J.R. Butler, President of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union, Memphis, Tennessee
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© Oakland Museum of California, the City of Oakland

Dorothea Lange
American, Memphis, Tennessee, negative 1938; print about 1950
Gelatin silver print
13 1/4 x 10 3/8 in.

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When Dorothea Lange originally photographed J.R. Butler, she created a waist-length portrait; however, she cropped the image years later to create a direct human confrontation in which Butler's wide-eyed, earnest expression demands attention. As the President of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union, Butler played an instrumental role in bringing the economic plight of tenant farmers and sharecroppers to the attention of landlords and the Roosevelt Administration. Farm owners responded with threats and evictions for the union leaders. Butler, whose every wrinkle reveals the hardships faced by tenant farmers, embodied the determination of workers who sought to effect change.