Whites Organize to Retaliate Against Blacks for Registering to Vote
"Economic retaliation against black activists in the region had escalated in September 1960 when white landowners evicted several hundred sharecroppers from their homes..." —James Talley, Nashville Tennessean
The sharecropping system in Fayette County remained one of the vestiges of slavery: the lack of economic and political resources plus institutional obstacles to civic participation left blacks little means to acquire true freedom. African Americans were largely entrapped in a cycle of sharecropping for white landowners, working the fields but getting paid only a fraction of the profits. These evictions were especially brutal to sharecroppers who were already living hand to mouth.
Minnie Jameson Talks about Registration Efforts in Fayette County
2002 documentary project on Fayette County, TN: Special Collections, University of Memphis Libraries
In December 1959, Eddie and Mary B. Williams, sharecroppers who had registered to vote, were the first to be evicted for registering to vote. They had been living on the Leatherwood family's farm. Shepard Towles, an African American who owned his land, agreed to let the Williams family live on his farm. Because of the immediate need for shelter, McFerren worked with the Williamses to set up a tent for temporary housing. However, in rapid succession white landowners evicted black sharecroppers who registered to vote. These evicted families, in tents donated by individuals and organizations sympathetic to the movement, also pitched tents at the Towles' farm. However, the farm could not accommodate all the evicted families and the family water well ran dry from the heavy demand. Fortunately, Gertrude Beasley, a poor and elderly black woman who owned her own farm, made her land available for black families to pitch tents for housing.