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What was it like to work tobacco?

Overview

This topic can be integrated into unit on business and labor; on Great Society programs, on immigration and migration from 1950 to 1980.

Lesson plan contents:

Compelling Questions:
What is it like to be a migrant worker? 
What sources are the best to use to back up your argument? 

Introduction

Migrant agricultural workers were among the last laborers to organize. In Connecticut, where shade grown tobacco was one of the largest agricultural exports, tobacco growers hired migrants in the 1940s and 1950s from historically Black Colleges, and high school students from Florida and Pennsylvania. They also hired local high school students. By the late 1950s through the 1970s, the growers encouraged migrants to come from Puerto Rico. In the camps where the migrants lived, and in the fields, the workers and employers disagreed on the quality of working and living conditions.

Supporting Questions

Page numbers refer to the Connecticut Social Studies Frameworks.

  • What was it like to work tobacco? 
  • What type of economic, social, and political opportunities were available — or denied to — different groups of people such as African Americans, Latinos, indigenous peoples, and women in the 1950s? (p. 137)

Connecticut Social Studies Frameworks

  • What types of economic, social, and political opportunities were available — or denied — to different groups of people such as African Americans, Latinos, indigenous peoples, and women in the 1950s? (p. 137)
  • INQ 9–12.6 Gather relevant information from multiple sources representing a wide range of views while using the origin, authority, structure, context, and corroborative value of the sources to guide the selection.
  • INQ 9–12.8 Identify evidence that draws information directly and substantively from multiple sources to detect inconsistencies in evidence in order to revise or strengthen claims.

Purpose

  • To understand what factors affect the workplace and what roadblocks workers face when they try to improve their working conditions
  • To understand the difference between a newspaper article and a newspaper advertisement

Historical Context

Teachers and students can read Ruth Glasser’s article "Tobacco Valley: Puerto Rican Farm-Workers in Connecticut," in Connecticut Explored, from the Fall of 2002. This article puts tobacco farming in the context of U.S. and Puerto Rican history starting in 1898. Glasser also tells the story of the attempts by tobacco workers to organize into unions in the early 1970s.