Southern Tenant Farmers Museum

The Southern Tenant Farmers Museum in Tyronza pays tribute to the history of tenant farming in Arkansas. I was commissioned by Arkansas State University to create a virtual museum based on the actual buildings and exhibits in Tyronza. HL Mitchell and Clay east developed their socialist beliefs here during the 1930s. Mitchell became co-founder of the STFU (southern tenant farmer's union), the first integrated union of its kind. 

Southern Tenant Farmers Museum

Mural on the side of the old Bank of Tyronza. The STFM opened as a museum in 2006.

Mural on the side of the old Bank of Tyronza. The STFM opened as a museum in 2006.

The standard acreage for tenant farmers was 40 acres. Families would provide labour and pay a percentage of crops or a cash payment to the landowner for use of their land.

Since the end of the Civil War, abusive practices generated ongoing tension between tenants and landowners.

Severe flooding and drought in the early years of the Great Depression had a profound effect on tenant farmers in Arkansas. Many joined the exodus made famous in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. (pic)

President Roosevelt's administration created programs to prop up cotton prices, including plans to compensate farmers who agreed to forego planting acreage in exchange for parity payments from the federal government. Thought the program stipulated that landowners share parity payments with tenants, some owners kept all of the money and, in some cases, owners evicted tenants as acreage reduction made them unecessary.

HL Mitchell on the right with Clay East to his left

Into this climate steps a young activist by the name of Harry Leland Mitchell. Mitchells' father owned a barber shop in Tyronza. Mitchell set up a dry cleaning facility next door and became good friends with Clay East who owned the gas station. 

This corner of Main Street Tyronza became known as Red Square. Here, Mitchell and East developed their socialist beliefs, meetings were held and plans were made.

Harry became co-founder of the Southern Tenant Farmer's Union (STFU) in 1934, one of the first integrated labour unions in the United States. 

An STFU meeting

The STFU was unique among unions in that it encouraged members to 'leave' their acreage in favour of a life beyond tenant farming. 

The Southern Tenant Farmers Museum in Tyronza pays tribute to the history of tenant farming in Arkansas. 



One of the first heritage commissions for Arkansas State University, the STFM and its primary exhibits have been re-created as a virtual museum.

I felt it was also important to capture something of the tenant farmer's experience in the virtual space. Professor Alyson Gill sent me some images of an abandoned tenant shack and this provided the basis for the model adjacent to the virtual museum in Second Life. 

Tenant Farmer's Home on cinder blocks


The gallery of images feature the virtual model of the Southern Tenant Farmers Museum exterior and the Tenant Farmer's home.