A 103-year-old woman has captivated the internet with her memories of picking cotton in Georgia and Florida as a teenager — a job which would span 14 hours a day for just 50 cents pay.
Madie Scott, who turns 104 on December 8, began ‘working in the fields’ picking cotton in Georgia when she was 12 before moving to Florida to make more money as a sharecropper at 16.
In a now-viral TikTok video, the centenarian — who was born in 1917 — shared her recollections of the grueling job.
‘When you get used to picking cotton, you pick it, you know how to pick it,’ she said.
Madie Scott, who turns 104 on December 8, began ‘working in the fields’ picking cotton in Georgia when she was 12
She moved to Miami, Florida to be a sharecropper when she was 16. She described working about 14 hours a day for barely any money for years
In videos recorded by her granddaughter Shanika Bradshaw, Madie shares details of picking cotton all those years.
She started at just 12 years old in Georgia, but made the move to Miami at age 16 because she heard sharecroppers could make better money.
Sharecroppers rented land and tools, among other things, from a landlord — to whom they were expected to return a large percentage of their crop.
Madie described being picked up at three in the morning and working all day, before finally getting to leave at five in the evening.
‘I was picking cotton all day,’ Madie told BuzzFeed. ‘That’s all there was to do. You can work in the house [babysitting or cleaning], but if you work in the field you make the most money.’
Her sister picked along side her, and they made just 50 cents a day.
‘My sister — oh, lord — she looked at me at 11:30 am or quarter to 12, [because] she wanted to stop and rest. She had a lunch break at 12, but she wanted to stop working at 11:30,’ she said.
Most sharecroppers, who rented land to farm, were also required to buy their necessities from the landowner – who could charge whatever he wanted
Madie said most of their wages would go toward this so they’d ultimately break even at the end of each day
For decades after the Civil War ended in 1865, African American people who lived in the south’s ‘cotton kingdom’ continued to work in the fields (seen: Georgia cotton pickers in 1907)
In the decades after the Civil War, most African Americans who lived in the ‘cotton kingdom’ of the deep south continued to work for white people, with a majority in the cotton business — and while they were free, their wages often didn’t reflect that.
As sharecroppers, they’d rent a parcel of land and a cabin to live in from a landlord. They’d then work the land and return 30 to 50 per cent of the crop to the landlord as payment.
But with no regulation — and no bargaining power — black sharecroppers rarely made a profit, and in fact, many went into debt.
They needed to purchase or rent farming tools, fertilizer, seed, and even animals directly from the landlord, who could charge exorbitant interest rates.
What’s more, they were required to buy all of their other necessities, like food, from the landowner as well — and he could charge whatever price he wanted.
Madie explained that this meant sharecroppers often spent all their remaining money at the landowner’s commissary.
So after working a long day and then purchasing food, Madie said, ‘You broke even.’
Eventually Madie became a cook in Miami Beach, then worked as a nanny for a wealthy family for over 30 years.
Her granddaughter, Shanika Bradshaw, is sharing recordings on TikTok because it’s important for people to learn about black history firsthand
She didn’t retire until her 80s, and missed working once she had — though she admitted she is envious of younger generations who have had it easier.
‘Ain’t none of these young people will have to go through what I went through to get where I am now,’ Madie said.
‘Oh lord, I wish we had that — how y’all got everything laid out for you [in life] and you know where you’re going. When I was coming up, we didn’t know where we were going, all we know to do was work.’
Shanika, who was raised by Madie after her mother died, felt it was important to share her grandmother’s recollections on TikTok.
‘When you think of history, they really don’t talk about the truth. We hear about Christopher Columbus, but we don’t really hear too much of black history,’ she said.
‘So I feel it’s important for me to put this out there so people can hear it firsthand. This is what happened, these people — not just my grandmother — but other people who built up America and were never acknowledged for it.’