The original incarnation of that infamous term, 'The Man' was born out of the system of debit and credit that arose from reconstruction in the southern region of the United States. The term was probably coined by black tenant farmers, a shortened version of the eras usual term, "The Furnishing Man." To understand the significance of the word we must consider the system of tenant farming that grew up in the south.
Some economic historians have made the argument that the system of tenant farming, an arrangement more properly called crop lien, could have actually worked (that is to say, not screwed the poor). However, several conditions ruined the potential of the system to work for the farmers who became entrapped in its grasp.
- The south continued to grow cotton, most farmers were not allowed to grow anything but cotton under the contract they held with their creditor. During the civil war, the souths largest foreign consumer of raw cotton, England, found alternate sources of cotton such as Egypt (one of the reasons why the so called "King Cotton Diplomacy" of the confederacy failed). Thus there was a glut in the cotton market, driving prices down to abysmal levels.
- A prolonged drought, unusually bad weather conditions.
- A promotion of racial conflict by the southern financial interests to separate poor whites from who should have been their natural economic allies, poor blacks.
Thus, the tenant farmer served two masters in a system which was roughly equivalent to a Russian serfdom. The land owner, and of course, The Furnishing Man. The Furnishing Man provided seed, farming tools, food, clothing, and other necessities on credit which often held interest rates as high as 60%. At harvest, the Land owner would receive up to half of the tenant farmers crop as payment of rent for use of the land, and the 'Furnishing Man' would take the rest in payment for the farmers debt. Under the contractual obligation of the lien, the farmer would go deeper into debt every year. Thus it may have seemed to the poor tenant farmer that the Furnishing Man was taking more than furnishing anything. The man was truly holding down the serfdom of the south.