“They looked.” “They looked hard.” They don’t like to see a nigger with too much. White people was afraid that the money would make a nigger act too much like his own man.”-Ned Cobb
Ned Cobb was born in Tallapoosa County, AL in 1885. The fourth of more than 20 children to a father who was an ex-slave, Ned proved to be somewhat stubborn in terms of obeying the informal customs and straight jacketed morals of the Jim Crow South. Ned’s father was a different story altogether. He had been broken by a system that denied him his very humanity. And like many fathers in the infernal oven of chattel slavery, he transferred his pain and rage onto his children.
When Ned was 19 yrs of age, he witnessed the depth of his father acquiescence to white authority. A white tenant farmer released his cows onto the Cobb’s property. The cows proceeded to eat all of the crops harvesting on the Cobb property. When young Ned witnessed this, he informed his father of his disapproval of their presence on the property. His father admonished Ned not to make trouble. In an atmosphere where the slightest indignity toward a white man could cost you your life, Ned’s “uppity” attitude towards his white neighbor was cause for great concern.
But Young Ned would not be swayed. He marched onto his white neighbor’s property to register his complaint and left. The next day, the neighbor arrived at the Cobb home to contest Ned’s attitude and presence at his home. He told Ned’s father “i’m gonna whip that boy of yours if he ever steps on my property again.” When Ned was informed of this, he tore out for the neighbor’s property with blood in his eyes. He marched back and forth on the man’s property daring him to come out and utter a whisper in protest. Nothing happened.
Ned’s fearlessness and independent streak made him a marked man among the white residents in Tallapoosa County, AL. It also didn’t help matters when he became the most successful cotton sharecropper in the county. Although he was illiterate, he possessed an innate brilliance at agriculture. Not even the Boll Weevil Epidemic or fluctuating cotton prices deterred his success in the sharecropping industry. He was also an excellent money manager. This skill helped him avoid the trap of unscrupulous lending practices by nefarious bankers and shysters who made it a practice of issuing usurious mortgages to the often illiterate and unsuspecting land owners in the county, only to sky rocket the debt obligations owed after one payment was made.
Because of his agricultural skill, Ned Cobb flourished even during the depression, while most white landowners lost their farms to foreclosure. When the crooked bankers could not entrap him in debt, they simply waited for the first available chance to take his farm under the color of law. This chance came in 1932.
The year before, influenced by the Communist Party, Cobb formed the Alabama Sharecroppers Union. Under the banner of the union, Cobb assisted tenant farmers, both white and black, in fighting the brutal exploitation from white property overseers in the sharecropping industry. This act sealed his fate. The situation came to a head in 1932 when he went to the farm of his friend Cliff James to protest the seizure of James’ property due to a fraudulent mortgage. At first, Cobb tried pleading James’ case with the sheriff. But the sheriff and his black agent was thoroughly in the pocket of the county bankers. But what the sheriff and his black flunky did not know was that firmly snuggled in Cobb’s pocket, was a 32, 6 shooter. And when they failed to listen to his argument, he let loose with his pistol. Years later, Cobb recalled: “it(the pistol shots) sang to me like a new born baby.
The sheriff and his agents took cover. During the melee, Cobb made a terrible mistake when he turned his back on the action to go back into the house to check on Cliff James. At that instant, he was shot in the buttocks. Blood poured from his backside, down his pants, into his shoes. He was rushed to Tuskegee Hospital where the bullets were removed from his body. But out of fear of retaliation from the white mob, the refused to house him on the premises. He hid out with relatives until his son turned him in under threat of death.
Cobb was subsequently convicted of assault on the sheriff and sentenced to 13-yrs in the state penitentiary. During his sentence, the authorities offered him early release if he would surrender his farm and relocate to Birmingham. He defied the authorities by serving his full sentence and returned home to his farm and became even more successful than before he went prison. Within a few years, he owned his own mules, a truck, and a car. He was one of the first to have electricity and plumbing in his home.
In 1969, author Theodore Rosengarten came to Alabama in search of surviving members of the old Alabama Sharecroppers Union. Residents pointed him in the direction of Ned Cobb. Rosengarten began to question Cobb about his life and the Sharecropper’s Union. Cobb resisted directly answering the questions, but instead, answered them through his recounting of incredible tales of his dealings with shady white landowners, violent racists, and barbaric police officers. Sensitive to the racial volatility of his surroundings, Cobb released his autobiography under the pen name of Nate Shaw. His memoirs were subsequently published as All God’s Dangers-The Life of Nate Shaw.
The remarkable heroism of Ned Cobb has been buried under the cold earth of black amnesia. It is a distant memory in the myth of total black obedience to white male authority. It emboldens the lie that black resistance to white oppression is solely the product of black militancy in the northern ghettos of Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles and Harlem. The Life of Nate Shaw shatters the stereotype of black male emasculation by showing a man whose spirit and courage was greater than the fear of death.
TONY MACEO is a Senior Blogger at the Negromanosphere and the Chief Blogger at Power & Strategy.com. Like, Share and subscribe to Power & Strategy.com. Also feel free to support my efforts at powerofstrategies on Patreon. Till Next time, I’ll Holla!