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Part of the Oral History of Agriculture in Edgecombe County Project. Audio for track 4 ends at 00:36:25. Henry Gray Shelton, a white man and lifelong farmer, was born in 1906 on his father’s cotton farm between Speed and Hobgood, where at the time of this lengthy interview (1987) he still lived. He inherited his father’s distaste for working tobacco, and on his own farm in later years he also concentrated on cotton. Shelton had two brothers and two sisters, and all went to school. His sisters helped his mother with housework, and he and his brothers had chores on the farm (milking the cows, helping plow with mules, helping feed the livestock). Shelton’s father had two milk cows, a small herd of red Herefords, and a few hogs. The home farm had about 825 acres, about 600 of it cleared and under cultivation and the rest in pasture. Their main crop was cotton. They had a cotton gin on the property, and Shelton describes the process in detail. They had five or six tenant or sharecropper farm families, and hired day labor in addition. He discusses the difference between tenants and sharecroppers. Most years there was one white tenant family and the rest African American. He says race relations were good. He also discusses the differences between then and now in terms of landowner/labor relations. He talks about everyone’s having a garden, which was mainly the women’s responsibility to maintain. A very conservative man, Shelton is critical of how children are raised these days (with less supervision and discipline), intervention on the government’s part that he considers excessive, people’s dependence on credit and borrowing, and young farmers’ getting overextended by buying more farmland than they can make pay. He talks about how hard it was during the Depression, when his family had to sell part of their property and he had to borrow money to keep going. He acknowledges that federal intervention during the Depression was necessary and welcome, but feels that support programs should have been cut back afterwards; they have engendered “a whole lot of idleness among a lot of people.” He is angry with Congress for making it harder for farmers to export their goods overseas. He does think that the Agricultural Extension Service and Agricultural Experimental Stations have done a lot of good, but feels that governmental influence in farming and family life should be minimal. (He singles out Mr. Moore, Pop Taylor, and Joe Powell as especially good County Agents.) The Services have been responsible for helping farmers with good innovations, like terracing. He says the one good thing about the Depression was that it taught people how resourceful they could be, and that they could get along on a lot less than they thought. Near the interview’s end he talks about the changing roles of farm women. This is a long interview and somewhat repetitive, but Shelton provides many details about day-to-day life and work on the farm in the early days versus nowadays.

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