Sharecropping appeared in the Southeastern United States, including Appalachia, after the Civil War as a way to continue post-slavery white supremacy over African Americans, but it ultimately included poor whites as well. It was a way to avoid the now illegal possession of slaves while at the same time keeping workers for labor in a subordinate manner. Although former slaves and their descendants composed the majority of sharecroppers, the poor whites joined the blacks in their struggles against the landowners by the end of the sharecropping era.
Sharecropping by definition is the working of a piece of land by a tenant in exchange for a portion, usually half, of the crops or the revenue that they bring in for the landowner. In return for the work on the land, the landowners supply the tenants and their families with living accommodations, seeds and fertilizer, tools, and food that can be bought in a commissary, charging fairly high interest rates to the tenants. These rates create an environment of debt and poverty that the sharecroppers have trouble escaping from. When they receive their portion of the money from the crops, the debts that they have procured comes out of their half of the money. Often this leaves the sharecropper with virtually nothing. Between the debt and the hard working conditions, a second form of slavery is created. It was not slavery with a person literally being owned but one of holding a person because they have no choice to go elsewhere. The landowners were the dominant persons in society while the workers were still on the lowest rung of the social ladder.