Owen-Zella Whitfield Foundation
One of Missouri's most significant yet neglected events of recent American labor history called
"The SharecropperStrike of 1939"
During the month of
January year 1939 in Southeast Missouri, more than one thousand sharecropper
families with their meager belongings appeared alongside two state
highways, These sharecroppers had left
the Missouri Bootheel Cotton plantations where they lived and worked to
stage a dramatic demonstration.
They were protesting a new farm policy, the Agricultural
Adjustment Act that had come from the New Deal Administration of President
Franklin Roosevelt. Plantation owners found a loophole in this
policy which allowed them to keep government money they owed the
sharecroppers – if they fired their current sharecroppers and hired new ones to
take their place.
The sharecroppers braved the harsh winter weather of January for
several days. This caught the attention of the national press and
the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. It caused such a stir that Rev and
Mrs. Whitfield were invited to the White House to discuss the situation with
Activist Fannie Cook organized a committee of citizens to send
relief to the protesters. Cook’s committee along with the Lincoln
University students donated money so that the sharecroppers, led by Owen
Whitfield could buy a parcel of land: 93 acres near Poplar Bluff,
Missouri. Several hundred both black and white sharecroppers moved
to the site, which came to be known as Cropperville.
The organizer of protest was an African Amercan Zella Whitfield felt a great love and
Minister, Reverend Owen H. Whitfield. responsibility not just for her own children
but also those of all the children at the
Reverend Owen H. Whitfield Cropperville Camp. She was instrumental
also known as into the development of the children who
"Cotton Patch Moses" learned at an early age how to help with
their siblings, work in the fields and to be
and to be part of a productive society.