Following the United States Civil War (1861-1865), many former slaves in the rural South became sharecroppers (raising a landlord's crop for a share of the profits) or tenant farmers (selling what they raised and paying a share of the profits as rent). Most historians tend to depict these African Americans as victims of racism and the farm tenancy system. This approach, however, overlooks the role played by such African American rural reformers as Robert Lloyd Smith, founder of the Farmers' Improvement Society of Texas, and Joseph Elward Clayton, the first African American to organize farmers' institutes for the Texas Department of Agriculture. Both men advocated comfortable homes and better schools for African Americans; both attributed poverty and illiteracy to causes other than racism, such as insect damage to crops; and both worked to keep Black farmers on the land, although Smith opposed farm tenancy. Both were also accused by their contemporaries of downplaying the devastating impact of the farm tenancy system on Black farmers and of accommodating racism. While the extent of these reformers' influence requires more study, clearly their organizations provided a voice for African American farmers seeking to improve their positions in the agrarian South.