Interview with Oscar Fendler
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QUESTION 12
INTERVIEWER:

Tell me what kind of people sharecroppers were, black and white?

OSCAR FENDLER:

When you say, when, when I think about, try to analyze what kind of people they are, I have to go back and think about the poor whites in England back in the days when Charles Dickens wrote his books about them, you know, and some of the other English writers. Particularly the ones, you know, that, in England, they put him in jail if they couldn't pay their debts. There was no problem at all. Just stick them in the jail. I don't know what they did in jail, just sat there. And so a great number of them came over to this country in 1700s in Georgia, the debtors prison.

INTERVIEWER:

Can, can you keep me in the 1930s?

OSCAR FENDLER:

Alright. So these people would drift into Arkansas and they didn't have anything and nobody cared about them. And so they'd get a job at Wilson or any other plantation, these folks would, and they'd just hang on and stay until maybe they got tired and they'd move onto other places.

[audio only]
OSCAR FENDLER:

A lot of the landlords would intentionally, like I've told the story about moving them off forcibly—

INTERVIEWER:

We're out.

[cut][slate][change to camera roll 315:90] [sound roll 315:50]
INTERVIEWER:

OK.

OSCAR FENDLER:

The, the sharecropper and his family just barely existed. It was—and if you ever talked with any of them, it was very difficult to carry on a conversation with them, because they, they hadn't any experience except hard work. They didn't know what was going on in the world. So, where he got his knowledge in the 1933s, '34s, in those days, it was in, somebody told him he was going to have a meeting of workers at so and so church or some sort of public building. So he'd go there and he was very undemonstrative. He'd sit in the back of the room, trying to make himself so little that nobody could see him, you know. He didn't want to create any attention of himself. And they pretty well sat together. And that was true of the blacks and the whites. And it went further that they even, strangely enough they would segregate themselves, sharecroppers, the black sharecroppers at one side and the white sharecroppers over there with the others. And then, then you had the tenants and the, the distinction between the tenant, if you'd look at him, the tenant had a little bit better clothing that he wore. His wives had better clothing. His children were better. You could see they were better fed. They looked more healthy and everything. They had better clothing. And, and, I'd say that most of the people that were tenants, they'd, they'd had maybe three or four years in public school, you know, they gone maybe that far. They knew how to read, knew how to write. Remember in '33 that we didn't have any television and very few people even had a radio. It was expensive. Sharecroppers didn't have any radios. And some of the tenants maybe had radios that they listened to. They didn't, I don't think they did a lot of listening. Mostly for amusement, listen to music or Jack Benny or, you know, or Fred Allen or something like that. They, as far as they have any news programs that they listened to, the answer would be no, they're weren't interested. And of course they got interested when, when Mitchell and his Southern Tenant Union crowd came down here. Anything that would make them more money. Give them some more they can buy food for and live better. They were interested in that.