A spoken-word recording on a compilation produced by the West Virginia University Press has been named February’sSong of the Monthby Labor Notes, a national magazine for union activists.
The selection is a recording of the poem,The Planter and the Sharecropper,made for the Library of Congress in 1937 by its author, John L. Handcox, an Arkansas tenant farmer whose poems, songs and other writings were embraced by folk music luminaries Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger.
Seeger, in fact, hails Handcox asOne of the most important songwriters of the early 20 th century.
The poem appears on the compilation CD,John L. Handcox: Songs, Poems and Stories of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union,which was produced in September 2004 by the West Virginia University Press as part of itsSound Archiveseries.
The poem’s imagery, Press marketing director Sherry McGraw says, offers up a working-class capsule of a social and economic system in America that, perhaps, hasn’t changed all that much since the days of the Depression.
The Southern Tenant Farmers Union was amazingly progressive for its time,McGraw said.It had both white and black farmers, and poverty was the thing everyone had in common. So he signed up, in hopes of making things better.
Handcox soon began writing songs and poems that were smash hits at the union meetings, McGraw said.
He spoke everyone’s language,McGraw said.He used words and imagery that was part of their daily lives. He was plain-spoken, but he was eloquent, too.
That eloquence comes out inThe Planter and the Sharecropper,McGraw notes, citing a line that shows even in death, there was no escape from class distinctions:When the sharecropper dies he has to be buried in box,Handcox wrote,without any necktie, or any socks.
The CD features 10 songs, two poems and interview with Handcox by folksinger Joe Glazer and labor historian Michael Honey.
Labor Notes can be found online atwww.labornotes.org. PastSongs of the Monthselections includeA Little a’Thisn That,by Pete Seeger andU.N.I.O.N.,by Lynn Marie Smith.
For more information aboutThe Planter and the Sharecropperand other titles offered by the West Virginia University Press, visitwww.wvupress.comor call 1-866-WVUPRESS.