Camera Rolls: 102:79-84
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Sam 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.*
Starting now. I wanted to ask you, starting with the first question that I told you about, in 1928 Herbert Hoover was very popular and won by a landslide victory—
Why was he so popular?
He didn't have any intermediaries between himself and body politic. He was his own PR man.
Excuse me for a second, could you, could you start out by identifying him as President Hoover, or Herbert Hoover, Herbert Hoover.
Right. Could you just say, "Well, Herbert Hoover didn't have...or did..."
Herbert Hoover didn't have a bunch of middle men between the presidency and the body politic. And he was a sensitive person, and he had a good feeling for the people who were eating regular [sic]. The people who weren't eating regular, he was insensitive to that, and as evidenced by the bonus march. He was a kindly man, and the Red Cross was his, more or less his baby, and it still manifests some of Herbert Hoover's theories.
When did people first become aware that a drought was coming along? Oh, hold on one second. Let's—
They're just working right across the—
So, when did people first become aware that the drought was coming on?
Well now, when it quit raining, that's when they discovered it wasn't going to, we was going to have a drought. But
see we went there for months on end without rain, and in July of 1930, we had, everyday was 100 degrees or more,
** and no rain. And that catches your attention real quick. That was about the time that everybody realized that the agricultural industry was in trouble.
That's great. Now, the drought and the Depression converged, it was sort of the relationship between them on the area, what effects did the natural calamity have in conjunction with the economic calamity that worked with each other?
Well the drought just about broke, economically, everybody from the field laborer to the banker. And there was just no revenue flow from our major industry. So that was reflected in Wall Street and in the banking industry. Some of the banks in the Delta country had loans that they had made to croppers, plantation people, but they had borrowed the money to make the loans with. And when the planters couldn't pay them off, they couldn't pay the people up in Boston. And nothing irritates you so much as a past due note.
That's great, you're doing just great. Now this area had some trouble already, there were already signs of big economic problems in the '20s, could you describe those problems?
Well, the interest rates had gone up a little bit. Now that creates a problem. But the...the media was reflecting attitudes in the East, down here, and before they knew it they were infected with this "where's my share?" idea. And Mr. Hoover was the president, he was an advocate of the chicken in every pot, you know. And, when your chicken didn't show up, it irritated you. So that was the beginning, that was down at the grass roots. That was even more sensitive than two cars in every garage.
Hold on for a second.
All right, we're just going to cut for a second.
—economic system at work here, you know, between the plan—the bankers, planters, merchants, tenants, sharecroppers, just give me the whole system, how it worked.
Well our major industry in the South, and the Southwest, was agriculture. And here in the East Arkansas and the Mississippi Delta, it was all based on cotton and other rural crops. About the only industry we had, besides agriculture, were the processing plants, the compresses, cotton seed oil mills, the gins, and when agriculture got in trouble, all of these service industries were in trouble. And the farmer, or the plantation owner, or plantation operators, some of which were corporations, are still in existence. They would borrow money to quote "furnish" unquote the farmers, the sharecroppers, the tenants, by way of the plantation operators. The plantation operators had a commissary or a store, the company store so to speak, and that was the way food stuff and equipment was distributed. The plantation operator owned the commissary most of the time, and that was a trickle down type of operation. And the tenant farmer would get his food stuffs [sic], his work clothes, work equipment on credit. And then when the crops were sold, the planter would pay off the bank and distribute to the sharecropper his share of the revenue. And it was a relatively simple operation, and you got used to it just by living in the area. The service people like the department stores, the hardware stores, they had credit that usually ran from year to year like the banks did, but they also, for the individual buyer, individual customer, you was supposed to pay by the month, and—
How extensive was the drought of 1931? How many, what did it affect?
This is just a horseback estimate, but I would say that the thirteen or fourteen states, including some of the Midwestern grain states, but we're speaking now of Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama [sic]. Those states were all affected some way by the drought.
OK, when...well, let's cut for a second 'cause—
So, starting in say 1929, could you describe what happened to the price of cotton?
Well the price of cotton and all other commodities—
Wait, we have a—
Starting in 1929, what happened to the price of cotton?
It...just the bottom fell out of all the markets, but particularly the cotton market. While the stock market was going up, getting ready for a big fall. The cotton market had already gone up, all of the commodity markets had gone up, where cotton was selling, give or take fifteen cents, at a dollar and a quarter a pound. And—
I have to ask you the question again. Starting in like 1929...
Well when it became apparent that there wasn't going to be a good crop, the price went up. It had already been at an elevated position, but the price went up to between a dollar and a dollar twenty-five cents. And our cotton markets, besides the New England area, were England, were in England. And so they were trying to get enough to carry them through to the next crop period, so they were paying some pretty good prices. Then all of the sudden [coughs] they quit selling cotton, cotton goods.
Can you start that again, say "All of the sudden..." Because you were clearing your throat, so—
All of the sudden [coughs]—excuse me [coughs]...all of the sudden they quit selling cotton products—sheets, pillow cases, underwear, petticoats—so there wasn't any demand for cotton, and what demand there was people didn't have any money to pay for it. So the prices plummeted.
Now the Red Cross stepped in...into the area to help out people. How did that system work? Who were the Red Cross volunteers and how did they distribute aid?
Mr. Hoover was sort of the spiritual godfather of the American Red Cross, still is, and he believed that people ought to help each other. Those that had it should spread it around, and shouldn't charge for it,
** you know. And the American Red Cross is still operating on that theory. So the Red Cross was a ex-official agency of the federal government, the Department of Agriculture. And in addition to applying mandates to abrasions, physical abrasions, they were distributing, for the agriculture department, dried beans, black eyed peas, pork, dried pork, whatever to keep you from starving to death. And they became an agency almost of a political nature.
That's great. In this area, there were some complaints, in England, Arkansas for example, that the Red Cross wasn't doing a good enough job. Can you tell me about that?
I'm not too familiar with that situation, but I, having read about it since I came to Arkansas...it was, it was over emphasized in the Eastern media that the Red Cross had an agency, or was the agency to distribute certain surplus commodities over at England. And the word got out that the money-, that the supplies were there, and that they just weren't giving them out. You'd come in and if you didn't have the paperwork there they'd turn you down. So, a lot of people, particularly the tenant farmers who felt they were entitled to the commodities that were being distributed by the Red Cross, had a meeting out in front of the store, the Country Store Mercantile establishment there in England. And you get a bunch of hungry people together and you don't need but one rabble-rouser and you've got problems. And that was what happened there. There was a lot of misunderstandings about that particular situation and throughout the South. The Red Cross when you, well, any agency that depends entirely on volunteers, there's going to be some foul-ups, and that was what happened there. I think the commodities, and again I'm depending on somebody else's reporting, I think the commodities were available and that the Red Cross was just merely slow in proceeding with its paperwork. And usually down in this part of the country, particularly for the day laborers or even the salary people you get paid on Friday, and you buy groceries either Friday afternoon or Saturday, so you'd have a Sunday dinner. And so Friday and Saturday went by and they didn't get their issue of commodities. And that'll upset you.
We're going to have to stop there for a second. Somebody was knocking on the door.
All right, what I wanted to ask you, what were you doing, what was your job at the time of the drought coming on? Where were you?
I was here in Arkansas at Pine Bluff, on the daily paper down there. When I moved over to Mississippi in August or September, of '29, and I was a newspaper reporter. I was the whole city staff and an ex-official sports editor...covered everything from the police court to the football game.
What kind of—you read about the England riot in the, in your—
In the , yes.
Can you start out by saying, "I read about the riot in...?"
I read about the England situation, and I think even now that the people who wrote that story would probably agree that it was mislabeled. It wasn't a riot, but it was quite a demonstration. And I read about it in the Memphis , and they, the , had, here in Arkansas, had quite a bit of coverage, distribution, and to this day have a bureau here in Little Rock. And their Arkansas readers were interested in anything that happened in Arkansas, but more particularly over there in that area.
Now were people scared that what happened in England might catch on? Who, if there were people scared of that, who would they be?
[laughs] Newspaper editors [laughs], but, there was a feeling of apprehension.
You get hungry,
** and you miss a payday, you get real antsy. Anybody does. And you get a feeling that the world's going to hell in a hand basket, and you can't position yourself in such a world.
** And it makes you antsy as all get out.
Now afterwards there were reports that, wow, maybe there were Communists involved in the England food riot. It seems, I mean, does that make any sense?
I don't think so, I don't think it makes any sense that there were Communists involved. We still see Communists everyday up and down the streets here.
Who were these people that came into England? I mean you had some experience in Pine Bluffs and places nearby, what kind of people would come in on a town like that?
Well there were people whose plantations or the tenant farmers had accounts and did a lot of their shopping at this mercantile establishment. Buy their overalls, and their work shoes, and cloth for dresses and aprons, they would buy it there rather than through their own commissaries. And they were known, they were known by the merchants, and they felt that there was a...that there was a good relationship. And it was a paternalistic type of thing, handed down by the plantation owners, or the landowners, through these country stores to the tenants, croppers.
All right let's cut for a second because I think we have—
So, could you talk please about the seed, feed, fertilizer debate?
That was an outgrowth of the Depression. First off, it was hard to get ahold of it, and after it got here you had a hard time paying for it. And that was the beginning of the farm subsidies in the United States. Feed, seed, and fertilizer. And now the feed of course was for the livestock, the seed was to plant in the ground, and the fertilizer was to make them both grow. The part, by-product of that area, there's a ground corn that's called "chops," and that was very handy in making moonshine whiskey. Let it ferment, and then run it off when you still and you'd have some great White Lightning. And, but that wasn't why they passed the feed, seed, and fertilizer bill. And Senator Robinson gained his national reputation on the basis of that particular bill. And also, for pepping Mr. Roosevelt, President Roosevelt, changed the complexion of the Supreme Court, which you'll recall that Senator Robinson was Vice President nominee with Al Smith. I believe it was in '28.
Well I wanted to ask you, there was the debate in the seed, feed, there were also senators saying, well, we should also give them food, but food was denied.
Yes, well now Senator Robinson and Senator Caraway both suggested that those that couldn't feed themselves, it was the obligation of the federal government to see that they didn't starve. But there were a lot of other senators, very few of them from the South, that advocated feeding them, feeding people. But the, that's still sort of a, of one of our more major parties. Now, if a man can't take care of himself, his government should do it.
Now why did they deny food to the area?
Well they figured they were chiseling, I mean they were a bit cynical and—
Well I'm sorry, who was, who was a bit cynical?
The...you Yankees [laughs] were a bit cynical. The people up there who like—the folks that had pretty good jobs, good paying jobs, they couldn't understand why people down in another geographical area couldn't feed themselves, couldn't get a job and go to work. And they had jobs, but they weren't getting paid. And you can't buy rib eye steaks on a black-eyed pea salary. And there were people, even in their own communities, just couldn't believe that such-and-such family up the block or across the alley weren't eating regular.
But they weren't, were they?
It just seems—
And in that connection, the people who weren't eating regular had a great pride, and they didn't want to ask for help. I've made it his far by myself and I'm going to make it and see that my kids are fed, and they just didn't feel like they should ask somebody else to support them.
That's great, that's great. It seemed cruel though that Hoover, President Hoover would not, would veto a bill for food. And that Hyde, Secretary of Agriculture Hyde, would speak out against it. Was it cruel?
Well, I think it was cruel. That was one of the great things that brought the Democrats back into power.
Let me see, how, I need to ask you again to put it in your own words that it just didn't seem fair that President Hoover was working against giving food to people here.
Well, politics had entered into this now. And [laughs] the Republicans, ever since Mr. Lincoln was killed, had been looked upon as sort of cold-blooded characters. And if a few of us starved to death, it isn't going to hurt the country. So that's sort of a hallmark of Republicanism, and of course I may be tarred and feathered for saying that, but [laughs]...
So Mr. Hoover was—
Mr. Hoover operated on—
I'm sorry, could you just start that again on Mr. Hoover?
Could you just start—?
I was just, I was zooming the lens.
Mr. Hoover was at best, or at worst, very, very conservative. And he never had missed any meals, neither had his wife, and nothing changes your attitude like going hungry a couple of days. And he never had had that. And he just couldn't believe that there were people in his, under his administration, that were not eating regular.
That's great. How did this drought and depression affect you personally?
Well, I had just gotten married and we had a child on the way. I had changed jobs from one pretty good job in Arkansas to one over in Mississippi where I was getting $45.00 a week. And that's pretty good pay back in those days for a newspaper reporter, at entry level anyhow. So, when the advertisers quit advertising, our publisher had to do some retrenching, and they retrenched by cutting salaries, laying people off. And so my salary dropped from $45 one week, one Friday, to $19.25 the next Friday, and that's a pretty sharp drop. And that was at about the time of—things were so tight banks were going broke, and we had to do a barter system. It was not only typical of that part of the Delta, but it was typical of a lot of the Old South. You'd do something for me and I'd pay you back with my services. Like our newspaper would take advertising and accept a due-bill or a coupon from you for your advertising. They would turn around and endorse that due-bill to their help. And then you could do whatever you wanted to with those due-bills, but you usually went and cashed them just as quick as you could at the grocery store, the drug store, the filling station, wherever. And the barter system has always been part of the American economic outlet and we always fall back on it. When you don't have any rattling change in your pocket [laughs], you barter.
And that's what happened here?
That's great. Let's cut for one second.
The federal government would say, we want the state and the local people to help out, but it wasn't clear that the state and local governments could help out very much, why?
I'm sorry could you say the local, state local, start it out so it's identified.
The state and local people, or governments, they don't have the resources, particularly in the Old South where it is not industrialized, or was not industrialized in those days. And their governments just simply did not have the money to do it. And they looked to the federal government, or they looked somewhere else, and of course outside help from any source was welcome. There were a lot of big foundations back in those days that Mr. Hoover was sort of the spokesman for, in his role as president. But there was no other means where we could get our feed, seed, and fertilizer subsidies, except from the federal government.
Sir, could you describe the development of diseases, and, diseases and malnutrition during the drought? Could you describe their progression, how they got worse and worse, and tell me what kind of diseases they were?
There was pellagra, which was a, it was a nutritional deficiency. I forget which one of the vitamins that you didn't get, but you just ate a very unbalanced diet. Greens, and lard, and cornbread, and you didn't get all your vitamins that you needed there. You were able, you were getting your roughage but not your vitamins. So you, and a similar disease that affected the little people, small children, called rickets. And every now and then you'll see a fifty or sixty year old man, or woman, walking around with their knees bowed out. That's a result of the rickets. And it was a nutritional, they weren't getting what they was supposed to get. They weren't getting the milk that they should have had. And it's a nutritional deficiency.
Was there a lot of this during the drought?
Yes, yes there was, much more than would be expected. My father-in-law was a doctor and he saw it all the time. And he prevailed upon our local health department to distribute certain nutritional substances. The most popular one was something called Brewer's Yeast, and that's what it was, yeast the brewers used. And you'd eat it and get a lot of the things you were missing out of your daily diet. And the little fellers, the little kids, they missed their milk and they—there are grown people now in our society that were deprived of a proper diet as they were coming along.
That's great. Why did people call rabbits "Hoover hogs?"
[laughs] Well, they weren't able to get ahold of any pork of their own at the butcher's shop, or they couldn't raise it, they didn't have a place to raise a hog of their own. So they'd go for wild meat, and the handiest thing to have was these little cottontail rabbits, and they were called Hoover hogs. And they made great dumplings. You could get, [coughs] they provided a lot of, it was sort of a delicacy, still is. Like frog legs, it's a delicacy. And you had to be pretty fast of foot to catch one, but you could shoot them with a .22 rifle. If you could buy the shells you could go hunting, particularly in the snow and get them. And that was meat, that was a source of meat. Hoover hog.
That's great. Now, winter was setting in, in winter of 1930, '31.
What was it like for the people of this area who didn't have enough?
It was misery.
Could you start out by saying, "When winter came on..."?
When winter came on it was misery. And, in addition to food shortages, their foot gear. They didn't have enough shoes, and you're running around outdoors in freezing weather, you get frostbite, barefooted. And...the fuel, if you lived in the country, lived out of, you could buy coal, if the mines weren't shut down, [laughs] you could buy coal. And if you could afford it if you lived in town, and you could in the country. But you depended upon native woods, timber, to supply your fireplace, your cook stove, with fuel.
So people got pretty cold then?
Yes, they got cold. And the houses, where you'd try to save on fuel, you would save on fuel to, for cooking purposes mostly, and you didn't burn all your fuel up in the fireplace. And the houses were not always properly ventilat—insulated. And the idea of defeating it, you'd put the kids to bed and you'd take off your shoes and go put your feet in the oven.
So that's what people did to stay warm.
They didn't have enough clothes either, right?
No, they didn't have enough clothes. And the major shortage is, in my recollection, is that people didn't have shoes, they couldn't get them. Now there were good work shoes, good quality work shoes at the commissary for the people who were following the mules and following the plow, but the little kids, you had to go to town to buy shoes for them. And they weren't always available.
OK, that's great. I wanted to go back to [coughs] Senator Robinson and Caraway, those two senators.
What kind of people were they? How did they try to take care of the people here during the drought? What were their ideas about helping people here?
Senator Robinson, and Senator Caraway too, and Senator Caraway's widow who became a senator...they had a good rapport with the so-called "man in street," "the man in the field." Senator Robinson was, he was former governor and had connection with the utilities. I don't know whether he—he was a lawyer—I don't know just exactly what his connections were, but he still was a politician, and he had good rapport with the people in the street, the people at the workplace, and certainly with the bankers and the utilities. And they—no politician wants to see a constituent hungry or out of work. And that was their theory.
They thought the Red Cross could help a lot.
Yes, well the Red Cross at that point—
I'm sorry sir, could you start again with the Red Cross?
The Red Cross in those times were, was the only recognized charitable organization in the nation, outside of the Salvation Army. But the
** in this part of the country would turn to the Red Cross for all kinds of help. And the senators or politicians, Washington, worked through the Red Cross.
** And the senators were anxious to see that their constituents got everything that was available to anybody else. And they did a pretty good job of it too.
Now it was claimed that if you gave food to the people of Arkansas, you'd have to give food to the people in the cities in the North like Detroit and places like that. That was really an important part of that debate in Congress.
Can you talk about that at all?
Well, I don't think, I don't recall, that our senators and congressmen opposed food, or free food so to speak, for people in other parts of the country. But the theory was that the big city folks had jobs, in which they could go to the grocery, the butcher shop, and buy food. And that, and it got much worse till a lot of the urban poverty people were as bad off as the folks down here in this country. But the theory was that those people in the urban areas had their own organizations. They were not objects of charity, and again pride entered into that. So if those Yankees up there are getting, have a job and being able to buy whatever they need, why should we give them some of our money, our groceries? But, it didn't work out that way. Everybody during the Depression, which is a compliment or and adjunct of the drought, everybody was in the same boat.
In 1929, what happened to the price of cotton?
You'd have to go back earlier than that to the 1920s, 1922 I believe it was, and we had depression of sorts in those days.
Could you start off by saying, "We had a depression in 1922..."?
Yeah, in the early 1920s. And the price of cotton, after it got over—
Excuse me, could you start out by saying, "In the early 1920s we had a depression..."?
And trace it from there.
In the early 1920s, we had a depression, and the price of cotton fell. And when the market was stabilized, and the market was dependent upon the cloth makers in England, the Carolinas, and all over the United States, when they got back in business and started buying cotton, the price shot up. And we had a drought of sorts and a depression of sorts in the early '20s. But when the price got built back up, it kept creeping on up, sort of following the stock market until it just was so inflated and the demand suddenly just cut off like you's [sic] turning off a hydrant, that the Great Fall started, the big fall occurred. And it flopped from one dollar plus per pound to ten to fifteen cents per pound.
This is right around the time that the stock market crashed.
Great, thank you. Will Rogers visited here, can you recall his trip?
Yes. I was not based in Arkansas at the time, but I was a string correspondent for the old out of Atlanta, and they had heard that Mr. Rogers was coming and the nearest correspondent was me, over at Clarksdale, Mississippi. And they asked if I could cover it. And I rode the ferry across to Helena, and he was there, and then he came on up. He started his tour, and it was sort of a charity drive. He was speaking for the poor and downtrodden. He had a great sense of humor, but a great feeling for the problems. And he just put on one of his shows, at Helena, and charged admission, charged you to get out instead of getting in. Tried the same thing at Stuttgart and it worked better if he charged you to get in. But he didn't turn anybody away. And he put on about, oh, it seems to me it was much longer than an hour, but he put on about an hour show and just talked, and he twirled his rope, you know. One of his jokes for this part of the country, a great one of the relief projects was that we would channel the Arkansas River and make it a navigation, navigational stream, which it is today. But he said that we ought to pave it over and give everybody Ford cars. [laughs] Use the river as a highway [laughs] instead of a navigational project. It'd be cheaper. And that went over like a lead balloon in some of these parts.
[laughs] What was the other joke that he cracked?
Now he's the one that came up with the Hoover hogs. He said that his legs were tired—he had lost a lot of weight, he'd been doing a lot of running recently. That he had run along beside this rabbit and feeled [sic] him to see if he was fat enough to kill.
OK, let's cut for a second.
Well you were saying that Will Rogers, could you start by saying, "Will Rogers..."?
Will Rogers was a great individual, and he had tremendous leadership qualities. He was a statesmen, and he could have been elected almost anything he wanted, not only in Oklahoma, but all over. But he didn't want to be bothered with it. He didn't have a real high regard for politicians, and he didn't want to be labeled a politician. It was sort of a, he said it was like sort of being accused of stealing money from the church [laughs].
All right, that's great. What was the role of the press during the drought? How did they report the drought? Tell me why.
The...the press—and I say this with certain reservations—the media, but back in those days it was the printed media, the press, is sort of a Chamber of Commerce organization. They, unless there is some real bad things going on socially or otherwise in the neighborhood, they don't want to stir up a lot of bad publicity for their advertisers, or some of their readers. And so when we would have these social tragedies, that the Depression was, they would hit only the high spots of it, and do that with quite gingerly. They didn't want to stir up a lot of impression, inside the community or outside of the community, that things were not well at home.
Great, so they were, how did they report the drought? How did they report the drought?
Well now they reported the drought strictly as a weather story. You know, in newspapers, one of the best continuing stories, and the broadcast media had followed, is the weather. There are more people interested in the weather than there are in anything else. They'll read the weather story before they read the obituaries, and that's the main thing of all of us country newspapers is the obituary page. But they'll read the weather story and that's the reason they quite frequently wind up on the same page.
OK, let's cut for a second.
What I want to know is why, why the England story became such a big story?
So far as I know, and my recollection of what the newspapers reported at that time, it was the first time that we had ever come that close to having conflict between the feds and the common folk. That is the reason. I mean it broke out into the open,
it was the kind of thing the newspapers couldn't ignore. And in the secret hearts of a lot of our leaders, community leaders throughout the South, throughout the Midwest, was this feeling that we're on the edge of something, and we don't want to get it started here at home.
** That edge of something being a economic, social, and political revolution. And, you get to thinking about that, get to thinking about it happening out where you live, it'll just wear the hell out of you. You realize it's not only possible, but it's probable.
That's wonderful, you're great. [coughs] Could you give me the social strata of the area again? It starts with the-
The plantation operators.
Not necessarily individuals, but there's still a lot of corporate, and most of the plantation operations were of a corporate nature. However, they had one, or a family at the head of it. But the, this was a plantation society. We didn't have any mines, and until oil came in the South Arkansas and Oklahoma, we didn't have any other resource except our agriculture. And, cotton was king. Real crops were king, were royalty in our economic status. So everything was built in the system, and it was a system, was built around the so called plantation economy. There was the boss man, who engaged, he contracted for the medical help, he contracted for the hardware, which you needed to harvest with. And, then so under him were the tenants, the foremen, the overseers, and the tenants. But to his right—or maybe it was to his left, but it was to his right [laughs]—that the so called service industries, the banks, the hardware stores, the wholesale grocers, and the department stores that supplied a lot of the clothing that you needed on a day-to-day basis. And the whole economy was based on the plantation thing. Your doctors-
So could you, you start again with the, give me the social strata? You could go back a little bit and talk about the boss man, and who was the boss man, who was at the very bottom, and march us down.
The boss man of the head of the plantation was really the key at the top of the plantation system. And he had a lot of friends and associates that themselves were not planters. The doctors, the lawyers, the education people, and the dry good stores, and they would be socially and economically—always socially—on the same strata with the plantation operators. And the professional people, so called professional people, and professional merchants were actually hand maidens—and the bankers—were hand maidens of the planters. And that's the way it was. I'm not criticizing it, but that's the way it was. And there is an inclination, even to this day, for that to happen, but it doesn't anymore. The doctor, if one of your tenants or sharecroppers came down with a toothache, he'd call the company doctor, who would pull the tooth if necessary. But there were a lot of areas of health, particularly where nutrition was concerned, that the average sharecropper did without, and wasn't always aware he was doing without. So long as he wasn't hurting, he was happy. And he'd get into, he had an entrepreneurial outlook, and he'd start making moonshine, [laughs] and peddling it himself.
Who was at the very bottom?
Of the plantation system? I don't know that they had the day laborer in those days as they do now, but the man at the very bottom was the sharecropper or the tenant. And the tenant usually was a sharecropper, but not always. But they would, the plantation owner and his bank, would supply a furnish on a credit that ran about nine months, from the time your cotton was planted till it was harvested. And the man that did the labor, and his family, were at the bottom of the stack. You'd go to a land holder and tell him you'd like to make a crop for him, you'd like to work for him. One of the first questions he'd ask you, not about your credit, but how many hands do you have? That matters how many people you can put out in the patch to pick cotton. And, he'd always count his wife, and his kids that were of any stature tall. They were good cotton pickers. And the mothers would take the babies out to the field with them and put them on top of a sack and drag them along.
Those cotton sacks were vicious things. They were, they would hold maybe two or three hundred pounds of hand-picked cotton, and you'd pull it across on your shoulder up and down the cotton row. Stooping over all the time,
** or down on your knees, picking cotton.
So the mothers were taking their kids with them, right?
Oh yeah, the mothers would take their kids with them. And usually they'd take, they'd get up early and carry a lunch or a dinner in a lard pail, bucket to feed the whole family. Wedges of cornbread, fruit jars full of turnip greens, cold turnip greens, turnips. And you got your hot meal if your mother worked in the field, or your wife worked in the field with you, you got your hot meal in the morning or at the evening meal at bedtime.
OK, I want to switch gears very quickly. What kind of status did the Red Cross volunteers have in the community?
Well, the Red Cross volunteers, it was, they had a good...acceptance by the rest of the community. A lot of folks thought they were foolish, but there were enough people with good will in their hearts to volunteer. They felt that that could be a contribution, if they just count the number of sheets on a tablet. They were making a contribution to the system. And there was, I never heard of anybody who wasn't available for so called volunteer work with the Red Cross.
Thanks a lot. Let's cut for a second.
You don't have to say it if you don't feel comfortable with it.
I wouldn't feel comfortable with it.
It's all right, just cut.
This morning when—