Sounder (1976)



Director:      Martin Ritt

Starring:   Cicely Tyson (mother Rebecca Morgan), Paul Winfield (father, Nathan Morgan), Kevin Hooks (son, David Lee Morgan), Carmen Matthews (Mrs. Boatwright), Taj Mahal (Ike), James Best (sheriff), Eric Hooks (younger son, Earl Morgan), Yvonne Jarrell (sister Josie Mae Morgan). 

sharecroppers in 1930's Louisiana try to survive poverty



One of the values of this movie is to show how the blacks in the South were virtually put back into slavery when the whites developed the share-cropping system. They were now in economic slavery to the whites. Many black sharecroppers lived in serf-like conditions of poverty.

In the film the black family is literally dirt poor. They work the land for the white man. They also buy their groceries and supplies from the landowner.  These poor blacks live in a shack without running water. The children are often barefooted. And at times they have nothing to east. (By the way, Sounder is the name of the family's hound dog.)  They have to hunt raccoons and other critters to provide the family with meat. 

Their problems really start big time when the father, Nathan Lee Morgan, steals some meat to feed his hungry family. This lands him in a prison camp doing hard labor for a year and that puts the family under terrible strains. But through all the travail, the family strives to do the work of sharecropping and to send the eldest son, David Lee Morgan, to a better school. It is the struggle on the part of the family not only to survive but to make progress that makes this film an inspirational one.

It was the terrible condition of the black sharecroppers that shocked Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), who was on a trip on the Mississippi River, as just another form of slavery for the blacks.  White men ruled and blacks had to march to their wishes and desires.  It was this almost slavery that inspired Clemens to write Huckleberry Finn  in which Huck says he would rather to go to hell with the blacks than to white heaven.

My wife and I enjoyed the movie.  There is not much history itself in the movie, but it illustrates the overwhelming poverty of blacks under the share-cropping system.  Many white sharecroppers also lived in poverty, but at least they were by law segregated from the others, while all blacks in the South were considered beneath a white man, no matter how poor he was.  

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.





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