe larger numbers of people in the first photo with multiple ages of people in both photos. The main goal of this activity is for students to decide how the lives of the freedmen had or had not changed.

Step 1 Pass out primary documents (linked above) to the students. This may be a paired, small-group, individual, or class activity. Each student or group should get a copy of one labor contract, the contract for the six African Americans, and one receipt for the teachers pay. The students should use the Farmer Primary Source Document Analysis Sheet to answer questions based on the information in the documents.

Step 2 Once the students have evaluated their documents, the class should share the information and discuss the plight of the tenant farmers and sharecroppers in Alabama.

Step 3 Show the remainder of the PowerPoint presentation. The students should take notes on the reasons for the development of the system, problems with the system, and reasons for the decline of the system.


Step 4 Assuming the role of a sharecropper or tenant farmer in the post-Civil War era, the students will write a letter to a relative describing their week including details about work, food, hardships, sickness, housing, and pay.

**Some files will display in a new window. Others will prompt you to download.

Assessment Strategies

• The students’ letters should be assessed using the attached rubric


• Students could evaluate additional photographs of the period.

• Students could write a letter to the Governor of Alabama about the plight of the tenant farmers and sharecroppers.

• Students could put together a photo essay of pictures relating the life of the tenant farmers and sharecroppers using Photo Story, a free program which can be downloaded at


Provide the students with a copy of the PowerPoint to assist them in taking notes.

• Prepare a check-off list of possible answers for the main parts of the PowerPoint notes.

• Transcribe the primary documents (contracts and receipts) to make them more readable for the students.

View the Special Education resources for instructional guidance in providing modifications and adaptations for students with significant cognitive disabilities who qualify for the Alabama Alternate Assessment.