Ned Cobb

Ned Cobb

Ned Cobb (1885-1973) was a tenant farmer born in Tallapoosa County in Alabama. His autobiography was pseudonymously published in the book All God's Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw, as told to Theodore Rosengarten.

Cobb was the 4th of more than 20 children (by at least three women- some of the children were illegitimate) of a father who had been a slave and had been emotionally and physically scarred from his past experiences. His father responded to his own emotional and financial frustrations by beating and berating his wives, children, and others he loved. Ned left his father's house to begin sharecropping on his own at the age of 19 and he married and began a family about the same time. \ Cobb became one of the most successful sharecroppers (or black men in general) in the rural Jim Crow regulated county. Within a few years he owned his own mules, a truck, and a car (all of them paid for, he was very proud to note) and had electricity and plumbing in his house, all of these distinctions which distanced him from most black and many poor white farmers in his vicinity. He was an innately intelligent man who, though illiterate and uneducated, owed much of his success to his ability to innovate in agriculture and avoid many of the mistakes that led so many other sharecroppers into a hopeless cycle of debt and poverty.

The fluctuating cotton market before and after the Depression led to extremely hard times for southern sharecroppers and cotton farmers. Many were increasingly victimized by white landowners who sought to recoup their own monetary losses by seizing the property of their tenant farmers. Ned, by now a middle aged man and successful by the standards of the time (he was particularly proud of the fact he supplied his grown sons with mules and other means of making a living) saw many of his fellow sharecroppers dispossessed due to debt to landowners and then even saw others such as himself, who were not in debt, lose property on highly specious allegations. Realizing that the men needed help, he joined Sharecroppers Union in 1931 to fight for justice for black people and against exploitation. Cobb was a hard worker and was not going to let the white dominant race run his life; he continued to fight against unfair treatment of tenant farmers by starting a tenant farmers union. Cobb continued to climb the ladder of success from wage labor to sharecropper. He was finally able to own his own crops and land. He focused on growing cotton.

Cobb gained great recognition and praise, for as a black man he was making a name for himself. He managed to maintain his farm even through the natural disasters such as the boll weevil epidemic and the collapse of cotton prices. In 1931 when the Communist Party arrived in Alabama, Cobb was profoundly impressed because he was aware that the party was defending the Scottsboro Boys, nine young black men accused of raping two white women.

Cobb continued to do what he did best and that was sharecrop and manage his crops — that is until December 1932, when a sheriff tried to take the home and livestock of one of Cobb's friends. Cobb defended his friend and in turn was involved in a shootout in which he was wounded and arrested. Cobb was sentenced to thirteen years in jail because he refused the lighter sentence that was offered to him. He was released in 1945.


  • Berry, Wendell (1990). "A Remarkable Man" in What Are People For? Essay by Wendell Berry. North Point Press. ISBN 0-86547-437-0. 

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