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In The Shields-Ethridge Farm: The End of a Way of Life, students learned about an historic farm and its residents. Use the following activities to build on their knowledge of farm life, the history of agriculture, and historic farms.

Activity 1: The Slow Revolution
Ira Ethridge transformed a cotton dependent farm into a complex of supplementary businesses, but a combination of factors (increasing mechanization, weevil infestation, drought, depression, and fire) worked against him. By the late 1940s, the Ethridge gin could no longer keep pace, and today only the structures and the terraced fields remind us of a time when cotton was King. Ask students to write as if they were Ira Ethridge, using two "diary" topics: "My Victories" and "My Regrets."

After students complete their assignment, ask for volunteers to read their "diaries" to the class. Then, hold a class discussion about how much similarity and difference there was among their lists.

Activity 2: Hanging by a Thread
Cotton was a difficult crop to harvest and to clean, best done with the most refined of instruments: the human hand. After studying the rhythm of a sharecropper’s year in Reading 1, ask students to imagine living in 1920 on the Shields-Ethridge Farm. Then select one of the following activities:

  1. Write a story about picking cotton and what a day might be like when everyone was in the fields
  2. Draw a chart showing the process of cotton farming, from preparing the field to getting the raw cotton to market.
  3. Using cotton bolls, pick enough seed to fill a shoe. (Cotton bolls may be ordered from www.agclassroom.org/ut)

Activity 3: The Rebuke of History
A group of Southern writers, called the Agrarians, thought the “culture of the soil” to be the “best and most sensitive of vocations” (from the introduction to I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition, 1930). They opposed Northern industrialism and called for return to a small-scale economy in rural America. Robert Penn Warren (1956) said that urban workers were “reduced to meaninglessness, with no sense of responsibility, no sense of past and place.” Have students read I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition and opposing views by writers such as H.L. Menken. Have students hold a debate on two topics that continue to intrigue historians, drawing on these readings, as well as on this lesson’s information on the life of sharecroppers on the Shields-Ethridge Farm:

  1. Was the closing of the sharecroppers’ village inevitable?

  2. Was the closing of the sharecroppers’ village for the best?

Activity 4: Sharecroppers: Farmers without Land
The abolition of slavery left owners without laborers and laborers without land. Sharecropping emerged as a way for large farms to continue to exist, while also providing a source of employment and residence for freed African-Americans. Some see sharecropping as an economic bridge. Other scholars view sharecropping as exploitative, reflecting the absolute power of the landowner. Based upon the description of papers found within “Mr. Ira’s” safe, ask students to construct questions they would use to guide research into the fairness or exploitation of the sharecropping system generally and also as it was practiced on the Shields-Ethridge Farm. After discussing and refining these questions, ask students to conduct research on sharecropping in the South and write a report placing sharecropping at Shields-Ethridge Farm within the larger context. Facilitate a class discussion about their findings.

Activity 5: Our Agrarian Past
Georgia is not the only state whose past was dominated by agriculture. Today fewer and fewer people farm, and a past once familiar is now uncommon. Hand tools and traction animal use are largely unknown to those born after World War II. Have students do one or more of the following:

  1. Form small groups within the class. Assign each group an area within their community to research what was once farmland. Using town maps from the 1900s (or the most-recent period prior to 1900 when a portion of the area was farmed), show the change between then and now. Ask students to compile information with questions such as: How much land was under cultivation? What was grown? Who farmed the land? Where did they live? How did they market their crops? What has replaced agriculture as the community’s main economy? Have each group create an exhibit to display their findings. Arrange to show the exhibits in the school auditorium and/or the local historical society.

  2. If possible, help students identify and interview people who remember when the area was farmed.  Have students compare the interviews with evidence from local records. Then, have them discuss what has been gained from the changes of the last century and what has been lost. Have students record and transcribe the interviews and offer them to the local historical society or library.

  3. If there are farms in your area, have students work in groups to select one and research its history. Ask students to find out whether the farm is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and , if not, to determine whether or not they think it would qualify for listing. Students can search a database of National Register properties and learn the criteria for listing at www.nps.gov/history/nr. They can also contact their State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) for this information. Contact information for SHPOs nationwide is available at www.ncshpo.org. If the students identify a farm that they think meets National Register criteria but has not been listed, have them write a letter to their SHPO making the case and urging that a nomination be prepared. Older students could even draft a nomination to submit to the SHPO.

    Some states have programs to recognize "century farms" or "centennial farms," which are farms that have been owned by the same family for 100 years or more. If any of the farms students identified fall into this category, have students findout if there is a state program and advocate for the farm's recognition if it has not been honored yet.


 

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