The work of Farm Security Administration photographers in 1930s Mississippi provided a window onto the state’s complex race relations and economic situation during the Great Depression. The agency’s depiction of the state created a lasting impression in the national imagination, and the photographs remain valuable to historians studying the state’s distinctive cultural landscape.
Led by Roy Stryker, chief of the Information Division’s historical section, the Farm Security Administration (previously known as the Resettlement Administration) sought to document poverty in rural America. Beginning in 1935, Stryker’s division employed photographs to illustrate the social issues that the New Deal programs sought to address. The project included professional photographers such as Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Russell Lee, Carl Mydans, Arthur Rothstein, Ben Shahn, and Marion Post Wolcott, all of whom produced images of the lives of rural Mississippians. The project began as an effort to document the effects of the agricultural depression following the farm crisis of the 1920s but later expanded to cover many facets of Mississippi life, both rural and urban.
Many Farm Security Administration images of Mississippi depicted the sharecropping system, and photographers worked primarily in the Delta, documenting thirty-one counties from Coahoma in the northern part of the state to Warren in the south. Photographers also visited counties in the coastal plain as well as Lafayette and Lee Counties in the northern hill country. Some portraits and landscape views detailed cotton picking, payday at plantation commissaries, churches, and street scenes from Vicksburg to Tupelo. The 270,000 images in the Farm Security Administration’s photographic collection are now housed at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
- Pete Daniel, Merry Forrester, Maren Stange, and Sally Stein, Official Images: New Deal Photography (1987)
- Karen Glynn and Tom Rankin, eds., A Mississippi Portrait: Farm Security Administration Photographs, 1935–1940, Southern Media Archive at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, University of Mississippi (2000)
- F. Jack Hurley, Portrait of a Decade: Roy Stryker and the Development of Documentary Photography in the 1930s (1972)
- Nathan Natanson, The Black Image in the New Deal (1992).