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Film focuses on 1939 sharecropper protest in Missouri

State Historical Society of Missouri offers free film screening as part of History on Elm series

The public is invited to a free film screening and discussion on the 1939 Sharecropper Strike in Missouri at noon Tuesday, Feb. 14, at the State Historical Society of Missouri as part of the History on Elm series.

“Oh Freedom after While” is a 58-minute documentary narrated by Julian Bond, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center and former chairperson of the NAACP, and includes rare footage of the sharecropper’s protest in Missouri’s bootheel. The film’s writer and co-producer, Candace O’Connor, will be at the screening to answer audience questions after the film.

The film is in conjunction with Black Resistance in the Depression Era: The Missouri Sharecroppers’ Strike of 1939 exhibition at the University of Missouri Ellis Library as part of Black History Month events. Beginning Feb. 7, Ellis Library is exhibiting selected photos from SHSMO’s collection of sharecropper images by Arthur Witman, an award-winning photographer at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

On Feb. 22, 2:30 p.m., SHSMO Art Curator Joan Stack will present a lecture on the exhibition at Ellis Library, room 114A.

In January 1939, Witman documented the strike along Highways 60 and 61 in Southeast Missouri. The local landowners were given funds by the Depression era Agriculture Adjustment Administration to leave their farmlands fallow, and many of these property holders chose to keep the money for themselves and evict the workers who had farmed their land.

Reverend Owen Whitfield, a Black labor leader, organized a strike to protest these evictions, bringing about 1,500 of the farm workers together in roadside shantytowns to call public attention to their plight. The photo exhibition and film documentary features images of the strike as well as Witman’s later photos of nearby Cropperville, a village created after the protest where multiple displaced sharecroppers came to live and work communally.

The History on Elm series explores a variety of topics on the second Tuesday at noon, each month, ranging from Missouri art and authors to unique collections at the State Historical Society. Registration is not required, and the series is free to the public.

The programs begin promptly at noon at the State Historical Society of Missouri Center for Missouri Studies, 605 Elm St., Columbia. For more information, visit shsmo.org.

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