- Historic Sites
Ed A Black Sharecropper’s Story
DRAWN FROM INTERVIEWS WITH JANE MAGUIRE
February 1976 | Volume 27, Issue 2
I was just beginnin the fourth day’s work when a colored gentleman, a butcher, come out from Rochelle and bought a cow. He had got old. If I help him butcher this cow, he’ll give me the tripe, the head, the tail, and the feets. So I goes to Mr. Prince. It was early in the mornin, and he was at the table pray in. I had to wait the longest for him to get through; then I ask him could I help butcher the cow. “Go if you want to.”
After we butcher the cow, I jump over the fence and taken what meat the butcher give me to my wife. We was glad to get it. Then I goes right back to the sugar mill and ask Mr. Prince what do he want me to do. “Nothin, you quit and went to helpin somebody else.”
He had promised to pay me in syrup. Now he didn’t want me to have any. So I ask him to pay me in money. He turnt me off. I ask him to let me cut him a cord of wood for an overall jacket to wear the comin winter. “No. I don’t need no wood cut. I can tie a string around my plantation, and me and my boys can live in it for twelve months.”
The way I look at it, all our work—mine and the other tenants’—was piled up around him.
Soon after that we left there. My wife was singin and bouncin Lottie on her knees.
Ought’s a ought, All for the white man None for the nigger.
Durin the worst of the panic people was walkin to and fro, up and down the highway. Men would come into the settlement and go from house to house beggin for somethin, anythin to do. The white people could get a yard cut for thirty cents and hedges clipped for twenty-five cents.
In 1930 I sold my cotton for five cents a pound. My share of that was two and a half cents. A man who didn’t have no regular way of gettin food had to steal or starve.
Bob Abbott couldn’t get a farm. Him and his wife and chilien—five or six—didn’t have enough to eat. I come acrost him one day settin on the railroad.
“How is your people?”
“Down with the measles.”
“What you settin here for?”
“I’m scared of the measles.”
But he caught them and died. While he was livin him and his people went hungry. But the day he died I went by the leakin, broken-down house he was livin in, and you couldn’t hardly get in his yard for the people bringin ham, shoulders, flour, meal. It was all stacked up.
Just about the time of the panic the tractor come in strong. At first it didn’t have rubber tires, just cleats that would catch in the ground. The driver would only work in the middle of the field, and men with mules went in the corners and along the fences, where you couldn’t turn a tractor around.
In just a few years the tractor improved so much it put the mule out of business. The landowner was quick to take a likin to the tractor. With it he would have no people to feed, no doctors’ bills or houses to repair, and no mules to feed. He could buy fertilizer with the money he used to pay hands.
Men started walkin the roads lookin for a farm, for a dry place to sleep, and a place to raise somethin to eat. Mr. So and So, they’d tell me, has got a tractor and I got to move. Some would walk weeks lookin for a farm.
One day my granddaughter answer a knock at the back door. “It’s a white man out there!” She run to me when she seed him.
I goes to find what do he want. Together with him bein white, what scared my granddaughter, I think, is that he was bearded and had a long, poor face. Do we have any food to give him? “How many eggs can he eat?” my wife ask.
She cook them and fry him some bacon and make him some hot biscuits and a pot of coffee. I put a quart of buttermilk in front of him. There was syrup and butter on the table. He finished every bit of it. Then he come and set down in the front room. “If I had a place to lay down now and go to sleep, I’d be all right.”
I was afraid to keep him.
We was havin a dry spell and I had been haulin water from Abbeville, where he come from. I decided to haul water from Rochelle because if I carry him there, he wouldn’t be passin by my house again.
An old, old gentleman come one cold winter night. He was raggedty and patched every which a way. After he got thawed out by the fire, he was settin there talkin. I ask him where was he travelin to.
“Why you walkin way to Florida?”
“The one I love is down there and I’m goin to get married.”
“Well, I believe if I had got as old as you is, I wouldn’t take a wife.”
“Yeah, all of diem tell me that. But they just like you.”
“They’re settin up side of theirs.”
One day in Hoover times comin home from Kramer along the railway track, I walk up on a fellow sittin in a dugout.
He was travelin to Savannah, and I say, “I’m goin on down about a mile. We can walk along together.” He was carryin a bundle of clothes tied up in a bed sheet. When we got nearly to the turnoff for my place, we come on a dead rabbit the train had run over. The man grabbed this rabbit just like it had been alive and was goin to run.