Camera Rolls: 102:87-92
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with A.J. Harris , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on , for The Great Depression . Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of The Great Depression.*
—life during that period of time? And you were telling Val how you lived on the Ashton McComb place, so I was wondering if you could describe the McComb place for me?
Well, to describe the place, to fully describe it would be a little difficult because I can remember in my mind just how the houses and how the people was because a lots of the people I've forgotten their names. But you'd take, people was living about over the place just like people in town, you know we was just country folks living in the country. Now, that was my first year on the McComb Place when the drought caught me. In the situation, done March, my granddaddy passed. And he was the one, you know, that was the big chief on keeping the bread wagon rolling. Well, at that particular time, my grandmother, and I had three brothers, three little—it was smaller kids. In other words, I was eleven years older than the oldest one and they was, the twin girls which was next to me, and I was eleven years older than them and they was just becoming I'd reckon about ten to eleven years old. Definitely I may miss it for one year some way up or down, but the boys was all just little fellows, little boys, you know. But at that time I had the size of a man and I had to be a man, but I didn't know nothing about no managing you know, just getting, just falling in the line of going to work and taking over just the man's load. So that left me, I had to manage, I had to work, and I got a lot of instructions you know from the men around there on the McComb farm, you know giving me advice and I was one of those persons you know I would always listen and take in what a older person would tell me. I wasn't a fellow you know to know it all. So they would advise me how to plant, how to raise gardens, how to take care of young peas, just everything you know. So when this depression come it cut the money off. Now, in 1930 it did very well as long as I was getting the furnish, the cash furnish. But after—
Excuse me a second, can you tell me—
Can you tell me how when the depression came on? Can you repeat that for me?
Well when the depression come on you see, we had planned for one thing and the crop was short. And we couldn't pay back the moneys that we had borrowed for the crop, making it. So that left the landlord, tenants, and everything in our crop. Well, your debts you couldn't pay them, you needed to work and there wasn't nowhere to work, you know, nothing but just, one thing on McComb's place they had a lot of cord wood cut. They fired the gin, a steam gin you know, had a cotton gin, and this gin burned wood. I don't just exactly know how many cords of wood was cut but it was divided among, you know, all of the tenants on the place cut the wood. And they give a dollar and a half a cord and that was good money at that time because there wasn't no other way to do. And during the fall months the one thing that would help us out, it was the little old stave mill. Now, Thiebes[?] was McComb Place and Snyder was where the sawmill was. It wasn't sawmill it was stave mill, where they made staves and McComb's had a lot of land, and he had a lot of oak timber. And we'd get out and we'd make stave boats and take—
[ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] You were saying he had two or three acres, you were describing that for me...two or three miles—
Go ahead, Sir.
Whenever you're ready, Mr. Harris.
All right now to pick up where I left off I'll go from the stave mill—
—and then we'll switch again.
Now, the stave mill was where—
Let's try that again.
There was a car, and I need you to say, "the stave mill sections," that line you were just about to say.
The stave mill we all went to work and was cutting wood from McComb Place for—the stave mill until it gave out it went on, it lasted until, all through the winter. And the next following spring, well they pulled out and they left. So then we had to make it on our own then for whatever we could [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] , that's when the Red Cross come in and giving us seeds, and the home demonstrating agent was giving advice on how to plant, when to plant, and how to fertilize it, and what kind to use. Now, McCombs, he had a warehouse aside the railroad and he'd get the fertilizers and the seeds and different things, and corn to feed the mules and all the like of that when he was buying in to furnish the place, it'll be unloaded you see off of the train car right into the warehouse. Then of course he had his own lock and key on that see, and it was furnished to us from that. Whenever we'd come in we'd always, it'd always be a bill of what we got, only, well I was on the renting side you know, and I was on the buying team, I called myself, but I never did pay for that team. And after winter, we made it all the way through with the food around there, we didn't make, oh, about two or three bails of cotton and owed about six hundred dollars. And the cotton slump was making crop for twenty cent a pound and it come on and fell down to about seven, eight cent. So, it just left everybody in a distressing time, and that's when the Red Cross come in and come us helping. And during that time, the Red Cross, we went to Hamburger[?] a lot of times and picked it up, but the boss always told us you know, when to go and what they was going to be given away and he'd put in the orders of so many families on his place, and that was the way that we got our Red Cross, most of it, through those times in this section where I was living at. But now, it was a pretty big plantation and it was something like, I imagine about, the land run in kind of long strips, but it would be enough plant in there if it was the McComb to, I'd say cover about three square miles, which is, run about 640 maybe acres to a mile. And I don't know, outlying land, he had some where he raised hay up off there at a place called Mist. We'd go up there and haul hay from a barn when we'd need hay for the McComb place down there. But what got us in a real, real tight spot was we worked there about two or three, three years, and everybody just got disheartened and come as moving off, you know, getting rid of the debt and one thing and another. Of course that wasn't the right thing to do, but that's what everybody wanted done.
I want to ask you, I want to go back to what the land looked like at Mr. McComb's place that first year of the drought. What happened to his land?
Well his land was...what happened...it come a rain in the spring of the year and got the water up. It was a, in that where I was living at, it was a break, and this break flooded and taken, oh about a half of the cotton went under. Then that what was left out, on that break side, it got real grassy. And the grass stunted it, the crop you know, and by the time we could get it worked out, well then the drought hit it. And when the drought hit it, well it just never could survive. It just had all that acreage in and little ole bumblebee cotton and I think come up with about four bails of cotton. And that wasn't no cotton for the debt that was on it, see, and it just went like that. Well the next year, following year, as far as something to eat and one thing or another, we had plenty of that because we had done survived, you know it come in then, and made plenty sweet potatoes, peas, and you name it. Gardens were good, but no money. Your price was so low on the cotton crop, which was the money crop to pay it back, until I don't know I think that cotton got down that low to where it was taking about three bails to make a hundred dollars, and that was hard. If you wasn't a big farmer and had a whole lot of land going for you, you just out of luck.
I want to cut for a second.
—say was, you were head of the household, right? You were twenty years old, how did you decide to get Red Cross aid?
Well it wasn't decided, it was just what you might say a public thing. Everybody was needing aid, and when it come in see, I happened to be one of the families that was eligible for getting the Red Cross aid. As afore said, the landlord made the decisions on when for his labor to go and pick up Red Cross aid. Now, I can't just think right definite how much I was getting, but it was seven in family including myself you see, and that's why we'd get the aid when it come down on the groceries and parts like that for seven, a family of seven. Well it'll be, probably other families it'll be a family of seventeen. Well they got more Red Cross aid than what the one that didn't have but three in family. And it went like that, but anything we got back in those days you know was good, and course, why we survived that on our table was because we had free fishing, free hunting, and there wasn't no limit on what you could, you know, just whatever you could catch, whatever you could get. Now I can remember, when President Hoover was the president, people killed rabbits, you know, and made sausage out of rabbit and called it Hoover sausage. And course, back in them days, it was a lot of jokes, you know and I can't think of all of them but they was just telling you know about how Hoover turned the thing around, but you couldn't blame him all the way because he was definitely responsible for all that happening, what is happening in the land. Well it's like when the drought resolved, he wasn't responsible for the drought. But now I think he did give a recipe on how to make those sausage, and that was just as good as people would want, you know [laughs], making Hoover sausages out of rabbits. And course, it was a lots of people, and some done better than others, some didn't because some had more surrounding like goats, and hogs, more chickens, and just you name it you see they had cattle, and they done fairly good, but then still, in making the crop it wasn't very much money coming because you hadn't made enough products to get the money out of paying your debts and, you know, going along like that. But, it seems that one thing kind of pulled the country out is after they changed presidents—
So I want to know about this Red Cross aid. I want to know what kind of products you got, and you can tell me about the food stuffs, and also tell me about the seeds.
All right now—
OK, hold on one second. Let me—
—and I want you to tell me about the food stuffs, and also the seed program.
Now the seed program, when they give out the seeds-
Who's they? Can you tell me? Start all over and say "The Red Cross gave out seeds..."
The Red Cross gave out seeds, and when we went for them, we got peas,
** and kale, we got turnip seed, carrot seed,
** cabbage seeds, just a full line, cucumbers, just everything
** you could put in a garden or that belonged in a garden. Even got egg plants. I didn't know a thing about egg plants until the Red Cross issued those egg plant seeds.
** And that's why they gave some corn. We had some Red Cross sweet corn, you know, plant in your garden. And when we was getting furnished we got flour, we got one pound packages of lard. I don't just remember now how many I got, but it was put up as a one pound package. That was the first time I had seen a one pound package, you know, little old cartons of lard like butter sizes of them so you—And...they issued a, well it was something like a pinto bean, but it was a split bean as they called it, you know the beans already had been sorted out from among the good beans and just all of them was in halves. We got lima beans, which is the butter bean and they was on the split side. But now butter beans were something I didn't hardly like dry, but I loved them all right when they was green. But at that time, you see, to fill in the gap on the food table, well there wasn't no kick on it. But now, during that time of this Red Cross aid, they had the sacks of flour with a red x on it. Now we had been getting twenty-four pound sacks of flour when we was buying flour, but it come with a twenty-five on it. And it had a red x on that red cross and marked on it, "Not to be sold." So they kind of had everything, you know, to where the merchants couldn't take the flour, you know, because they had it in [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] and go sell it. Course now this is just a hearsay that some of them taking it you know and put it in bags, but that's not me knowing, that's just you know, what you might say publicly randomly talked about those ones that would get those carloads of flour, you know, and would give out quick. Now, as it was in the wrong dirt, I'm not familiar with that, but it's just, I just happened to think of one of the jokes that come out. They probably was joking and it could've been true, I don't know, but you see that was a thing of proof if that person hadn't knowed [sic] that they was taking the flour, re-sagging it or either putting it in bails, but it was whole lots of things you know [laughs] the way back then others talked among people, but it didn't ever get nowhere, it'd just be, you know, a conversation between a bird sitting around and talking. And after they changed presidents—
—and what I want you to tell me is what you did on a typical day when you went to get Red Cross aid, how you left McComb place, what town you went into, who you had to see, you know, and that whole process.
Well now when we left the McComb place, three or four of us—the head of the houses—would go in a wagon, and we'd go to Hamburg. And while we'd go, you'd see each one would be processed over there according to your family size and what they would give you. Now, we went plenty of times, maybe we wasn't getting but one or two different items. I can remember one time, we went and just picked up sweet potatoes, bushels of sweet potatoes. Now, a large family would get maybe two bushels, but a medium family wouldn't get but one bushel. And the funny part about it, it was a, a widow lady went with us on the wagon one time. We got over there and her bushel of potatoes was rotten, but happened she caught it when we got them out there to the wagon. They brought them back in and the ones that was letting them out kind of hesitated a little bit but they give her another, just set that bushel back and give another. Well, the one thing I noticed, I found out they was strict, they had to count for every bushel and that rotten bushel they had to keep it, see, because one fellow asked could he have it to go give his hogs. They told him no, they had to keep that. That's got to be turned back in. Well whatever the Red Cross's source of buying this stuff to let it off for aid, well you see whoever had sold them had to make that good. And that, next time—farther than that—is when we got...we got some rice...but mind you, back in those days, you see come in hundred pound sacks and it was issued out just like you getting across counter in the store. So, if you was getting ten pounds of rice, they weighed it out, see, or fifteen pounds or whatever, it'd be weighed out of them big sacks. But now the flour would come in twenty-five pound sacks, and...I don't know I just can't think of what everything they issued in that round, but now we got—
If you could start out in March 1930...
Whenever you're ready.
Ready to start?
I'm ready whenever you are.
All right, from March you plant another crop yet again, repeat. The beginning was a wet time, we had a big break in front of the place where I was living. And that break overflowed and come out, taking the road and part of the field. After the water went back, the cotton was already up. Well it was cultivating time for it and it was, had done got grassy. Course now the young cotton was still younger here, had to be planted after the water went back. Now, one thing happened that during this drought, after this drought, going on into the fall...we had what you call a mild winter. I think we had just a little freeze or frost, you know just a little glaze, just a little ice glaze, and everything pretty well survived through the winter that was green like green vegetation. And it was so warm we had—in that day we had cattle and livestock—we had to put a mixture of light cresol dip in water and keep the stock, I mean the mules, we had to mop them to keep them buffalo gnats—the gnats is called a buffalo gnat, a big gnat—and they would just get on anything, just cover it up, and then just suck the blood until they all fall off. We used black oil like you know, what you're draining out of motors. That was the fall and that winter, you see, there wasn't no hard winter and it didn't kill all insects or nothing—
Frost—it was a light frost, but I was wondering if you could tell me, at the same time sort of describe what the weather was, if you could tell me and explain to me, what made that winter so difficult? Because we understand that that was a really hard winter for people to get something to eat.
Well, it wasn't too much of a hard winter for, as I can recollect, on getting something to eat, but the trick was you see...you might say it was hard too because they didn't have the money to go to the stores and buy, you know, like they'd been in a habit of doing. But now, that's when the time where it come in, the [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] , and we had a mild winter far as being cold. It wasn't a cold, real cold winter. There's one thing I left out. You take, we had—
Wait a minute.
Did he say wait a minute?
Yeah, that truck was too noisy. Go ahead, start again please.
One thing we made a lot of homemade clothes too back there.
You ought to do that again too.
OK, so you want to tell me about homemade clothes?
We used pick sacks and made—
Can you say, "We made a lot of homemade clothes" again?
We made a whole lot of homemade clothes such as jumper—you never wore overalls and jumper—and it was a white pants that was popular, that you bought white duck. Well at lowers we called it what you made pick sacks out of, we made pants out of the lowers and we made jumpers. And I was seamster [sic] long of them time, and I could make, I could make the jumper, and I could make the pants. And I could make them just perfect like them what you bought. I never will forget it was a barber, they called him Crippled Rabbit because he had one leg had been effected some way and the other that made him limp when he walked and that called him Crippled Rabbit. I passed long the streets in Portland there one—it was a weekday—wearing my lowers pants, and he looked at them, and he said, "You know, if it wasn't for that leg." It had a little blue streak out near the edge, and in putting them together, that streak was sewed you know in the cloth itself. Just a blue strand of what you would call it when you're weaving anything you know to make a mock—
July was pretty hot?
July was pretty hot and if you had young corn, it was hot enough for the, the growth of it up in the top, to fire up sunburn. And at that time we didn't have water to water the roots, and that was one thing that made the corn kind of short, but naturally the drought had affected it at any rate. But, it was so hot in July until that tender top of the corn, you know where it's growing up, where the tassel come out, well it would turn white. Just like if you've ever been around watermelons, young watermelons, if you don't cover them with grass, or lay something over them to shade them, they will blister and turn white, and that affects that young watermelon. But if you just cover it with grass, to where it can grow and not sunburn, and cabbage the same way. If a cabbage burns, it rots. That's for sun heat, and that's what happened in July.
So in the fall—
In the fall on over we had a—
Excuse me sir, could you just start that again, "In the fall...?"
In the fall now, it was a mild fall. The cold, you know the frost, it didn't come in November like it usually comes. And it was way over in December some time before we got that little freeze, you know that knocks things off. But, such as cotton stalks on land where, if it wasn't sand land like Buckshire land[?], they just stayed green right on through the winter. And there was green enough looked like to make another crop, and it didn't die, but they cut them down you know to plant. Now, there's one thing that I didn't experience, I heard my granddaddy say that he had seen cotton live through the winter like that and you go down you know and just cut off kind of high, and make another crop on the same stalks. But I didn't see nobody try it, but it was green stalks.
How did you make it through the winter? How did, I understand there wasn't any money, your landlord didn't have any money to furnish you that winter.
All right during the winter time that's when they, this Red Cross come in and we'd go these different places to pick up on food or clothing. But the clothing was always, it would be a shortage when it come down to me getting them and a lot of the people along McComb place. And so, that's why you see a making these homemade clothes come in. And it was a, oh it was just a kind of slick way of doing it. We wear out a sack out on the bottom you know, picking cotton, and then take the top part of it and make us a jumper. [laughs] And it was kind of popular back in them days. Well, it's one of those things when they said need will come along, well you didn't have it, you got it. And the way we got it was a good way of, if you had the talent or skill to do that. But now in the following, from '30 to '31, that's when the spring come and you was having trouble then with the hogs dying off from them buffalo gnats. They come early and they just stayed. Well, I don't reckon people was up on it, you know, with some chemisters[?] or one thing or not, just like if you had ticks and fleas and things like that on cattle, you could take them by the dipping vats you see and when he's dipped, well you knock all that off of them. But these gnats was flying insect and you take these last years now since these chemists and one thing or another is going, you don't see any.
Did you know anyone who got sick, did any of your brothers and sisters get disease? Pellagra?
No, not during them times. Now one thing they give pell—malaria shots. They started that off of twenty-seven behind the high water. And so, once in the spring along in the time of May and June, well they'd have certain time for everybody to meet at a certain place and maybe go into the pharmacy—or drug store we called them in those days—and it would be a government nurse or something there giving malaria shots. And that would take care of you in the time we had mosquitoes. They claimed that was spreading a lot of malaria, and being bitten by different insects, summertime you know, well that saved us on that.
So, tell me about waiting in line in Hamburg.
Now, waiting in line wasn't too much because it turned them off very fast. It wasn't, you didn't, it wasn't a whole line of questions, it was mostly to get the aid—just like I afore said—
your bossman, he would already go in front and he'd be done told how many families he had on his place that needed aid. And so when you got out there they would check each individual that was drawing for a household
** to find out how many was in the family, how many you drawing, and what your name and your address, and like that. So it made it turn off pretty fast in the first aid years, you know, but then after you, you know, got on up the road and changed presidents and one thing and another, it took a little more time, you know, about different aids and there were lots of rules that they changed, you know-
But during the days of Hoover what did you do?
Well this is done at a Hoover time, you know. The landlord, you see, this was a disaster era I say. We had a short crop from the drought, and then short price. What you had, you didn't make nothing hardly, and what you did make wasn't no sale—you know what I mean—it wasn't what you expecting when you started that crop. And that made a big difference.
OK, we have to cut.
This was like a catastrophe. Could you start out, "We were in Hoover days..."
Well what part you want me to start off on?
Well just start off with the disaster part.
Well one thing—I don't think I've mentioned—and that was picking of the cotton. You see, where we had been having seed money, see when you picked a bail of cotton, you'd have a little seed money even if you was sharecropping that you could buy things, you know, for the house out of the cotton seed. Well during that time, everything had done got so low. Until I heard the neighbors talking, up there at Snyder—that was a bowl of thieves—their ginner up there. The bail of cotton—I just remembered now what was paying for the bail of cotton bagging, the ties, and the gin—but here was a fellow had to go home and get a chicken to finish paying his ginner fee. I think it was about 25 cent he owed. Well they wasn't weighing seed at that time, it was just the amount of lent that was in the bail. And they allowed so much for each pound of lent to pay for the ginning, and if you had a light bail, see, you wouldn't have enough to pay for the bagging and the ties what was put on the bail of cotton. 'Course I think that ginning was a, was a kind of solid price, something like a dollar and a half. But now the bagging and ties come in on that. That added a little more money to that dollar and a half and made it two or three dollars or four, whatever.
Let's cut for a second. Let, let's get into-
Can you start out telling me what Mr. McComb did and can you use his name?
And don't forget to keep looking at Meredith-
Look at me when you talk.
Mm-hmm. Now, one thing about this situation, in furnishing, you're supposed to make cotton to pay back the money, but now—as I afore stated about this seed money—it had gotten to where there wasn't no seed money, and in place of selling the cotton, the cotton had to go in a mid-South loan—they called it the mid-South—sosation [?] loan or some kind of loan. Well it was put in in Mr. Ashton's name and your name if you was a cropper, you see. But, what it was, they paid a cent, just a penny on the pound. If your bail of cotton weighed 4.50, you got four dollars loan on the cotton and fifty cents. If it weighed five on it, you got five dollars. But now-
Can you tell me that story again and explain the relationship and how much you got paid, but can you tell me is it you paying per hundred pound? Can you add that so I understand the money calculations?
Now the calculation on this is given, that's where this is coming in. You see, while you're picking your cotton, you got to have something to eat, see. Now, usually whenever you started picking cotton, you'd be getting seed money, and the seeds—cotton seed—would feed you while you was picking your cotton. Naturally the cotton went against you debt, but now the price of the cotton slumped so low until in place of McComb selling it, it was going into a loan, you see. And the loan was loaning one cent on a pound of lent cotton, not on the pound that you put in it, we's putting sixteen hundred in a bail of cotton them days, [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] , Cleveland Big Bowl, and whatever. In a couple of them later years, Deltapine. About 1250 would make a 500 weight bail. Well then the seeds then—it was after that started—was always, they got scales at all the gins then. And you just barely paid ginning out of your seed. But during that time now, it had done got down to where that the seed wasn't paying the ginning and they just swapping it out. They just take all the seeds, you see, to pay for the ginning. Now where McComb had one advantage, he had his own gin. But see if you'd went to another gin of people that had farms and didn't have no gin and wasn't in no gin interest, well you see the seed just went for the ginning. And then if you had anything to settle you could figure out what you owed ginning, but if you just settle for—but now, way it was in this ole big roll of cotton, you'd always have a thousand pounds when you put sixteen hundred pounds of cotton in a bail. But now when it got on down to where they just, Deltapine come out and you—DP&L we called it—and you was using that kind of cotton, and that's what everything fell for in those days-
Let's cut for a second here.
Mr. Harris can you explain that cotton situation to me just the way you explained it to Eric right now?
Well, about this cotton situation, why we's going deeper and deeper in debt was on the price slump, and after this slump well you just couldn't hardly set it at this price. And then it turned to where it was all being put in the loan. And all we could get to even gather the crop would be that little penny on the pound for, you know, that the loan company give to get it.
And what did that mean about your debt situation?
The debt situation that was put in there on the price going up, it was even leveled off at eight cent, but when it was sold, when it was settled on, it was still six cent or six and a half. That is some people would get impatient, and I reckon it wasn't a bad idea to get unpatient [sic] because they had it on some kind of a pool to where that the storage, over a period of four or five years, you see, just laying it in there, was going to eat up the way you hold a whole bail for storage.
Can you break it down for me? What happened to your landlord, could he continue to furnish you during this drought?
No he couldn't, well he had to change his process too.
Can you tell me what was-
He put the squeeze, you know-
Excuse me sir. Can you say Mr. McComb and tell me the story?
Now, Mr. McComb, he went to day labor, and the top price for day labor was 75 cent. Now, those that farmed, well after I'd say the first two years that stayed on, now they raised the food stuff. Some had cattle, some didn't. Well those what didn't have nothing to, you know, hold themselves up, where they had cattle they could sell off a cow or some hogs or something, and that brought in cash money. But now, I don't know just exactly now how Mr. McComb situation went, but you see, in this loan, that cotton was laying up there in storage-
Sir, could you—I'm sorry, just cut.
-while back, starting in the Spring of '30, you got a short crop of cotton. And so, I just want to understand in simple terms, did that mean that the harvest was bad and that you didn't have any money in the fall and in the winter? Can you explain that situation to me?
Well that's the situation about gatherness[?], you see you didn't have any money to gather the crop, and they went to putting it in the loan. That all happened right in the same round.
But I want to know about the crop itself. You had a short crop.
Short crop...and short money on the crop. What I mean, the price slumped. It just, just went from twen-, just fell from the fall before, twenty cent, down to about seven was the highest. Six, six then, six cent and all like that. The buyers would come in and make that kind of offer.
On a personal level, did that mean that you couldn't feed your brothers and sisters? Can you tell me about that?
You had to feed them from a different angle. You see, just like growing a garden, the Red Cross given these seeds, you see, it was plenty of seeds that when it come up in about 60 days, you could go to work and use the vegetables. And...such as peas, okra-
Let's cut now because we—
—probably had pictures of those times like that or something.
Right. What I want to ask you about is absolutely the worst moment you had that year in 1930.
Well one of the worst moments that I can think of was just like December coming up, and you ain't got the money to pay the Santa Claus. And that, that's tough, especially when it's, you know, young children involved. But what did help out—I think I've told you about this little old stave mill, that was in 1930. It went down in '31 I think when we cut all the timber and we didn't have nowhere else to cut, and made staves out of every tree that was, you know, usable for a stave. Even cut down some shade trees in the lane aside the road, you know, where stock would be gatheringg up on the—But during that time, I can't think exactly now what we was, I believe it was two cents-
So you were, you were telling me that in the days of Hoover it was a disaster, can you repeat that whole line for me?
Yeah, we're ready.
In the days of Hoover, now this disaster come up—
No wait, you should, you have to look at Meredith. Just look at Meredith.
Straight to her?
Right, straight to her.
Hold on a second, let that pass. We'll tell you when.
Wait a minute.
We've got to wait a moment.
Hold on just a second, we're still rolling.
Tell me now.
During the days of Hoover,
** we come up with this drought and this short crop. And it was kind of a disastrous time. Now what happened, we didn't make very much crop, and what crop we made the bottom fell out
** just about down to, just to where it just wasn't worth nothing.
** It fell from twenty cent down to seven and a half or six cent and like that, on down to where the cotton buyers wasn't taking chances on buying it from the landlords, see. And then that's when this loan come in. And, we got by on picking and gathering, with every time we could pick a bail, we'd get a cent on the pound, and that come through the landlord because when he get the money he would furnish us that money back off of the cotton as he would get his loan through. Maybe I'm putting it a little better to where you can understand it, and just like if you picked a bail of cotton this week, you could use that money next week. It wouldn't be just time you gin it you got the money. You'd have to wait until the landlord get that money and he'd give you that money or order for the money or whatnot, and then you'd use that money to gather on instead of using the seed money what we had been used to doing. Just like the seed in the cotton was giving us enough money to every time you got a bail of cotton out you could always use the seed money and it was paying the ginning. But it done got so low until the ginning wasn't paid, then you just, you know, swap out.
Sir what did that mean for how you lived and how you survived-?
Hold on, hold on.
Hold on a second. I want you to think about who was the—
Let's cut a second.
Don't forget to keep your eyes on Meredith.
Talk to me, I want to know about your brothers and sisters and how you made sure they didn't starve.
All right, what I would do, we would go for different jobs at different places, such as cutting puff wood, or maybe I'd cut two days in a week, and what was complicated about cutting this wood—puff wood, that goes to the paper mill—the spotters[?] wouldn't have timber to keep the supply of people who was cutting it. And it was stripping it off, had a little paint, you know, and were on lines. And it's giving strips and you and your partner would cut on that even if you was using a buck saw.
So you took this kind of job—
I took those kind of jobs just during, short work you know, you couldn't make a week. You just, if you made a couple of days or three, you'd done good, you see, in that. And, thirty cents a pin, now thirty cents a pin—
I know you're very smart. You really made it so your family survived, but I'm wondering about other people. What kinds of people in your community were hardest hit by the drought, and what did you see them go through?
Well it's kind of a difficult question, now you take...[laughs] it's kind of like, you know, I was too busy.
Can you sit back for me?
You need to sit back.
Oh, I forget.
That's all right, go on and answer it.
I was too busy—as you might say—tending to my own business to pay attention very much to what the other fellow was doing. It's just like, you know, a neighbor of mine in another community across the [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] , now, down in those tough times he got in with one of his Southern friends and they killed a neighbor's cow, and he got caught up with it. Well you see, I didn't never have to do none of those tricks, and of course I always said when a person gets into that kind of category, they is hard up. Especially if he's a preacher or somebody you know that's out to be a leader. But I would always...maybe catch fish or something or other, you know. It may not be everything on the table the way you want it, but it kept something up all the time. I remember, we used to go what you call fish-tracking—I don't know whether you ever heard that word—but that's you go out at night with a light and you either go and you get on a boat and ease along at the bank, or either you can walk the bank. And those buffaloes, cats, big purchase, well you can see them in the water.
Can you tell me about when you went to Hamburg, you—?
All right, when we went for Red Cross, and the landlord would send us, just go for the issuing day—that's after you done got your name listed and they got a record of you—well then white and black would go, see, and according to the line or the way you was arranged, you went, you know, just as it got to you. And that way, well, it was just a kind of a different situation because you got according to your family. If you had two in your family you got two persons' amount that they was issuing, if you had four, you got four persons'. And they taking them, put away others come to them as they lined up. But now, a lot of times, at other places, I went for aid—the Red Cross they called it—and it wouldn't be nothing in this day, but just the black people. Well then when the whites would have their day there wouldn't be no black people. But now over at Hamburg, thats the county see, I went over there and you know they just taking them as they come.
So how much were you paid per hundredth?
Thirty-five cent, I picked for thirty-five cents a hundred.
Can you say how you were paid?
Thirty-five cents per hundred pounds.
Can you tell me the whole sentence?
I was paid...
I was paid thirty-five cents a hundred, and if the cotton was good enough to get two hundred, I'd make seventy cent out of two hundred or whatever pounds come over at a thirty-five cent rate.
And in the drought days, what happened?
In the drought days, I believe that cotton was, had went from a dollar down to four bits. But following that, that's when it went to thirty-five cents. That is back maybe '32, '33, like that. It dropped that cotton down to thirty-five cent.
But you see now they was paying a dollar a hundred for cotton before hand, but you see when they come down to the time of the drought, they dropped it to four bits a hundred. But you see the point was, there wasn't no cotton to pick unless the landlord had a field of cotton somewhere, and it didn't last very long 'cause the whole plantation would get after that cotton. And you'd always kind of save it, you know, let the tenants all get through picking it and then they all would hit the day crop.