(Note: This is the third in a series of articles on the Agrarian Movement in the nation, the south and Bulloch County in the 1800s.)
Starting in the mid-1870’s, black farmers in the United States began forming their own local agricultural organizations. In Texas, black farmers formed the Grand State Colored Alliance in Caldwell County in 1886. This organization was soon joined by the Consolidated Alliance in Lee County formed in 1887 by Andrew J. Carothers.
In 1890, Carothers, a white Allianceman from Beeville, Texas convinced both black Alliances to merge. Headed by President J.J. Shufer and General Superintendent Reverend Richard M. Humphreys (a white), it eventually became the Colored Farmers National Alliance and Cooperative Union (CFA).
In Georgia, black farmers had formed their own group, called the Georgia Colored Farmers Alliance. Headed by E.S. Richardson from Marshallville, it appointed Reverend J.W. Carter as State lecturer. Carter was a very well known Black Baptist preacher at the Thomasville Christian Church. Carter’s first sub-alliance formed was in Screven County, which was chartered in February of 1889.
The response to this potential challenge was not received well. The white Southern Alliance (SA) declared that no land owned by SA members could be leased to blacks. By July of 1889, the CFA had established 240 sub-alliances throughout the state, and claimed to have 84,000 members.
There were soon several CFA Alliance stores in the Wiregrass region of Georgia where black farmers could purchase supplies, sell their crops, and borrow money at much better rates than they would get in the open market. The closest to Bulloch were the Sandersville store, started by the local members who came up with $1,200 seed money, and another store in Eatonton.
The organization was immediately beset by financial woes, because the $2 in fees they charged their members simply wasn’t enough. In fact, in 1891, The National Economist (the newspaper of the white SA) urged black Alliance members to pay their dues in full and support the newspaper with subscriptions, instead of buying all kinds of frivolous items instead.
The obvious difference between CFA and CPU members was that most of the CFA members actually owned their own land and the majority of CPU members were landless tenants. The C.F.A. had some political success in Georgia in 1890, electing two representatives to the Georgia House of Representatives: Lectured Crawford from McIntosh County (1890-94); and J.M. Holzendorf from Camden County (1890-2).
In fact, at the Ocala meeting of the Alliances on May 19, 1891, more than 1,400 delegates showed up from all three of the Alliances (Southern, National, and Colored), along with representatives from most other agricultural organizations, to discuss the formation of a new third national political party. This was the start of the “Peoples Party,” usually referred to as the Populist Party.
Not surprisingly, whites and blacks differed in their views on pending legislation. For instance, when the “Federal Election Bill” (also called the Lodge Bill) that would have returned federal troops to oversee elections was being discussed, the CFA supported it, while the SA vehemently opposed it. This bill, not surprisingly, failed to pass.
Because of their distrust in the much more powerful SA, the CFA members saw little purpose in their continued CFA membership, and at the annual 1894 meeting in Dublin only 75 members even showed up. Therefore, many of the former CFA members joined other organizations or simply went back to taking care of themselves.
*For more information see Patrick John Dickson’s book, “Out of the Lion’s Mouth: the Colored Farmers Alliance”*
Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look at Bulloch County's historical past. E-mail Roger at roger firstname.lastname@example.org