103-Year-Old Describes Experience Picking Cotton in American South in Viral Video

A video has gone viral on TikTok posted by the granddaughter of a nearly 104-year-old woman sharing her experience working as a sharecropper as a young girl.

The video posted earlier this month, which has now been viewed almost 3 million times, was posted by a woman whose username is @blackbeauty_305. The caption read that her grandmother picked cotton from 3 a.m. to 5 p.m. while "barely getting paid anything."

PBS described sharecropping as a system where tenants would "rent" and use land from a landowner in exchange for a share of the crop they grew. Particularly in the American South, many Black families would rent land from white owners working to produce "cash crops" such as cotton, tobacco and rice, PBS explained.

In a video produced by PBS, U.W. Clemon, Alabama's first Black federal judge, reflected on his family's experience as sharecroppers calling the practice "a new form of slavery."

Buzzfeed spoke to @blackbeauty_305, whose name is Shanika Bradshaw, and her grandmother, Madie Scott.

Bradshaw explained that her grandmother would often have to purchase foods and other necessities from the landowner.

"Instead of them being able to go to another place and buy those things, they had to buy their food from the commissary [the company store for sharecroppers]," Bradshaw told BuzzFeed. "They would get paid and then broke even. They got it docked from their pay."

Bradshaw, who visits her grandmother every day, told Newsweek in an email that hearing about how the commissary worked was one of the most shocking things she learned from her grandmother's story.

"...after eating or drinking food from the Farmer's Commissary store, they were not paid at the end of the week because he said basically they owed money from eating the food," Bradshaw said.

As reported by BuzzFeed, Scott began "working in the fields" in her hometown in Georgia at 12-years-old. At 16, she moved to Miami where she heard she could make more money as a sharecropper.

"I was picking cotton all day," Scott told the outlet. "That's all there was to do. You can work in the house [babysitting or cleaning], but if you work in the field you make the most money."

After working a few years as a sharecropper and then another few as a cook in Miami Beach, Scott spent the following 40 years working as a nanny for a wealthy family, per Buzzfeed. She has been in Miami since she first moved there at the age of 16 her granddaughter explained in the comment section of the video.

"I worked like a dog," Scott said in the video.

Scott also raised Bradshaw and her two brothers after their mother died.

In the video, Bradshaw asked her grandmother what they would do with the cotton she'd pick.

"Make cotton clothes! What [do you] think they did with it!" she said as her granddaughter giggles off camera.

The video has over 22,000 comments filled with people expressing gratitude to Scott, one person writing "she's got such great energy."

Holding hands
Shanika Bradshaw shared her grandmother's story of working as a sharecropper on TikTok which has now been viewed almost 3 million times. This stock photo shows two people holding hands. MichaelJay/Getty Images

One commenter shared: "I felt honored just hearing her talk."

In the comment section of the video, Bradshaw shared that she started to make a documentary about her grandmother's life that she will post to YouTube "for the world to see."

Bradshaw told Newsweek that her grandmother was shocked to see the reaction to their video, but that "the younger generation needs to know about all these things from the past."

Scott will turn 104 on December 8, Bradshaw shared in another video. Earlier this year, the World Economic Forum reported that there are more than half a million people in the world over the age of 100. The U.S. is home to the highest absolute number of centenarians with 97,000 people over 100.

Update 11/24/21, 9:30 a.m. ET: to include comments from Shanika Bradshaw to Newsweek.