1937: Alabama farmers find community in a good old-fashioned square dance

In the 1930s, the federal government established dozens of experimental cooperative farm settlements across the United States in an effort to provide relief and employment to farmers displaced by the Great Depression.

One of these was Skyline Farms, located on 13,000 acres in Jackson County, Alabama. The settlement was divided into 181 farms, with government-supplied housing and farming equipment to help the tenants work the land.

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Square dancing through the Great Depression
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Square dancing through the Great Depression
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Like much of the Jim Crow South, the project was only open to white families, though a similar cooperative settlement was created for black families in Wilcox County.

In addition to the tools and land necessary to farm potatoes and cotton, Skyline Farms also provided uprooted, itinerant families with the resources to build a sense of place and community — residents had access to community centers, a school, a coop store, subsidized healthcare, and more.

In 1937, Farm Security Administration photographer Ben Shahn documented the spirit of the community as they gathered for a square dance. Music was provided by the Skyline Farms Band, which would go on to perform for the president and First Lady at the White House the next year.

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