A 103-year-old woman has captivated the internet with her memories of picking cotton in Georgia and Florida as a teenager — a job that would take 14 hours a day for just 50 cents.
Madie Scott, who turns 104 on December 8, started working in the fields at the age of 12 picking cotton in Georgia before moving to Florida at 16 to earn more money as a tenant farmer.
In a now viral TikTok video, the centenarian – who was born in 1917 – shared her memories 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, started picking cotton in Georgia at age 12
She moved to Miami, Florida to become a sharecropper when she was 16. She described working about 14 hours a day for years for barely any money.
Recorded in videos by her granddaughter Shanika Bradshaw, Madie shares details about picking cotton all these years.
She started in Georgia at age 12, but moved to Miami at age 16 because she learned that tenant farmers could make better money.
Shareholders rented, among other things, land and tools from a landlord, to whom they had to return a large percentage of their harvest.
Madie described being picked up at 3am and working all day before finally being able to leave at 5pm.
“I was picking cotton all day,” Madie said BuzzFeed. ‘That was all there was to do. You can work at home [babysitting or cleaning], but if you work in the field, you make the most money.’
Her sister chose next to her and they made only 50 cents a day.
‘My sister – oh lord – she looked at me at 11:30 or a quarter to 12, [because] she wanted to stop and rest. She had a lunch break at noon, but she wanted to stop working at 11:30 am,” she says.
Most tenants, who leased land to farm, also had to buy their supplies from the landowner – who could ask what he wanted
Madie said most of their pay would go here so they would eventually break even at the end of each day
Decades after the Civil War ended in 1865, African Americans living in the “cotton kingdom” of the south continued to work in the fields (seen: cotton pickers in Georgia in 1907)
In the decades following the Civil War, most African Americans living in the “cotton kingdom” of the Deep South continued to work for white people, with a majority in the cotton industry — and while they were free, their wages often didn’t reflect that.
As tenant farmers they rented a piece of land and a house to live in from a landlord. They would then work the land and return 30 to 50 percent of the harvest to the landlord as payment.
But without regulation – and without bargaining power – black tenant farmers rarely made a profit, and in fact many went into debt.
They had to buy or rent farm tools, fertilizer, seed, and even animals directly from the landlord, who could charge exorbitant interest rates.
In addition, they also had to buy all their other necessities, such as food, from the landowner – and he could charge any price he wanted.
Madie explained that this meant that tenant farmers often spent all their remaining money on the landowner’s commissioner.
So after a long day of working and buying food, Madie said, “You’ve earned it right.”
Madie eventually became a chef in Miami Beach and then worked as a nanny for a wealthy family for over 30 years.
Her granddaughter, Shanika Bradshaw, shares footage on TikTok because it’s important for people to learn about black history firsthand
She didn’t retire until she was in her 80s and missed work once she did – though she admitted she is jealous of younger generations who have had it easier.
“Isn’t it that none of these young people will have to go through what I’ve been through to get to where I am today,” Madie said.
‘Oh lord, I wish we had – how have you all planned it out for you? [in life] and you know where you’re going. When I came up, we didn’t know where we were going, we just knew how to work.’
Shanika, who was raised by Madie after her mother died, felt it was important to share her grandmother’s memories on TikTok.
“When you think about history, they really don’t talk about the truth. We hear about Christopher Columbus, but we don’t hear much about black history,” she said.
“So I think it’s important for me to get this out there so people can hear it first hand. This is what happened, these people – not just my grandmother – but other people who built America and were never recognized for it.”