- Historic Sites
Ed A Black Sharecropper’s Story
DRAWN FROM INTERVIEWS WITH JANE MAGUIRE
February 1976 | Volume 27, Issue 2
I had got to missin my Model T, so in 1932 I followed the style and made me a Hoover buggy. To do that you took the front axle of a Model T Ford and the two front wheels, and a lot of folks use the front seat with springs out of the car. It was drawn by a horse or mule and rode good with rubber tires.
Ours come in handy that summer, when Highway 280 was paved. We would go to town and buy groceries and my wife cooked them and I went up and down the highway in our buggy askin the workers which want to order a plate for noontime. We didn’t earn much money, but we sure ate good.
Later I got to work on 280 with the PWA. If you had even a bank of taters and they knowed it or if a boss man said he could take care of you, you couldn’t get on.
I’ve seen a lot of work on Highway 280. When I was a boy, one of the houses we lived in was high on a hill near an old wagon road. Me and my sister Rose would set in the yard and watch the convicts gradin it with picks and shovels and mattockses and grubbin hoes. They wasn’t suppose to talk with nobody, but they was good at sidlin alongside someone. “Don’t never come to the chain gang, boy.” I didn’t want to go there. When the men was whipped down in the swamp, we could hear them hollerin clean back to our house.
To grade the road men took the hills down by shovels. Standin in two lines, the convicts would face each other, every man with a shovel. A mule and wagon would be driv between them lines. When the wagons got to the bottom, they would be loaded.
Say there was a hole the chain-gang captain want to fill up. He’d put his foot in the hole. “Put that dirt on my foot.” The men wouldn’t pick up a shovelful like they did when they was throwin dirt on the wagon, just a thin layer. They could throw that much a pretty good ways.
Shovelin and throwin and singin:
Cap’n, Cap’n, has the money come? None of your business, I don’t owe you none.
They’d soon get the hole filled.
Then most of the colored couldn’t look at a sheet of music and sing by notes. But the colored man had his own music in his mouth. If you can get up the spirit in a big group, it will make you feel good. The burden will lift.
In July, 1932, I got me one of the first eight-hour jobs that ever come to Abbeville in Mr. Julian Graham’s sawmill. They was payin five dollars a day wages. Mr. Graham got to be the mayor of Abbeville.
The biggest thing about that sawmill was the whistle. People on the farm had always worked from sunup to dark. At the mill they’d blow the whistle for lunch and for knockin off in the evenin. The people livin in town heard the whistle all the time. It got so when they went out to do farm jobs, they just didn’t want to work after that whistle blow.
At first everybody who could got them a job at that mill. There was the whistle. And there was another reason. Mr. Graham didn’t want his hands locked up where they couldn’t work. Anybody else’s hands he was glad to be hard on when they come to town and done somethin called wrong. But he want his’n to get off light.
The trouble was the work at the mill was so hard you couldn’t hardly make an eight-hour day. I pulled a cross saw there before the pugwood saw run by a little motor come out. Pullin that saw all day long, you had to be a man young and strong to stand it. The mosquitoes and red bugs and ticks in that swamp will eat you up.
One day when we quit for lunch, I was so tired till I couldn’t hardly stand up. The boss man told me, “Uncle Ed, don’t set down here. Take your lunch and eat it at the well. Carry a jug and bring the rest of us back some water.”
The well was about a mile and a half away. The others was restin. I went on to the well, finish the day’s work, and never went back.
The boss told another guy workin there to tell me not to ask for a job again, ‘cause he wasn’t goin to give me one since I had quit him.
“He can wait till I ask him for one,” I say.
Finally I got back on shares with Mr. Addison. “We jot shut of you on account of the tractor,” he told me. “And I think we got rid of the wrong man.”
Other people had got to poisonin with BHC once every eight days. Mr. Addison didn’t like BHC. He want to mix arsenic with molasses and mop it on the leaves, all over the cotton. If hands don’t really want to, they ain’t goin to do the job the way the boss wants. By the barrel he had that stuff mixed. Some of the hands would use it, and some of them wouldn’t. It was a tedious job, and none of them thought it did much good.
This aggravate Mr. Addison. He call us together. “The boll weevil ain’t just after the white man. He’s after you colored too. Now I could have you usin BHC. But if I do that, it will burn you in the nose and in the throat, and some of you it will make plumb sick.
“I ain’t thinkin just of myself. I don’t ever come out here huntin and fishin on my land. But you do. And BHC poison the land and unfits it for anythin but cotton. After you use BHC, you can’t plant sweet potatoes or any other root crops behind cotton. The wind blow that stuff everywhere. It ruin the land for your vegetable gardens.
“The birds will eat the insects that got BHC, and they’ll die. Come a big rain and the water will run off the fields into the fishponds and kill the fish.