Questions & answers with the author, Sherry Laymon

Q. Why did you write this book?

A. I love history, especially Arkansas history. As a doctoral student at Arkansas State University (ASU), I documented century-old wooden barns in Clay and Greene counties. During this process, I located several "Pfeiffer" barns. As I conducted further research, bits and pieces of Paul Pfeiffer's story emerged. I located and interviewed several "Pfeiffer farmers,” which formed the basis of the book. I wrote the book as my dissertation project. Dr. Clyde A. Milner II, dissertation chairman, thought it should be converted into a book because Pfeiffer's farming model contrasted significantly from the prominent sharecropping and tenant farming operations in the South. Had other Southern planters practiced Pfeiffer's technique, much of the misery that accompanied the lifestyles of sharecroppers and tenants could have been avoided.

Q. What was Pfeiffer’s approach to farming?

A. The farm structures built by Pfeiffer for his farmers offer evidence that his operation differed significantly from that of other Delta planters. Most planters were so greedy that they planted row crops up to the doorsteps of the horrible shotgun shanties where their farmers lived. The planters also provided the bare necessities for their laborers. Pfeiffer, on the other hand, not only built stylish, two-story homes for his tenants, but he also provided barns and other farm buildings for the comfort of his farmers. He allowed them to have farm animals and provided land for them to grow a garden for their families and food crops for their livestock. His generosity to his tenants is the key to the success of his farm systems as compared to the selfishness of most planters, whose operations were plagued by much dissension between themselves and their farm workers. Some of Pfeiffer's farm houses and barns still exist in Clay County. Also, his home has been renovated and converted into a museum.

Q. What is the historical significance of your book?

A. This book is important to Arkansas history for the reasons stated above; however, it is also important to Southern history, agricultural history, and twentieth-century American history because it is the antithesis of most literature written about sharecropping and tenant farming in the post-Civil War South. It is a useful study as a college textbook in the mentioned areas of history.