Kheel Center, Cornell University Library > Collections

Photographer Louise Boyle figures prominently among those of her time whose penetrating images documented the devastating effects of the Great Depression on American workers. Struggling landless farmers organized the Southern Tenant Farmers Union (SFTU) in 1934 in response to displacement caused by long-term drought, agricultural mechanization, and pressures on landowners to reduce production. The union was notable for encouraging blacks and women to join and lead integrated union locals, for promoting non-violent tactics, and for using songs, prayers, and rituals at meetings, drawing on the inspirational power of the Christian faith to which the majority of its members adhered.

In 1937, at the height of a wave of labor militancy, Ms. Boyle was invited to photograph the living and working conditions of the SFTU members from several Arkansas communities. Her provocative recording courageous people linking their futures together despite devastating poverty, physical hardship, and brutal police-endorsed reprisals. Most portray African American farmers in their homes, at union meetings and rallies, or at work with their families picking cotton. Boyle returned in 1982 to rephotograph some of the people and places she had documented earlier.

Approximately 200 of images are available in, and twice that number are made available at the Kheel Center, Cornell University.

Fieldwork, 1937

Fieldwork, 1937

21 photos