The Civil War took a heavy toll on Georgia including Campbell County. Many men never returned home, families were stripped of equipment and livestock by Union soldiers traipsing through their farms, and when the 13th Amendment was passed in 1865, an approximate workforce of 1,500 former slaves (based on 1850 numbers) needed to provide for their families. Planters owned plenty of land but had no money for wages or taxes. Former slaves knew the business of farming but had no land of their own or money.
Something had to be done.
Sharecropping was the answer for blacks and whites alike. My own great-grandfather and grandfather were sharecroppers at various points.
The goal for the sharecropper was to put back some money and eventually get to the point where they could purchase their own land. My ancestors did this — a farm consisting of close to 200 acres in Cherokee County where my father lives today. My grandfather was adamant the land was precious and should never be sold, and even though Dear Daddy has been offered a tidy sum of what remains of the farm, he will not accept an offer to sell. The land defines our family and is a symbol of our ancestor’s hard work. Presently, our son plans to be the fifth generation to live on that prized property.
Land is important, and Harrison Hudson, a citizen of Douglas County, knew this, too.
According to a biography published in “History of the American Negro” by A.B. Caldwell, Harrison Hudson was born in 1862 in Coweta County to William Harrison and Elizabeth Hudson, both slaves. Sadly, Harrison’s father was killed just one week after his birth, meaning that once Elizabeth was free she “found herself without means” and had more than one mouth to feed.
Harrison never attended school. He could not read or write, but he did have one quality that helped him. He was persistent and worked hard. Later in life Harrison “remembered his first year’s work when the combined earnings of himself, his older brother and mother added only to thirty dollars. He remained with his mother in Coweta County until he was 19 and about all he had to show for the hard work during his younger years was what he ate and wore.”
Harrison moved to Douglas County in 1881 where he worked as a hired hand for a couple of years and then as a renter, meaning he chose the life of a sharecropper.
The sharecropping system wasn’t perfect, and in many cases it was just a way to keep newly emancipated families enslaved through crop liens. These were lines of credit the property owner (in some cases the former master) issued where the sharecropper’s future harvest would be used for collateral. During the year the sharecropper’s family would draw supplies, food, and other necessities from the property owner’s store or a totally separate store where the property owner had an account. Once the harvest was made and sold, the sharecropper would pay his bill, pay the owner of the land his due, and pocket the rest, but what if the crop wasn’t as profitable as it should have been? Bad weather, insects, poor farming methods were all variables which resulted in the sharecropper continually owing money to have the “right” to farm a plot of land he didn’t even own — a vicious cycle. Add in Jim Crowe laws and black sharecroppers had a huge mountain to climb.
Harrison married Delitha Stephenson, a daughter of Wilson and Rillis Stephenson who lived in Lithia Springs. Wilson was a very successful farmer and was respected by all citizens of the county. I have a detailed history regarding Wilson and Rillis in my book “Every Now and Then: The Amazing Stories of Douglas County, Vol. I”.
Harrison and Delitha had 12 children, and he managed to give each one an education.
Of course, Harrison knew his family would never be secure unless he owned his own land. Around the turn of the last century he began buying land, and finding this so much more profitable than working for other folks, he continued to add one tract after another till he owned over 400 acres in Douglas and Paulding counties, paying for it in cash. He also “grew his own supplies in the way of meat, bread, corn, and hay.” In 1913, he tallied up 70 bales of cotton heading for market.
The biography went on to say that Harrison was a Republican, the party of Lincoln, as were most black men during this time period, and even though he was not a church member most of his family identified with the Methodist Episcopal Church.
Harrison Hudson, an early black citizen of Douglas County, is a fine example of what can be accomplished by a persistent man of energy who has the desire to stand on his own two feet, face down those who wanted to keep him from success, and is unafraid of hard work.
Lisa Cooper writes the amazing stories of Douglas County each Sunday. You can find her new book “Every Now and Then: The Amazing Stories of Douglas County” online at Amazon, print and Kindle versions. Locally, her book can be found at the Douglas County Museum of History and Art and the Douglasville Welcome Center located at O’Neal Plaza in the former Douglasville Banking Company building.