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Part of the Oral History of Agriculture in Edgecombe County Project. The audio on track 1 ends at 01:03:40. The audio on track 4 ends at 00:39:27. Leslie Warner Holley, born in 1909 in Edgecombe County, is an African American farmer and storekeeper. He was ill as a boy and left school at a young age to work as a weekend clerk in his father’s grocery store in Battleboro. His family was very religious and instilled in him lifelong standards. Though he had limited education in school, his father was very well-informed and wise and taught him what he would have learned in school as well as carpentry and farming skills. As a young man Holley worked for Leggett grocery stores butchering and selling barbecue and fish. During World War II he went to work at the Newport News shipyards. He then went to Florence, SC, where he met his wife (Laura Brown), and got into the café business. Subsequently they moved to Edgecombe County and Holley began farming on rented land and running a small grocery store. He raised peanuts, cotton, tobacco, corn, beans, sweet potatoes, and cucumbers, with livestock (hogs and cows) and geese and chickens, and over the years became one of the biggest turkey farmers in the region. At first he rented farmland (from Dan Howard initially), then started buying property and hiring others to help him work the land, develop the turkey business, and help in his grocery store (which featured an integrated lunch counter). He eventually amassed several hundred acres, with both paid day labor and two sharecroppers. Laura Holley, his wife, taught for thirty years in the public school system. Now that both are retired they rent their farmland out in two parcels to two different farmers and no longer raise turkeys. Two major themes have been prominent in Holley’s life: helping others, and the Civil Rights movement. Though he and his wife never had children of their own they fostered five, all of whom got educations, and they supported several elderly women, sometimes having them come live in their house. Community service has been important to Holley, who has taken the lead in many local initiatives on behalf of the less affluent in the neighborhood. As a young man he met Dr. Martin Luther King and marched with him, and throughout his later years worked in various official and unofficial positions to better the lives of Edgecombe County African American families. Some specific aspects of his life he talks about in this interview are: his service on government committees and work with Congressman Fountain; how he suffered racist attacks, including having his store burned out; his service on the Board of Education and as a Farmers’ Home Administration agent; anecdotes about the elderly ladies in his life and the young men he helped get started on their careers; the role he played (by going to Washington as part of a delegation) in getting the government to build African American housing in Edgecombe as part of a program that up till then had only served white families; his community club that’s building a playground; his giving free turkeys at Thanksgiving and Christmas to low-income neighbors; his and his wife’s sponsoring farm field trips for local school children; what working in his old-time country store in the old days was like; monogamy among geese; and how farming with all its pitfalls is a better way to earn a living than running a grocery store, because if you have a bad year with either you can always borrow money to keep the farm going whereas it's more difficult to get loans for a store.





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