Loading the player...
Part of the Oral History of Agriculture in Edgecombe County Project. Ora Council, an African American woman, was born in Edgecombe County and grew up on Mayo’s Farm, where she lived till she was married. Her father was a sharecropper, and all the family worked (the children were paid 40 cents a day directly by the Mayos, and gave their parents part of their wages). She describes the pest control the children had to do in those pre-pesticide days: picking worms off tobacco, treating cotton with molasses and poison, and dusting corn with soda. She says she and her sisters and brothers went to school on rainy days (the other children called them “rain birds”) and when they weren’t needed in the fields. They would set out and water tobacco in the evenings. Ora lived in a household of 14 – her parents and siblings, and her aunt and five cousins. They had a big garden, and her father raised and slaughtered hogs. He also got herring from the James River which he salted in barrels, and they occasionally caught and ate rabbits. She says they always had enough to eat, and were happy. The farm they worked for Mr. Mayo was a four-mule farm. As children they played ball, cards, jump rope, and jump-the-board. She says they didn’t have regular vacations from school, except a day at Thanksgiving and two days at Christmas, but their attendance was irregular anyway. One task for the children was cutting green corn to feed the mules and hogs, and feeding the shucks to their milk cow. Ora describes how her mother strained and processed the milk for cream and butter. They had no electricity, but lamp light. They also had a wood stove and an ice box. When Ora married she went briefly with her husband to Washington, DC while he was in the service, then they moved back to Mayo’s farm. She describes their attending different churches on different Sundays (Harper, Cherry Hill, Mt. Zion, and White’s Chapel). Every three months her mother would go to quarterly meeting at church and the children would stay home and clean house and cook dinner so their mother could bring the pastor and his wife, or other special friends, home with her to a spotless house with the food ready to eat. Ora says she can’t remember a time when she didn’t know how to cook. When she and her siblings were old enough, they would all get up in the morning and make their beds, eat the breakfast their mother had prepared, and then take turns coming in to cook midday dinner for the family (who would all be out working in the field). She says they all got along well, and that Mr. Mayo was a very good landlord. After World War II she and her husband started tenant farming on W. S. Clark’s land, then moved back to Mayo’s. Ora and her husband had 14 children, all of whom have done well (in the Air Force, as teachers, in the Norfolk shipyards, in the grocery business, at a lumber company, in construction, and at the Avon factory). Only one child, her youngest son, is a farmer. She says her children have been good to her and often buy her clothes and other gifts. She has 31 grandchildren. She says that big changes in farming have come about because of tractors, pesticides, and the availability of better jobs off the farm. She has high praise for the Extension Service, the FHA, and the Home Demonstration Club. The biggest changes to her lifestyle have come about with electricity: a TV, washing machine, and refrigerator. Ora and her disabled husband and her son currently live on 12 acres, and she still does work in the fields alongside some younger helpers they’ve hired, largely to supervise them. She also works part-time for a local cabbage farmer. Near the interview’s end she discusses changes in tobacco processes. She thinks farming has a bleak future because of weather, expenses (for pesticides and fertilizer), and the lack of workers. She and her husband are among the only tenant farmers left in their area.