Edward Jenkins Oral History Interview
September 22, 2006
Transcribed by S. Leonard
Interviewed by Sarah Leonard
SL: All right, if you’d go ahead and fill that out, and that just basically says that you will give the Archives permission to have the copies of the tapes and transcripts and that they’ll be able to use it for this exhibit, and if you have no problem with that you can check the first box on that, I think…
SL: You know, and if you have some restrictions on the material, just let me know what those are.
EJ: What’s today’s date?
SL: 22nd. Do you have any questions before we get started?
SL: This is Sarah Leonard, it’s September 22nd, 2006, and I’m interviewing Edward Jenkins in Grace, Mississippi. Could you tell me your full name?
EJ: Edward Neil Jenkins.
SL: And could you tell me about when you were born?
EJ: I was born three-seventeen-sixty-five in Mound Bayou.
SL: Okay. Can you tell me about your parents?
EJ: My father died when I was six and I farmed, ran the farm for my mother from probably the tenth grade through college. And after college I took over the farm for my mother.
SL: And where was the farm located?
EJ: It’s located in Grace, Mississippi.
SL: Okay. So did you grow up in Mound Bayou then?
EJ: No, ma’am, I grew up in Grace.
SL: Okay. You were just born there.
SL: And did your father farm before…?
EJ: My father farmed, I think in the Fifties and Sixties.
SL: Okay, so it was his farm?
SL: And you just took over it?
SL: How many siblings do you have?
EJ: I have seven.
SL: And can you tell me a little bit about them?
EJ: (laughs) Um, I have four sisters and two brothers. My brother Leo farms with me, and my older brother, he works in a coal mine in Waco, Texas. I have two sisters in Atlanta, one sister in Greenville, and one sister in St. Louis, Missouri.
SL: And what do they all do?
EJ: My sister in St. Louis own a daycare, the one in Atlanta owns a daycare and my sister in Greenville’s retired from Delta Regional Medical Center, she work part-time at a school now. And my oldest sister works for IRS in Atlanta.
SL: Why did you start farming in the tenth grade?
EJ: I basically I didn’t have any choice (laughs). The farm had gotten in financial, was having financial problems, and I had to take over the farm to save it. Basically I didn’t plan to start farming that early. I would rather have gotten a career and retired from a job, then come back to farming, that was my plan. But when my mother farmed in the Eighties them were some bad farming years and she got in financial trouble and Farmers Home was threatening to foreclose on her land which was about six hundred acres, and they was threatening to take the land for, I think her debt was approximately three hundred thousand dollars and they was gonna take six hundred acres of land. That’s why I was forced into farming at early age, it was too much land to lose.
SL: So did you and your mother farm together for a while?
EJ: Well basically I managed, me and my brother managed for my mother, and I’ve been farming on my own probably twenty years, but I’ve been handling the whole operation for about fifteen years. But like I said, it wasn’t my first choice to farm, you know, at that young age, but I didn’t want to see the land just go ‘cause they were sending foreclosure letters. Some of that three hundred thousand dollars was basically fifteen, twenty year notes, and they call it all at once (laughs).
SL: Why was it so important for your family to keep the land?
EJ: Well, basically I think land is one of the most important things a person could buy, because I mean, my father bought so much in the Fifties and Sixties and he gained so much respect for owning seven hundred acres of land (laughs).
SL: So it’s kind of like a prestige thing?
EJ: Well, for me it is (laughs). It’s not for the money, it’s just to own property, it’s not a whole lot of blacks that own property around here. And for me to just go off in a career and lose seven hundred acres of land, that wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense (laughs).
SL: Okay. Did your family always own the six hundred acres, or was there a different amount at one point?
EJ: Um, when my father died it was like seven hundred acres. I don’t know when exactly it was bought, I’m gon’ guess and say in the, starting in the Thirties through the Sixties. I mean, people were leaving the South, going North, and he was buying up the property.
SL: Do you know why he started buying it up?
EJ: I ask a lot of people that question. Most of the older people are gone and nobody young can answer that for me. Everybody ask me, how did your father own so much property in the Mississippi Delta around all these rich people? I can’t answer that question (laughs).
SL: But he kinda bought it up a little bit at a time?
EJ: Yes, right. But basically now, we farm two thousand acres (laughs).
SL: So how did you go from seven hundred to two thousand?
EJ: I started buying property and renting property.
SL: Okay, and do you keep buying it, are you still buying it if it comes available?
EJ: I buy every acre that I can get my hands on (laughs).
SL: Just around this area or anywhere in the Delta?
EJ: Well, right now I’m just buying in this area, but I would buy anywhere in the Delta, because like I said, owning property is…I guess I’ve turned it into a hobby (laughs).
SL: Is this your full time job now?
EJ: Yes, this my full time job.
SL: So it’s kind of more than a hobby then.
EJ: Yes, it’s a job and a hobby (laughs).
SL: Do you enjoy farming?
EJ: I do now. When I first started I didn’t, but I enjoy it now.
SL: What do you enjoy about it?
EJ: Basically I enjoy…I guess just doing business, and to prove to the world that I can farm just as good as anybody else (laughs).
SL: And how did that transition happen, you said you didn’t really like it at first but now you do. When…when did that come about, and how do you think that…?
EJ: I guess that came about when people were doubting if I could handle the farm because of my age. And basically there are no black farmers around here left.
SL: In Grace?
EJ: It’s a couple small ones, two or three hundred acres, but it’s no black farmers in the area that can compete on the large scale, two thousand and up. And basically I’m just farming to prove that I can do it (laughs).
SL: That’s great.
EJ: A lot of people think it’s for the money, but for me it’s to make a living and like I say, it’s partially a hobby and just to prove that I can hang with the best of them (laughs).
SL: So all of your land right now is located in Grace?
EJ: Actually we have land in three counties: Washington, Sharkey and Issaquena. We are right in the corner of three counties down here (laughs).
SL: So is all the land kinda connected?
EJ: Yes, right.
SL: And you said you and your brother farm the land?
SL: Anybody else farm it with you?
EJ: No, just my brother Leo.
SL: Um, do you know any of the history of the land?
EJ: Huh, let me see, history, do you mean who it was bought from?
EJ: I think the majority of it was bought from relatives. Or my mother probably could tell you a little more if she hadn’t left so soon. I really don’t know, I think an older German farmer was around here and when he retired he just split it up and just started selling it and he didn’t just sell only to whites, he wanted to give black people the chance to own some property too.
SL: And that was when your father started buying?
SL: Was the farm ever used for sharecropping or tenant farming?
EJ: It probably was but I can’t remember. I never heard anybody around here talk about that.
SL: What have you produced on the farm?
EJ: This year I raised um…soybeans, cotton and corn.
SL: Okay. What about in the past?
EJ: Basically that’s been, well in the past we raised wheat, but basically now it’s soybeans, cotton and corn.
SL: And when your father was farming and your mother was farming?
EJ: My father raised cattle (laughs).
SL: Really? Only cattle?
EJ: Well he raised cattle and a little cotton.
EJ: And basically I think my father bought the land for investing, because he didn’t, he never farmed all of it, he never farmed all of it at once. He would rent part of it out and farm cattle and a little cotton. So basically I think my father was using the land just for investment purposes.
SL: All right. So it was cattle and then it switched over to wheat and cotton, soybeans and corn.
SL: And that’s what you do now except for wheat.
EJ: Yes. I even tried vegetables one time, that’s how I met Ben Burkett (laughs).
SL: How did the vegetables work out?
EJ: It’s money in vegetables, but it’s a lot of work.
SL: Row crops?
EJ: Yeah, it’s a row crop but it’s a lot of hand labor, manual labor, and we’re really not used to that around here. We’re used to doing everything mechanical.
SL: And that leads into my next question. How has technology changed over time on your farm?
EJ: Technology, it’s changing every year. I can remember when my mother started, I think my mother was farming it when I was a little boy, and I remember picking cotton by hand one day – only one day. She made me a little sack out of a pillow case and I never filled it up (laughs). But today we harvest like two hundred bales per day, and twenty years ago my mother had a two row cotton picker and we probably harvested thirty bales per day.
SL: How big is a bale?
EJ: It’s five hundred pounds.
SL: And you do how many of those a day?
EJ: Well yesterday I think we did about two hundred.
SL: Are those those big ones that are out in the field?
EJ: No, those are modules. They have approximately fifteen bales per module, and we do about fifteen of those a day.
SL: So it’s one module a day.
EJ: Yes, one module is fifteen bales and we do fifteen modules.
SL: You do fifteen modules a day?
EJ: Yes (laughs).
SL: Okay. That’s a lot!
EJ: Compared to the first dad I picked cotton I couldn’t fill up a pillow case (laughs).
SL: So technology has enabled you to do a lot more.
EJ: Right. Well my farm is not as modern as six thousand, ten thousand acre farms. They probably pick ten times as much as I do (laughs).
SL: What kind of equipment do you use?
EJ: I use mainly John Deere equipment, I’ve got two four-row cotton pickers, but your bigger corporate farmers got six-row cotton pickers, and a new one costs three hundred and ten thousand. I think I paid thirty thousand for mine (laughs), which, I think it’s time for me to move up. I learned how to work on the equipment when I didn’t have the money, I couldn’t afford to buy the modern stuff, and we learned a lot of mechanical skills so we can use the older machines and make them last a little bit longer than your bigger farmer that just hire labor. We do mainly most our work ourselves so our equipment lasts a little bit longer, although our cotton pickers, we need updating but we know how to make them keep going (laughs) and that saves a little money.
SL: To make the farm work, what changes have you had to make over time?
EJ: Changes? Uh, we had to mainly do a little bit more research like pulling soil samples and keeping up with the new technology like the new chemicals and the new seeds. My mother, when she was running the farm she was stuck with whatever she did in the past, whatever my father did, and whatever my grandfather did. She was kinda like, well we used to do this. But farming, it’s not only changing year to year, it’s changing day to day so you gotta keep up with the latest trend and the latest seeds and technology. ‘Cause when my mother was farming, two bales per acre was a good crop. And this year we picked some cotton that was three bales, some close to four bales. And technology, you know, the technology in the seed, you got the BT cotton and the Round Up Ready. When my mother was farming, Round Up killed any crop you would spray it on, but now this year we planted everything Round Up Ready, you know, you just spray Round Up across the top of it and it kills all the weeds, which in the past you had to go out there and scout your fields. Well you still have to scout them, but you had to scout more to find out exactly what you had out there so you’d know exactly what chemicals to spray. So that technology has brought us a long way.
SL: Now how do you keep up with all this technology and find out about the new things that are out there, are you like a member of groups that provide trainings and tell you about this stuff, or do you read magazines…?
EJ: Well I read farming magazines and farm newspapers and I hire entomologists to check my cotton and I rely on my chemical man a little more. Basically, they go to school for it and they keep up with all the new technology. So I handle the work and I let them handle all the technical parts of it.
SL: Okay. Has your land been divided over time?
EJ: What do you mean?
SL: Has it been divided into small portions or has it just been increasing?
EJ: It’s basically been increasing. I don’t think we’ve lost any land or sold any in the past ten to fifteen years.
SL: And you anticipate increasing it even more?
EJ: If I can (laughs).
SL: Um, can you tell me about the buildings that are on your farm land?
EJ: The buildings? We built a new shop in 2000. Our previous shop, I think I got some pictures of it somewhere, it was the shop that my father built, probably in the Fifties, and we worked out of that shop. It was no heat, well actually it was just a shed, and we built the shop that’s out here I think in 2000. And I would say my father’s shop was built in the Fifties and we just built my mother this house, and that house, it probably was moved down here in the Fifties. And actually that’s where I grew up. My family, my brothers and sisters got together and built this house for my mother. She’s seventy-three years old (laughs). But she lived over there in that house for fifty years, so I think it was time for her to get a new house (laughs). I know it was time for us to get a shop where we could have somewhere to work and take care of our equipment.
SL: So did you tear the old shop down?
EJ: Yes, we tore it down.
SL: And you built this new one.
SL: Okay. Did your family build this house out here, your mother’s original house?
EJ: No, she moved, I think my father bought some property that the house was on, then he moved it down here.
SL: Okay. But he built the shed?
EJ: Yes, I think he built the shed.
SL: All right, and then y’all built the new shed too?
SL: Okay. Um, can you kinda describe, like map it out, where everything is located on your farm? The different buildings?
EJ: Basically the only buildings on the farm is these houses and the shop.
SL: Can you describe how they’re laid out?
EJ: I guess you could say they’re basically in the center of the farming operation. And we had one tenant house over on the other side of the shop and we tore it down, I guess about three years ago.
SL: Was anybody occupying the tenant house?
EJ: No. Nobody.
SL: Was that just kinda here when you got the farm?
SL: What would you tell a young person in your family who’s interested in agriculture today?
EJ: (laughs) I get asked that question every day. I got two sons, and everybody says since I’m so successful at farming, do I think my sons are going to want to farm. I would advise my sons not to farm.
EJ: Because it’s a easy job, but it’s a hard job because there’s not any land available any more, and if it is you can’t afford to buy it. And everything is not exactly fair when it comes to farming, you know. Farmers Home came up with a program called Socially Disadvantaged, which they was making loans and I had the guy at Farmers Home told me he can’t see where a black person got a disadvantage than a white person, okay. Most of the white farmers around here got ten thousand acres, and if I was a young white farmer I got people that I can go to and depend on, okay? But a young black farmer, who does he have to go to? And if he gets some information, is it good information, you know? Or is it something to put you out of business? So I explained that information to the man at Farmers Home, that’s how I’m socially disadvantaged than a white farmer. So basically with the stuff that I’ve been through, I don’t think I would want to put my kids through it. You know, if they wanted to farm and the land was available and they was farming in the area where they could get their advice from me, it would be fine. But if they had to come up from the bottom (laughs)…
SL: Like start from scratch?
EJ: Right. It’s actually impossible, you know. It’s impossible to do. ‘Cause I’ve farmed a lot of years, basically everything I made went back into the farm (laughs). So I wouldn’t advise my kids to go into farming unless they’ve got me to back them up.
SL: Who did you get your advice from?
EJ: Well actually, I got my advice from everywhere I could. Ben Burkett, one of my neighbors up here, Mr. Woodruff, and because, like I said, when you own six or seven hundred acres of land, that gets people’s attention (laughs). You know, my chemical man, Mr. Frank Stone, he works with me just like he would work with a farmer that was a millionaire. He didn’t just start doing this when I got two thousand acres, he worked with me when I was small. So I’ve been fortunate that people work with me and try to help me. But that doesn’t happen all over the world. It happened right here in my little area, I just happened to be around some pretty good people that actually took the time to help me get started. I majored in agriculture, I went to Hines Community College in Raymond, but my plans were a year at Alcorn and a year at Mississippi State, ‘cause those were the only two land grant universities around, but like I was telling you, I had to put my plans on hold to try to save the land (laughs). I’m forty-one now, I should be just starting into farming (laughs). That was my original plan.
SL: How much longer do you think you’ll farm?
EJ: I probably will farm for the rest of my life (laughs). You know, for me, the hardest part – I hope the hardest part is over. Now basically I just manage the farm. Back in the day I was the mechanic, I drove the tractor, I had to do the paperwork, run the errands, but now I’m big enough that I can hire somebody to do that.
SL: Who do you hire for that?
EJ: My brother, my brother been helping me from day one, and we hire just one other guy.
SL: So just the three of you.
SL: What do you think is going to happen to your farm after you retire if you don’t encourage your sons to go into farming? Do you think it’ll still be farmed, do you think you’ll sell the land, do you think you’ll just hold onto it and not farm?
EJ: I advise them now – my youngest son is nine, my oldest is thirteen – and at least once a week I tell them, never sell your land. You rent it, lease it out, then after you retire from your job, you come back and farm for a hobby (laughs). ‘Cause that was my plan and I would advise them to do the same thing, ‘cause like I said, it’s not easy for a young person, and especially for a young black person, it’s not easy. And then again it would’ve been easier for me if my father was living. Now like I said, if I get sixty years old and my kids want to farm, if they have problems they can automatically come to me. I didn’t have a whole lot of people to turn to (laughs) when I started, other than my brothers and sisters, which, they didn’t have a whole lot of experience in farming either, but they’re part owner in the land and they help me in that way, they doesn’t charge me the market value for rent, and if I had a bad crop I’m pretty sure when I was starting out I wouldn’t even have to pay any rent. So a lot of little things like that gave me the encouragement to keep going, but if I had to do it just go out there and pay market value with no help, it would be impossible for me to farm. I see it every day, a lot of young guys come ask me about farming and I tell them, “Get you some education and get a job,” (laughs).
SL: And then come back to farming?
EJ: Right. And if you want to do it, do it as a hobby, not as a career, ‘cause all the land has been taken.
SL: What is the value of the land to you and your family?
EJ: The value of…you not talking about market value.
SL: Whatever you see as the value.
EJ: I had a guy stop by, he bought some land in this area at a foreclosure auction from some of my relatives, and he bought it so cheap, he stopped by and asked me did we want to sell our farm (laughs). And I told him it wasn’t for sale. And he said, “Well everything got a price.” I told him to give me like ten million dollars and he can have it (laughs). He thought that was ridiculous. Well he said, “That’s ridiculous.” I said, “No, that’s not ridiculous, you asking me to sell you my property, now that’s ridiculous.” Because this land is the only memories that I have of my father and the majority of black people in this area doesn’t own any land. You can search whole Mississippi and you not gon’ find but about five more people farms that’s black owned that’s farming two thousand acres, which I guess you probably already did that research. And for me, the value of the land, I couldn’t put a dollar figure on mine. Actually I told that guy, “I wouldn’t sell you the dirt off these boots,” after he kept pushing and pushing and pushing and pushing. I mean, if I tell you two or three times it’s not for sale, it’s not for sale. And you know, I couldn’t put a money value on my property, because if I could I’d keep this property for eternity and I advise my kids to do the same thing. So like I said, I couldn’t put a money value on my property, I wouldn’t even do it. If the guy had came out his pocket with ten million dollars, I wouldn’t have sold it to him at that (laughs).
SL: Do you see a time when the land will not be in your family any longer?
EJ: (laughs) Hopefully my kids will, like I said, will keep it forever, but if it was some way I could write it up in deed that this land is never to be sold, I would. But I don’t think you can control anything after your death for but ten years and then they can do whatever they wanted to do with it. I know the land was important to my father because he bought it, you know, and I guess he bought it to leave it to us. So basically I’m trying to follow my father’s footsteps (laughs), which, like I said, he died when I was six. And I used to sit with the older people and just to give me stories, and I would ask them “Why did my dad do this? Why did he do that?” and ask my mother about it. I think the land was valuable to him and it’s valuable to me and hopefully it will be just as valuable to my kids and my brothers’ and sisters’ kids, which they will inherit some of it. But I own the majority of it now. Like I said, mine is not for sale and I’m gon’ try to teach my kids never sell your property.
SL: What do your boys think about the farm right now?
EJ: They love it. Actually we live in Greenville now and every weekend they’re down here helping my mother in the garden and sometimes I take them riding on the tractors and everything. They love the farm, but if they can get into it, into some other aspect of agriculture like one of my dreams was to be Secretary of Agriculture, but Mike Espy beat me to that (laughs). But if they could get into agriculture in that way it’d be fine, and they could build some information to help them on the farm in the future. But like I said, they love farming, they have mentioned, “I want to farm with you when I grow up,” but I told them they can help me as teenagers and they can take over after they retire from their jobs (laughs). I’m gon’ stick by that.
SL: Has the family utilized any assistance to continue farming, like co-ops or FSA or USDA programs?
EJ: The FSA office, but co-ops, there’s no co-ops around here, farm co-ops, other than chemical companies and cotton gins. But my mother, she farmed through Farmers Home when it was Farmers Home. I made one loan through Farmers Home which took me two years to make one loan to buy some property that was already in our family and it took two years and a stack of paperwork that thick to buy forty acres of land. That’s why I’m saying back in the day if I didn’t have help from my family and some of my neighboring farmers, it would be impossible. If it takes two years to buy forty acres of land, what are you supposed to do, you know, while you buying the property or making the loan? But right now we go through the government program that the FSA offers, just basic, but other than that I make all my loans through banks. If I had to go through the old Farmers Home to do anything, I think I’d rather starve to death.
SL: How come?
EJ: It takes me two years and a stack of paperwork that thick.
SL: And the bank is a lot easier?
EJ: Well some banks are (laughs). Some banks use that same policy that Farmers Home did. Make them late, they have to sell the property to one of our rich buddies, I’m just speculating on that, because why would it take me two years to buy some property and I wasn’t trying to get a write-off, I was buying the property at fair market value (laughs). But actually, the guy told me, “Your brother couldn’t farm it, what makes you think you can farm it?” See stuff like that what really put the fuel up under me to farm and to prove it to them (laughs). I farm non-irrigated and my crops make just as good as the richer white farmers with the irrigation and all the expensive equipment. But everywhere I went, they told me you can’t do it (laughs), especially Farmers Home. I know this piece ain’t on Farmers Home so I’ll get off that, ‘cause I could talk about Farmers Home all day and half the night (laughs). But I had one bank to treat me like Farmers Home, but I guess it’s not about banks either. But I moved on, because I got the land. I mean, how can you turn me down for a loan and I own all this property and I got records to show that my crop is making just as good as Mr. Whoever. And I got good credit, so why can he make a loan and I can’t make a loan? So basically if they don’t want to do it now, I just go to the next bank, which I was with my first bank for seven years, and I’ve been with the bank that I’m with now for about ten years and I don’t have any problems with borrowing money any more, because I had threatened a couple lawsuits (laughs). Every bank I went into to do business, I got to threaten to sue, you know, just to make a loan, you know (laughs).
SL: You’ve obviously been really successful in your farming efforts despite some challenges. How do you think…or what do you think could be done for other black farmers so they could overcome these challenges and also be successful?
EJ: (laughs) I probably have to sleep on that one and get back with you, because like I said, for a black farmer it is 90% impossible, because farmland is owned what, 99% by whites, so who gon’, where would a young black farmer get the property to farm? Where would he get it, I mean, they don’t make any more land (laughs).
SL: Do the white farmers tend to keep it in the family also?
EJ: Well basically anybody, black or white, would keep it in the family. But I bought land from white farmers, I rented land from white farmers, but a lot of people want to compare everything to my situation. I think my situation is just a special situation. Every young black farmer that tried to farm when I started didn’t get good treatment from their neighbors and help from their neighbors. I would encourage black people to buy as much land as they can and farm if you can afford to farm, but you couldn’t just start like a young white guy, wake up one day say, “Well I want to farm,” go to the bank and borrow some money and go rent some land and buy some equipment. It doesn’t work like that for us, you gotta have a relative that’s willing to help you or to rent you the land and to risk losing money, because if you doesn’t make a crop you can’t pay the rent. And a lot of people, back in the day they wouldn’t rent to you if you was a Farmers Home farmer, because they know Farmers Home gonna take a year or two to do one sheet of paperwork, so actually the landlord would be waiting on the farmer to get the money to pay the rent. And if anybody just started from scratch farming, they would have to go to Farmers Home or some lending institution like that and nobody wants to wait for their money when you got people out here with the money that can afford to pay you on the spot. So if a young black wanted to farm, if you doesn’t have the land (laughs) it’ll never happen. One of my college instructors always said, “Farming is three things: land, labor and capital,” okay? All I had when I started was the labor. Okay, I got to have capital. Banks, they’re not gonna loan a new farmer any money. Farmers Home had the program for the farmers, they wouldn’t loan it. Okay, you need the land is one of the most important things. I’m not gonna turn any of mine, I don’t have enough to share with the next young farmer coming up until I get retirement age, and then like you said with keeping it in the family it’s gon’ be my kids. So farming is, if you’re not already in it or your family is not in it, I just can’t see you doing it unless you a millionaire.
SL: I know you’ve talked about this a lot already, but how has race affected your farm?
EJ: Well, in one way, well I guess the major part of it is borrowing money and renting land and buying property. I mean, I can’t fault a person for selling property or renting property to somebody in his family, and the majority of the land is owned by whites. So if this person rents to his brother, his uncle or something, I can’t say race was a problem. But when you walk into Farmers Home and tell them you want to make a loan to buy forty acres of property and they tell you that you in the wrong place, we don’t make farm loans, I think that’s – I know that’s racism. And then when I have to come in there with a newspaper article to prove it to this man that I know I’m in the right place and you have funds available for socially disadvantaged and minority people, you know, if I was a young white farmer I wouldn’t have to do that (laughs). And basically, wherever you go, I’m a minority, I can’t change that. If I go to a chemical company or somewhere and try to get credit and they know that I’m a minority, most likely if you a minority you don’t have as much money as the next person, and they look at everybody, if you young and black you not gon’ pay them. I’ve heard that a couple of times. But basically, after twenty years of paying my bills and making crops, now they treat me, as far as I can see, as equal. But when I first started, nobody was gonna rent any property to me. And like I said, Farmers Home didn’t want to loan me any money, the banks didn’t want to loan me any money, and I had to get them on a conference call and threaten to sue both of them at the same time to make my first loan. ‘Cause Farmers Home said, “Well you got good credit, you qualify for a bank loan.” The bank said, “Well you don’t have enough credit or collateral, you qualify for a Farmers Home loan.” So that went back and forth. So I got both of them on the phone and said, “Well if I can’t find out where I fit I’ll just sue both of you and I won’t have to farm anymore,” (laughs) and I started making loans.
SL: Do you kinda feel like you had to prove yourself and pay your dues before they would give you that respect?
EJ: Right. And even after proving myself, I mean, my banker, the bank that I deal with now, they changed loan officers three times in the last ten years, and every new loan officer, it takes me an hour to explain to him that I am a farmer. He never heard of a black farmer (laughs). It take me another hour to explain to him that I’m making just as good a crops as the bigger farmers (laughs) so basically that’s another thing that race has to do with it. I mean, being black definitely…I ain’t gon’ say I would be a bigger farmer, ‘cause I might’ve got too big and went bankrupt (laughs) but it’s a lot of things that I wanted to do or wanted to buy and I couldn’t do it because everybody, you know, the banks doubted me, Farmers Home, I couldn’t do anything with them because it take forever to do anything with Farmers Home. I feel like if I was a young white farmer I’d be farming ten thousand acres by now (laughs) ‘cause I’ve tried to buy property which I couldn’t make loans to get I guess because I was a beginning farmer. If I had bought the property I could’ve been buying a thousand acres every other (change tape). It was like he didn’t want to deal with me. Why would you work in a place that make farm loans if you don’t want to loan money, you know? But basically he didn’t want to loan me any money. It was like, “Well your mother filed bankruptcy,” or “Your brother borrowed some money and bought this property and he couldn’t do anything with it so what makes you think you can farm?” (laughs) I kinda feel like that would be considered discrimination (laughs) but I was fortunate, my father’s attorney, after my father died my mother used the same attorney, which he was old, and after my attorney died his son was an attorney and I used him, which he was Hayman Miller, and he actually was a senator. Like I said, to make those loans I’d have to threaten to call my attorney which was a powerful attorney and people didn’t know that this attorney, he was almost like family, his father worked for my father and he worked for my mother, you know, and Nathan Brown saying, “Well, Hayman is in Jackson, he don’t have time to deal with little stuff like this,” and I would call him in Jackson, call the office, and basically that’s how I made that loan to buy that forty acres of property. Other than having a good lawyer that been with my family I guess a hundred years (laughs), I would’ve quit right there. And any other young black person doesn’t have that type of connection gon’ get stopped from day one (laughs). So that’s why I say it’s almost impossible. And now I just feel lucky or blessed to have people like Hayman Miller and my neighbors that knew my father, you know, to help me. And plus a lot of this I did on my own (laughs) ‘cause I’ve worked fifteen to sixteen hours a day (laughs) and when I made money I didn’t spend a lot of it on fun or whatever, recreation. I tried to put 90% of what I made back into the farm so I could have some retirement (laughs).
SL: Did the Civil Rights movement and the following years affect anything on your family’s farm? Did you ever have Civil Rights workers staying on your farm?
EJ: No, not that I know of.
SL: What was your most memorable moment in farming?
EJ: Most memorable moment? Hmmm. You mean good memories or bad memories? (laughs)
SL: Whatever is memorable to you.
EJ: I guess one of my most memorable moments was when we signed up for the black farmers lawsuit and they denied me (laughs).
SL: Really? Why did they deny you?
EJ: Because the letter read something like, “Judging from your past, you started with forty acres and now you farm a thousand acres, that’s proof that Farmers Home helped you,” (laughs). That’s what my denial letter read.
SL: Even though they put you through all of that and telling you you weren’t socially disadvantaged?
EJ: Right. And they denied me. I was denied because I was a good farmer (laughs). I mean, they didn’t help me. I spent a lot of nights probably not sleeping. If I came out of the Farmers Home office that day I wasn’t gonna sleep at night. If I had to go in the next day I wasn’t gonna sleep ‘cause I know I gotta go ahead and deal with all this red tape. But after I couldn’t get help from them, I got help from my family and farmers in the area. But when they sent me the denial letter, you know, they denied me because from me going from zero to where I am now that’s proof that they helped me, but they really didn’t help me (laughs). If they helped me, I would say they helped me in this way: they made me mad enough to want to prove them wrong. But financially or whatever, they didn’t help me. But like I say, that’s what my denial letter read (laughs).
SL: If you could change anything about your farming experience, what would it be?
EJ: (laughs) Oh. Basically, I don’t think people should treat one farmer different from another, but I would like to have a chance for me and the next farmer, which are white or black, to start and just work off a level playing field, no favoritism, just to see what would happen, you know. ‘Cause I know farmers that’s a little younger than me that are white and they’re farming say, four thousand acres, and they didn’t have to go through what I went through. But in their mind, they had to work just as hard as me. Some of them you can’t convince that I had to work ten times as hard as you to get where I am. So if I could change anything, I would like for all of us to have to, not even have it easy like they had it, I would like for all of us to have it hard and do it like I did and to see where they’d be. I don’t have nothin’ against them, but I just would like for them to have to walk a mile in my shoes (laughs) just to see could they make it.
SL: Is there anything that I have not asked you that you’d like to tell me?
EJ: Uh, basically I think you asked all the questions. The biggest thing is that Farmers Home deal (laughs) and the banking and borrowing and the discrimination. If it wasn’t for family, I wouldn’t have…I couldn’t farm at all, because it just so happened our family owns enough land where I could make a living and like you was asking a minute ago, the most memorable moment is the discrimination through Farmers Home and the banks, which the bank doesn’t do it as openly as Farmers Home did it. I can’t see how a government organization, you know, could sit back and discriminate against people, I guess from the day that Farmers Home was put in place there’s been discrimination in there, and that’s a government office, I don’t understand how can the United States of America could let a government office discriminate against human beings for the past fifty or sixty years, you know. They’re supposed to be one of the greatest countries in the world, but you know, I just don’t see how Farmers Home could stay in place for all those years, and I don’t see how some of the banks can stay in place because the FDIC or the bank examiners should come into some of these banks and look at the interest rate that they’re charging the white person compared to what they’re charging the black and could automatically shed a doubt or make them, you know, do a fair dealings instead of charging this man 24% and this man 8%, you know. Which, I’ve had, you know, banks and businesses come at me with everything they can (laughs) because I’m a young black farmer just like the rest of them. When I walk in there, they don’t know my history, they just automatically know he’s a young black farmer, we gon’ deny him (laughs). But if they look at the paperwork, I told my banker in Greenville, if you want to look at black and white, look at it on paper. Don’t look at my skin color compared to the next man’s skin color, look at my numbers compared to his numbers, and basically that’s the way they deal with me now, but when I started it was totally opposite (laughs).
SL: All right, well thank you so much, I really appreciate your participation.
EJ: All right.
SL: Thank you.
END OF DOCUMENT