Arthur Witman (1902-1991)
Men Gathered Around a Fire during the Sharecroppers' Protest, 1939
Postcard reproduction of a photographic print from safety film negative
From the Arthur Witman Collection at The State Historical Society of Missouri
About the Image
After having been evicted from their homes, over 1000 sharecroppers camped along Missouri State Highways 60 and 61 in the early days of January 1939. The makeshift camps along the roadside called attention to the desperate plight of the homeless farmworkers. A writer for the St. Louis Post Dispatch visited the Sharecroppers' Protest during one cold winter night and described the scene:
"For 100 miles up and down the highway right-of-way their campfires blazed that night, while [the protesters] slept in the open on mattresses that hardly kept out the chill from the cold ground, in autos, or in crudely improvised lean-tos, or huddles around the fires, singing and praying to keep up their courage."
About the Artist
Arthur Witman (1902-1991) was a native of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, who first worked as a photographer while serving in the Air Services of the U.S. Army from 1923-1927. He was hired as a St. Louis Post Dispatch staff photographer in 1932. Over the course of his career Witman developed a reputation as a leader and innovator in hi field, excelling in news photograph. In January of 1939, Witman was sent to document the Sharecroppers' Protest in Southeast Missouri, and he continued to cover the fate of the people involved in the protest into the 1940s, photographing the farming families living in the community dubbed 'Cropperville.'