Today in Labor History: Tenant farmers sit down in highway

On this day in 1939, the Southern Tenant Farmers Union led 1,700 farm families in the Missouri Highway Sit-down. Also involved were the NAACP and other organizations.

Tenant farmers worked the land but did not own it. Owners had evicted the farm families so that they could keep the crops and all profits associated with it. With the farmers evicted, they thought, they would not have to share the proceeds.

The families brought all their belongings out and put them in the middle of Highways 60 and 61 as protest. The protest drew national attention, including from the federal government. News media ranging from the local newspaper to the Associated Press and the Daily Worker showed up to interview the families, who were both white and black.

Though the demonstration was eventually suppressed violently by state authorities, the federal government offered a five-point plan to address the farmers’ needs, including grants and low-interest loans.

Photo: Police break up the sit-down, via the Library of Congress. Note: different reports and histories put the beginning of the sit-down at slightly different dates.