Oh Freedom After While

One wintry morning in January 1939, residents of southeastern Missouri awoke to a startling sight. More than 1,000 sharecroppers - mostly African American but whites too - had camped out alongside two state highways with their families and a few meager belongings. They were taking a stand - against the planters, the federal government, and the desperate conditions of their lives.

Their tale, told by interweaving recollections by former sharecroppers, their children and scholars with vivid archival footage and striking Farm Security Administration photographs, encapsulates the saga of rural African American life since Emancipation: how Black farmers' back-breaking efforts to become self-sufficient were continually undermined by patterns of land-ownership, swindling planters and misguided government policy; how a debt cycle induced by sharecropping - explained here more clearly than in any other film - condemned them to wretched poverty; and how attempts by sharecroppers to organize and improve their lot were met with often-bloody white opposition.

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