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Jim Crow laws had successfully kept African-Americans "in their place" in the years immediately following the Civil War, and were still actively enforced through an entrenched system of vigilante justice in the Southern states. Share-cropping was the primary source of income, if you could call it that, for many Southern blacks during this time. Share-cropping usually involved a white landowner, and the sharecropping family would be assigned a plot of land to farm/live on. After the harvest, a portion of the profit would go to the white landowner, and the sharecropper could keep the rest. How well a sharecropper could do under this system was arbitrary and was linked closely to how fair--or unfair--the landowner was. Since most blacks couldn't read and write, it was very easy to cheat them; the storeowner could pad their bill at the mercantile where they bought farming supplies, the landowner could arbitrarily raise the percentage collected from sharecropping families, and/or use the illiteracy to "doctor" the books and cheat the family out of money. It was a system that kept most blacks locked into poverty because they had nowhere else to go. Blacks that did make their way north into the cities had it a little better, as factory jobs were available and wages, compared to those paid in the South, were fairly favorable. More importantly, perhaps, was the lack of vigilante justice and threat of possible lynching present always in the South and making it very dangerous to make any sort of misstep involving a white if you were a black male.
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