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Thu, 08.01.1918

The Progressive Farmers & Household Union is formed

People listen to a
Progressive meeting, 1937

*This date in 1918 celebrates the forming of The Progressive Farmers and Household Union of America.

This was a union of Black tenant farmers (sharecroppers).  Robert L. Hill a Black tenant farmer formed the Progressive Farmers and Household Union of America.  According to the articles of the constitution of the PFHUA, the group’s objective was “to advance the interests of the Negro, morally and intellectually, and to make him a better citizen and a better farmer.”

The organization had characteristics of a fraternal order, such as passwords, handshakes, and signs for members, and it also resembled a union.  Members purchased shares for one dollar, resulting in a capital stock of $1,000 for the joint stock company of the PFHUA. This stock was designed to allow the organization to invest in real estate.  An elected salaried deputy in charge of organizing clubs held office for six months. According to Hill, the history of the union began in 1865 in Washington DC, under an act of Congress. Then, it was known as the Colored Union Benevolent Association.

The PFHUA grew steadily during the spring of 1919 as sharecroppers and tenant farmers around Elaine (Phillips County) joined the order. The union had several offices in the Elaine, Arkansas area. In late 1919 they organized resistance amongst Blacks in the Elaine area. This included withholding Black women's services to whites and insisting on higher wages for the cotton pickers.

They also hired lawyers at the state capital and planned to sue landlords for shares allegedly withheld from them. A meeting of this union at Elaine, Arkansas was attacked on October 1, 1919 sparking the Elaine Race Riot. Hill escaped and fled to Kansas. He was arrested there but was never extradited to Arkansas to face charges.

Reference:
Encyclopedia of Arkansas

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