Museum Monday: Field Hand Photographs at the Delta Cultural Center

Black and white fieldhand photos
Photographs c. 1940 paper Photos courtesy of the Delta Cultural Center.

These two photos depict African American field laborers on the job around 1940. No inscriptions accompanied them making the names and exact location a mystery. They arrived in a slew of materials acquired from renowned Arkansas Delta cotton magnate Lily Peter, which suggest a possible location of Phillips or Lee County where she owned large tracts of farmland. The images embody the strict social and economic subordination that Southern Jim Crow society imposed upon rural African Americans.

In the first photo four laborers pose in a cotton field with two white men who from their attire appear to hold a managerial role. Two of the Black laborers don protective kneepads for their arduous task.

The second photo features the aforementioned individuals — the laborers delivering the sacks of the cotton they picked which the white managers proceed to enumerate on a beam scale. Presumably the weight determined the wage the laborers received. A personal automobile is parked behind them which a few of the laborers lean upon leisurely. Additionally, white and Black children, who are likely relatives, appear with the adults in this integrated gathering observing the central activity of the sack weighing.


Delta Cultural Center
Photo courtesy: Delta Cultural Center

The Delta Cultural Center opened in 1990 with a single property, The Depot, to serve as a museum. Today the Delta Cultural Center is made up of a complex of historic buildings, new structures and landscaped parks. Each site allows the center to expand its mission and provide interpretive and educational experiences. The center’s mission is to research, document, collect, interpret and present the heritage of the people of the Arkansas Delta. Admission is free and the center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Drew Ulrich
Drew Ulrich

Drew Ulrich has been the curator of the Delta Cultural Center, a museum of the Arkansas Division of Heritage, since March 2017. His paramount aim in his profession is to evoke among the public an appreciation of history through using cultural resources to generate tactile and useful experiences for them. The museum interprets the heritage of the 26 county Delta region, which includes Craighead County, through exhibitions, educational programs, annual events and tours. Ulrich has worked in the museum field since 2012 at institutions in New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Texas. He is a professional public historian of American history personally specializing in nation building between 1812 and 1919. He holds a master’s degree (2011) in history from Sonoma State University with an emphasis on the Civil War and Reconstruction period and a second master’s in museum studies (2014) from the Cooperstown graduate program.