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Tenant Farming in Oklahoma


activism: the action of advocating for political and social change.

agribusiness: highly commercialized form of agriculture dominated by large corporations and high-tech practices, which often excludes and pushes out smaller farmers.

agriculture: the science and practice of farming, including the growth of crops and raising of livestock.

Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA): law passed in 1933 as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal, which paid farmers to reduce their production in the hopes of reducing supply and increasing prices. It played a large part in the end of tenancy, as it prompted widespread tenant evictions.

apolitical: not involved in politics.

aspirations: goals, intent towards.

camaraderie: a sense of community and shared goals.

cash crops: a crop specifically grown to be sold, such as cotton, wheat, or corn; cash crops are often grown in large amounts and as a farmer’s main or sole crop.

collateral: physical objects such as a home or livestock promised in case the borrower fails to pay back a loan.

collective: shared by a group of people. In farm business, can either refer to a resource such as a grain elevator that is partially owned by lots of farmers giving them all access, or to a situation where multiple farmers pool their crops to be sold together for a better price.

communal: similar to collective. Something a whole community can share.

conspiracy: illegal or destructive action planned in secret.

constituents: the people or groups a political party caters to.

cooperative: similar to collective, but more strictly business centered. A cooperate business is one that is owned and operated by its members, granting them all equal access to the services or profits provided.

credit system: loans and how they are administered. For example, a banker might give someone $100 with the condition that they pay back that $100 in two years, plus an extra $20 as interest. A different banker might ask for an additional $40, making it a high-interest loan and potentially a bad deal.

crop-lien system: a system in which farmers would promise merchants or store owners a certain portion of their crops in exchange for seed, machinery, groceries, and other necessities. If, at harvest time, they couldn’t pay back the crops they had promised, their debt rolled over.

crops: plants grown on a farm; in particular the final product that is harvested.

currency: money, especially physical money.

defaulted: when someone can’t pay back their loan.

destitute: extremely poor and in bad living conditions with little chance for significant improvement.

discrimination: unfair treatment or exclusion due to a person’s identity or background.

displacement: when a large group of people leave or are forced out of their homes, often without a clear destination.

disproportionately: out of proportion, at a higher rate than would be expected.

diverse: representing a wide variety of people or things.

doctrine of nonviolence: belief that groups or movements should never engage in violence.

draft: a policy enacted in wartime that requires people to go to war and fight, potentially against their will.

drought: a period marked by significantly little rainfall, which can lead to widespread plant die-off and other issues.

ecological: relating to the environment or the natural world.

exploitative: unfairly taking advantage of someone or something, often for financial gain.

external: coming from outside.

The Farmer-Labor Reconstruction League: a group formed in 1922 by people from many different backgrounds with the primary goal of getting Jack Walton elected as governor of Oklahoma. Walton’s impeachment, as well as differing goals and ideas between the groups different members, resulted in the league’s collapse.

The Farmers’ Alliance: an 1870s farmer advocacy movement that argued for free and unlimited silver, in addition to establishing cooperative business. Technically, it comprised three separate groups: one for the North, one for the South, and one for African American farmers due to discrimination by the Southern branch.

The Farmers’ Union: a specific group formed in 1902, which catered to the needs of all farmers through cooperative businesses and community building. It embraced tenants and farm owners alike and remains in operation today.

farmer unions: general term for unions formed by and for farmers. 

Farm Security Administration: agency established in 1937 as part of the New Deal that provided some farmers with loans, including some intended to help tenant farmers buy their land.

government regulation: when the government involves itself in commerce by giving business rules they have to follow.

grain elevator: storage building for grain. Necessary for farmers to sell their crop, but could be expensive with owners charging high rates for usage. Cooperative grain elevators—elevators owned by the farmers who used it—became a popular tool of farmer advocacy groups and unions.

The Grange: one of the first farmer advocacy groups in America, formed in 1867. In addition to establishing cooperative grain elevators, Grange advocates succeeded in getting a number of “Granger Laws” passed, which regulated railroad rates and increased the government’s ability to regulate commerce.

Great Depression: a period of great economic hardship that gripped the nation in the late 1920s, lasting until the late 1930s. Many people lost their jobs or couldn’t afford to support their family. It ended only with the implementation of New Deal aid policies and the start of World War II.

Green Corn Rebellion: a 1917 armed uprising organized by the Working Class Union in central Oklahoma to protest the World War I draft. Although it was quickly suppressed, it became national news and resulted in the collapse of the WCU, in addition to the Oklahoma Socialist Party.

hierarchy: a clear ranking of authority, with various levels and degrees of power.

high interest loans: loans where the borrower must pay back the initial amount, plus a high portion of the original amount as interest. For example, if someone took out a loan of $100 with 40 percent interest, they would have to pay back $140.

industrial: having to do with industry. Industrial labor tends to be urban and often involves factories or manufacturing.

inflation: when you can buy less with the same amount of money due to a changing economy.

inhabitants: people who live in one place or area.

interracial: including people of different races.

labor advocacy: activism concerning workers’ rights.

landlordism: a system where one person owns land (the landlord) and rents it out to others (the tenants).

landlords: landowners who rent a portion of their land to tenants.

lobbying: advocating for political change, usually by going straight to politicians or lawmakers.

malnutrition: lacking nutrition, which can lead to many health issues.

merchant: someone who sells things, often in a store.

migrants: people who move from one place to another.

modernization: the process of adapting to the modern world, driven by changing technology, cultural ideas, and economic trends. Largely prompted by the Industrial Revolution, modernization transformed the United States from a rural, agrarian nation to one that was increasingly urban and mechanized. However, some were left behind and others saw their way of life disappear completely, leading to social and poltitical angst.

New Deal: a group of programs introduced by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s the combat the Great Depression. Primarily focused on providing aid and improving the economy, many New Deal programs tried to help struggling farmers, with varying degrees of success.

obscurity: no longer relevant or active.

Oklahoma Cotton Growers Association: an organization established in 1922 that allowed cotton farmers to pool their cotton so that it could be sold for higher prices, with this higher profit being split amongst the members. It proved unpopular with tenants and landlords, but remained in operation for many years as a successful cooperative enterprise.

The Oklahoma Renters’ Union: a group that emerged in 1902, advocating for radical social and political reorganization. Faded away fairly quickly due to landlords refusing to rent to members of the organization, as well as the organizations refusal to admit Black or American American Indian tenants.

organized labor: when workers join together and advocate for themselves, forming one social or political force.

platform: the issues and beliefs that a political party advocates for.

plots: the land someone inhabits or farms.

political party: a political group formed by people with similar beliefs and interests to accomplish certain goals by getting like-minded people elected to political office.

Populism: a political movement that emerged in the 1890s advocating for power to be placed in the hands of the people. Very focused on the needs of farmers and the working class, and the support of these groups launched them onto the national political stage in the Election of 1896. The loss of their candidate cause the movement to crumble and the party to disappear.

prevalence: how common something is.

protest: to speak or act against the existing political or social structure.

radical: politically extreme.

railroad rates: fees charged by railroads to transport farmers’ goods.

recruitment: getting people to join your organization.

redistribution of land: a belief that land should be taken from landowners and split equally among all people.

rendered obsolete: when something is no longer necessary due to modernization or other factors.

savvy: intelligent, wise, especially in relation to business.

Socialist Party: a political party founded in the United States in 1902 that found moderate success amongst working class Americans before being suppressed at the start of World War I. It is based on socialism, a political ideology loosely advocating for community ownership of businesses and land.

soil depletion: when the soil loses nutrients and becomes less healthy due to overfarming.

Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union: a union popular during the Great Depression in the south and southwest that sought to improve conditions for tenant farmers and sharecroppers.

speculators: businessmen who would buy lots of land and sell it off for higher prices to poorer settlers. They played a large role in the development of the American West. 

stewardship: taking care of the land. Implies some sense of personal, if not financial, ownership.

subversive: undermining convention or authority.

tenants: people who live on land in exchange for a fee or a portion of their crop paid to the landowner.

theoretical: only in theory, not in real life. 

unions: groups formed by workers to create change in their workplaces or industries. Members pay dues that support social or political action.

unsustainable: not possible in the long term.

Working Class Union: a tenant-advocacy group founded in 1913, distinguished for its use of violence in achieving its goals. This strategy culminated in the Green Corn Rebellion of 1917 protesting the WWI draft. This unsuccessful uprising resulted in the group’s collapse.