Interview with Oscar Fendler
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QUESTION 7
INTERVIEWER:

Let me ask you about the Agricultural Adjustment Act. You said you had some friends who didn't like it. Can you tell me why people didn't like the triple A?

OSCAR FENDLER:

You had two groups of people in this county. It was the, in regard to the Triple A system. That was a, that law was passed when Mr. Roosevelt in the Hundred Day period there in 1934. And that, that it was absolutely slanted for the protection and encouragement of the tenants or really, I would say, of the landowners more than the tenants even.

INTERVIEWER:

Can you start that over? It was actually the Hundred Days in 1933.

OSCAR FENDLER:

In '33, did I say '34?

INTERVIEWER:

Yes.

OSCAR FENDLER:

'33 and, and, it was adopted, the act was adopted in '33, the AAA was. And it was slanted to, towards the landowners, not the tenants and certainly not the sharecroppers. And the reason it was slanted that way, when you read the act itself, all the settlements was to be made when they would give them money for not planting crops for 1934, '35 and '36, they give them a certain benefits, government benefits, cash benefits. It went to the landlord and then it was up to the landlord to distribute it down to his tenants. And they, they, they felt like maybe they had some hold over the landlord about doing it, but the provisions in the act were awful for blacks. As a result, any number of the tenants resented it. They'd get the government payments and they wouldn't get anything or would get very little and so they would feel that either Mr. Crane, with Lee Wilson, or these other plantation owners were getting the money and leaving them out.

INTERVIEWER:

Would you say, then, that the landowners generally did split the parity payments or what would you say?

OSCAR FENDLER:

My observation was is very, at the time, the landlord took his part of it, there wasn't much to split with the tenant. That was my observation. And the tenants were not in a position to argue with them. And they, they took what was there. And as far as the sharecroppers is concerned, they weren't even considered at all. They weren't amenities. They were just hired hands to work on a farm.

INTERVIEWER:

And how did your friends feel about the program?

OSCAR FENDLER:

When you, when I look back at back there, you know, sixty years ago and with friends, my, I'm confined let's say to legal, my legal problems, you know, at Lee Wilson Company and other places. And my observation was, of course, that the, the landowners were pleased. They thought it was, if they went without it, they'd have gone broke. So they were very pleased with it and it worked fine with them.
** My, the observation, recollection of what tenants would say
** is there was talk to men and visit with them and stuff was that they were unhappy. They didn't think that they were getting their fair share, and of course those on the lower down, the sharecroppers, would, would, thought they just were gouged. They didn't get anything.
** [NOTE Interview gathered as part of The Great Depression - Mean Things Happening; Episode 315-06]

INTERVIEWER:

Now, last time when we talked, you said you had some friends who didn't like the Triple A because they felt what was Washington telling them how to farm in Mississippi.

OSCAR FENDLER:

It's the same thing that when, I suppose a person's out in the ocean and his, you know, in the Navy, and the ship's sunk on him, and you rescue him and you get him back on your ship, you know, save his life and everything.

[audio only]
OSCAR FENDLER:

He's very grateful, maybe, for a week or so, but after that he begins wanting—

INTERVIEWER:

Oh, we've rolled out. Too bad. Can you do that again?

[cut][slate][change to camera roll 315:88] [sound roll 315:49]
INTERVIEWER:

OK. We're ready.

OSCAR FENDLER:

The, the distinction there on the, about the, I'm talking to you or discussing here, the Triple A program and how, what reaction we had in, in Mississippi County here in Arkansas, it was, they felt like when President Roosevelt and the Congress passed it, it was wonderful, a great blessing and big opportunity, because everybody's broke and this is going to bring in some money and create some jobs and create work. We had public works here with the CWA, railroad, bridges, and buildings, and stuff like that. So everybody is on a high spot. They thought it was marvelous and everything. Then after, when the money came back to the farmers, the landowners, let's say '34 or '35, most of the money stayed in the hands of the landowner. He was, gosh, he was broke and any way he could keep as much money as he could he did. And so the tenants didn't get too much out of it, and they weren't, of course, the tenants, a great number of them weren't too happy with it. But the situation had been improved considerably so they went along with it. With the sharecroppers, the sharecroppers didn't make much difference one way or the other, because a sharecropper in the eyes of the landowner was just as a, almost you'd compare him, he was one step above the mule. Maybe the mule was more, meant more to the plantation and the farm than the sharecropper did. Have somebody there working, just a hand laborer was what he was. And when they put in that program of which was awfully exciting, you know, going to plow up a third of the cotton. So they plowed a third of cotton, and everybody was a ton, saying, "Well, what the, what do you want to do that for?" Cotton was selling for five cents a pound. They couldn't even pay for growing it. So, they thought by cutting down production of cotton it'd raise the price, which it did. Then, when they started slaughtering the pigs, then that got everybody's attention, you know, and well, "Why do you want to slaughter them? Why don't you just give them to all of these starving people? There are plenty of starving people here in the county." Truthfully, I don't know what happened to the pigs after they got killed, because I wasn't down there and it wasn't my job to check them. But my guess is that none of that, none of that food went for waste. That it all went for the people that needed it. And you know, and really wanted it. But that caused a lot of criticism of the program, that it wasn't the right way to do it and everything. And, and our people in this county who had money or had a little property were conservatives. They, they felt what Roosevelt was doing was good for them and they wanted it and everything, but it was radical. His views were radical and, and that. So then they began saying, "Wait a minute here. What direction is President Roosevelt taking us?" And so you'd get, start getting criticism among the folks who had a little college education or thinking of that. That wasn't true of Mr. Crane, who was the boss at Wilson. He saw that it meant a great deal to his  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]  Wilson, and it did. In a sense, he was a political boss in the county. In other words, Hoover's going to be in any of our offices, who's going to be in the governor's office, who's elected over there, he was instrumental in seeing that they were elected. And—