Monthly archives: February, 2016


JONESBORO — As part of the celebration of February’s Black History Month and March’s Women’s History Month, the Southern Tenant Farmers Museum (STFU) is hosting a lecture on Wednesday, Feb. 24, at 2 p.m. in the Mockingbird Room at the Carl R. Reng Student Union on the Arkansas State University campus.

Dr. Jarod Roll, associate professor of history at the University of Mississippi, will speak on the 1939 Missouri Bootheel demonstration focusing on the Southern Tenant Farmers Union’s involvement and the role women played in the demonstration. The title of his lecture is “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks: The STFU and the 1939 Roadside Demonstration in Southeast Missouri.”

The Southern Tenant Farmers Union was formed 81 years ago at Tyronza, Ark., to help sharecroppers and tenant farmers who found themselves homeless because of the Great Depression and was intensified by the New Deal’s Agriculture Adjustment Act. The act, which was created to help these farm laborers, contained loopholes that landowners used to help lift themselves out of the Depression while sending many sharecroppers to live on the side of the road.   The union was made up of black and white members—something unheard of in 1934. It also let women be in leadership positions, another unusual event of the era.

It was those evicted sharecroppers and tenant farmers who caught the attention of Rev. Owen Whitfield, a pastor of a local church in Charleston, Mo. Rev. Whitfield was a sharecropper himself and understood what these families were enduring during the hard winter of 1939. Serving as the vice president of the local STFU, Whitfield suggested that the homeless families move their tents out of the woods to the side of the road to bring attention to the plight of the farmers during one of the worst times in American history. Little did he realize at the time he would soon have more than 100 miles of evicted farmers living on the highways of Missouri.   More than 1,000 men, women and children took part in what is now known as the Missouri Bootheel demonstration.

Roll is a historian of modern America specializing in labor and working-class history, history of religion and history of the South. He is the author of Spirit of Rebellion: Labor and Religion in the New Cotton South (Illinois, 2010), which won the C. L. R. James Award, the Herbert Gutman Prize and the Missouri History Book Award.

Roll is the co-author with Erik S. Gellman of The Gospel of the Working Class: Labor’s Southern Prophets in New Deal America (Illinois, 2011), which won the H. L. Mitchell Award from the Southern Historical Association. He also published research in the Journal of Southern History, Religion and American Culture, Labor History, Southern Spaces, Radical History Review, and, most recently, Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas. During 2012-13, Roll was a research fellow at the Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies at Princeton University.

He joined the University of Mississippi in 2014 after teaching for seven years at the University of Sussex in Brighton, England. Roll earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Missouri Southern State University, and his Master of Science and doctoral degrees from Northwestern University.

This event is sponsored by the Southern Tenant Farmers Museum, an Arkansas State University Heritage Site, located at 117 S. Main Street, Tyronza. For further information, contact Linda Hinton, director, at (870) 487-2909 or email at

First Published Here

Meet the Author of “Sharecropper’s Troubadour” set for Feb. 5

The Southern Tenant Farmers Museum will be hosting a “Meet the Author” for the book “Sharecropper’s Troubadour” by Dr. Michael Honey as part of the museum’s Black History Month events. The event will be held at 4 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 5, at the museum. Dr. Honey, of the University of Washington Tacoma, will be present to read from his book, answer questions, and perform John Handcox songs. The event is free and open to the public.

The book tells the story of folk singer and labor organizer John Handcox. Born in Brinkley, Ark., in 1904, Handcox was a Great Depression era tenant farmer. He joined the Southern Tenant Farmers Union in Tyronza in 1935, a year after the union was founded, and wrote songs and poetry to rally union members.

He became known as the sharecropper’s troubadour. His use of African-American song traditions helped organize poor sharecroppers, both black and white, in what was possibly the most successful agricultural union of the time. His songs became popular folk songs in their own right and continue to be sung today after being promoted by folk artists like Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and Joe Glazer. In 1985, Seeger introduced Dr. Honey to Handcox at a labor arts forum, and the Smithsonian Institution asked Honey to interview Handcox about his life and music, which eventually led to the book.

The Southern Tenant Farmers Museum is an Arkansas State University Heritage Site located at 117 S. Main Street in Tyronza. For further information, contact Director Linda Hinton at 870-487-2909 or email at

First Published Here.