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Part of the Oral History of Agriculture in Edgecombe County Project. Kathleen Hayes of West Edgecombe Community discusses changes in farm life over the past fifty years from her perspectives as daughter of a tenant farmer, and, over the years, as wife of a man who was successively a tenant farmer, a farm overseer, and a farm owner. She was born in Robeson County and attended school in Cumberland County and later in Wake County. Her father was a carpenter who moved to Willow Springs, near Raleigh. He had his own farm, but lost it during the Depression, so became a tenant farmer. Hayes, the fifth child in a family of nine, helped with farm work before and after school, doing primarily “boy” chores with her brothers like working the fields rather than helping her mother in the house as her sisters did. They had no electricity or indoor plumbing and no icebox. They churned their own buttermilk and butter, and kept the buttermilk cool by suspending a can into their well. On Saturdays her brothers got to walk into town or play baseball, while she “got to be one of the girls and helped to do the housework and washing and cleaning up the house.” She finished high school at age 17 (11 grades) and married R. F. Hayes, a farmer, the following year. They lived as tenant farmers at first, then were able to buy their own farm. They sold it and bought another, where they lived for a number of years. In 1955 they moved to Wilson County where her husband had been offered a job managing a big farm, and they lived there ten years. During World War II they took in lodgers, men who had come to work construction at Fort Bragg. At that house in Wilson County, Hayes and her family had electricity for the first time, with lights, a gas stove, a washing machine, a refrigerator, and other appliances. She discusses in some detail the process of preparing tobacco for the warehouse, including sorting and grading and tying the leaves. Neighbors would come in for tying parties, for which she would make candy or cakes; her neighbors served boiled peanuts at their tying parties. Hayes says the greatest innovations in farm technology have been the “shooting up” processes for preparing tobacco leaves; tractors; and farm chemicals. Anecdotally she shares memories of her first washing machine, a gas-engine-driven piece of equipment; their pleasure in listening to “Ma Perkins,” “One Man’s Family,” country music, “The Squeaking Door,” and “The Shadow” on their battery-powered radio; her participation in the Home Demonstration Club; their first car (a Model T); and how her husband handled Black tenant farmers when he was overseer. She says race relations, in her life experience, have always been good; but believes that so few African Americans make a long-term go of farming because the government gives them too much support.





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