Oral History Interview with Tony Brown

Interviewer:  Kimberly Brown

November 13, 2006

Transcribed by W. Ray


KB:  I’m Kimberly Brown and it is November 13th and I’m here with Tony Brown, a black farmer here in the Delta and we are at his mother’s home here in Merigold,

Mississippi.  Could you please tell me your full name?


TB:      Tony Danell Brown.


KB:     Could you tell me about when you were born?


TB:      September 5, 1965.


KB:     And can you tell me where you were born?


TB:      About three miles west of Merigold.


KB:     And can you tell me about your parents.


TB:      My father, Earnest Brown, is deceased.  My mother, Rudell Brown, lives here in Merigold.


KB:     Did either of your parents do any farming?


TB:      My father worked on a farm early in his career.


KB:     Did you grow up on a farm?


TB:      The first three years I did.


KB:     How many siblings do you have?


TB:      Six of us.  Five boys and one girl.


KB:     And can you tell me a little about them?

(Phone rings)


KB:     Okay, do any of your siblings do any farming?


TB:      No.


KB:     Do you have any other family members who do farm currently?


TB:      Yes, I have an uncle that farms here in the area also.


KB:     And does your family own the land that you farm?


TB:      No, I lease all of the farmland.


KB:     Who do you lease your land from?


TB:      I have three landlords.  (inaudible)


KB:     And how much land approximately would you say that you are renting?


TB:      Three hundred acres.


KB:     And what type of crops do you raise?


TB:      Right now soybeans and wheat (inaudible)


KB:     Okay.  Where is the land located?


TB:      Just east of Merigold, and some in Mound Bayou and west of Mound Bayou.


KB:     And how is it that you came to have the land that you are renting right now?


TB:      Well I started off farming with my uncle and as time gradually went by I branched off on my own and picked up pieces of land here and then I started with a friend of mine (inaudible) the land and put our farms together.


KB:     And do you know any of the history of the land that you farm?


TB:      Yes, I know that Mr. Bennie Lee (inaudible) he raised cotton and soybeans probably thirty-five or forty years and raised a family off his land and the Hooper family has been in the family for years from his grandfather on down and I know that (inaudible) and he raised his family on that land.


KB:     Do you know if any of that land was ever used in sharecropping or tenant farming?


TB:      I’m not real sure.  I know Mr. Jones purchased his land in the mid 1960’s, prior to that I don’t have any knowledge about that land.  And the Hooper land it goes back to his grandfather, and before that I really couldn’t say.


KB:     You mentioned that Mr. Bennie Jones –


TB:      Yes.


KB:     Raised soybeans?


TB:      Well he was a cotton farmer and he also raised soybeans?


KB:     Any of the other landowners that you rent from, do you know what they might have raised?


TB:      The Hooper Family, like I said, raised mostly cotton.


KB:     How do you think that technology has changed what you (inaudible) over time?


TB:      Well, technology has come a long way since I started farming.  With the new technology that they have now, we are producing higher yields; we have the Roundup that they came out with, we are much better able to control weeds and overall have a clean field which also help produce a better crop.


KB:     Okay, what changes personally have you had to make over time to make your farm successful?


TB:      Well, one thing like I say, being able to have a clean field, but I think the most important thing, change that I made, was the no-till ground; preparing the ground in the fall; just come in and plant and plant early is the key to improving my farm.  Planting with the earlier group of soybeans, you are able to catch most of the earlier rains and you make a better crop.


KB:     You mentioned that you have an uncle that does some farming and that – do you know if you have any family that has done any farming anywhere other than inside the Delta?


TB:      No, I don’t think so.  I think on my mother’s side of the family came down from Cary, MS and Anguilla and I think they did some farming there, but as far as outside the Delta, I don’t think so.


KB:     The land that you currently rent, do you know how it has been divided over time?

Are you the only lessee, or do they lease certain acreage to different individuals?


TB:      No, as of right now, I lease all of Mr. Jones land and me and Barry lease all of his family’s land together and I lease all of Mr. Perry’s land.


KB:     Are there any buildings on the land, either that were originally there, or any that you put there yourself?


TB:      Yes, we have a storage shed at our headquarters.


KB:     Can you tell me a little bit about the type of equipment that you use to run your land?


TB:      Yes, we have four tractors, two combines and all the other field equipment that we need to break and work the ground with.


KB:     And do you hire any additional help, aside from yourself and your partner?


TB:      No, me and Barry do all the work.


KB:     Okay, what would you say the value is of the land is that you currently lease?


TB:      Dry land, now I would say would go anywhere between a thousand and fifteen hundred dollars an acre.


KB:     Do you see a time when you will no longer want to farm the land that you currently farm?


TB:      As of right now, I don’t.  I’m really happy with the land that I have got.  Right now, I can’t foresee it right now.


KB:     Do you – have you utilized either in the past or currently, any assistance to continue farming like co-ops, FSA programs or other USDA programs?


TB:      Yes, we are in the farm service agency programs and do receive subsidies off our base off our crops.


KB:     How would you say that race has affected your farm?


TB:      I would say earlier in my career when I was first getting started and trying to obtain loans through the USDA we have had some problems.  Not being able to get funding that we needed at that time, which you know, later brought out the black farmers’ lawsuit.


KB:     And did you participate in that personally?


TB:      Yes, I did.


KB:     And this kind of ties to my previous question.  How do you think that the civil rights movement overall has affected the atmosphere of farming here in the Delta?


TB:      Well, I really can’t tell whether the civil rights affected farming because we have always had black farmers.  Matter of fact, we had more black farmers before the civil rights so I don’t think the civil rights really played a major part or affected the farming one way or the other.  I don’t know how much.  It may have, it was kind of before my time.


KB:     You said you spent maybe the first three years of your life living on a farm?


TB:      Yes.


KB:     What would be your most memorable moment, either growing up on the farm, or being a farmer?


TB:      Repeat that now.


KB:     Most memorable moment that you had in your early years on the farm or in the years since you have been farming land.


TB:      Well in the early years I remember living out there and I remember my father working out there on the farm west of Merigold.  And I will always remember in the evening time as he was about to get off from work he would come by the house on the tractor and he would always stop and I would get on the tractor and he would let me drive the tractor on back to the shop.  So that is probably the most memorable thing that I can remember on the farm.


KB:     Okay.  What has been your motivation to keep farming?  What is it about farming that you really enjoy?


TB:      Well, farming is something that you have to enjoy doing.  Because you know, it is some hard times in farming.  Of course we have some good times.  You just have to love doing it. It gets in your blood.  Just being out there and smelling the dirt. It is just something that is within you that keeps you driving and keeps you in it.


KB:     Do you think that farming here in the Delta is more difficult than it would be anywhere else in the country?


TB:      No, I don’t think so.  Because we all go through difficult times in each region, either here in the Delta or in the hills or in the Midwest.  At some point you know we all (inaudible).  For instance this year here in the Delta we ran into a drought problem.  So I think everybody is affected one way or the other so I don’t think it is any different.


KB:     Have you ever considered farming anything other than the products that you farm, such as maybe doing vegetables and crops like that?


TB:      I thought about it briefly.  When sweet potatoes first came out I thought about it.  I thought about little vegetables.  But I thought I would stick with it – I prefer what I am doing.


KB:     When you mentioned sweet potatoes and I talked with somebody about that before.  Are they still operating those fields?


TB:      Yes they are.


KB:     And do you think that they are having some success in doing so?


TB:      I really don’t know.  I haven’t talked with anybody.  I did see in the last few weeks they were getting sweet potatoes out of the field.  As far as their production and who they contract with, I don’t know how they are doing.


KB:     Do you know of any other black farmers here in the Delta who farm products like vegetables and those type of things?


TB:      Yes we have several farmers at Mound Bayou that does sweet potatoes.


KB:     Do you know who those individuals are?


TB:      Louis Sanders is one.


KB:     And if there was anything that you could change about the Delta that you think that would improve your ability to be successful as a farmer, what would that be?


TB:      Well I think success depends on the individual, maybe, I don’t know, cause I farm part time, it’s an outside thing for me.  I have a full time job.  So it’s something you know that you have to work at.  You set goals and you try to get to a point where you want to be at.  Like I say, we have come a long ways with farming.  It’s ups and downs like anything else.  Like now you know, we have a down period with the drought.  We need help from the federal government now because we have a disaster.  But everything pretty much depends on the decisions making that an individual makes.


KB:     Do you have any children?


TB:      Yes.


KB:     Can you tell me a little bit about them?


TB:      Yes I have an older step son which is 22.  A second older step son which is 20 and I have a baby son that is 12.


KB:     Do you think any of your children will continue on your legacy in farming?


TB:      I don’t think so.  At first I thought my baby did.  When he was smaller he loved getting out there on a tractor or combine.  But now he’s into sports and he don’t even mention farming any more.


KB:     Well maybe he will change his mind when he gets older.  Is there anything else that you would like to add here today?


TB:      Well the only thing I would love to see an increase in more black farmers because we have lost a lot of black farmers over the years and a lot of black farmers have lost their land over the years and I would love to see that change.  You know everybody you know just want to have a level playing field.  I think everybody would get out there and work hard and all we – they’ll ask for is just a level playing field.  But like I say, things have changed, things have come a long way.  The local farm service office here have given us a great deal of help; they will work with us.  So things are getting much better.


KB:     And when you say a lot of black farmers here have lost their land, how do you



TB:      Well over the years blacks owned a lot of land here in the Delta and when they would go borrow money from the whites or whatever, most of the time they would put their money up and a lot of them lost their land over little small amounts of money.


KB:     That’s interesting.  Do you see yourself farming well into retirement from your regular job?


TB:      That’s my goal.  That’s what I’m working toward right now.  I’m trying to build my farm up to a certain area where I want to be at by the time I retire over the next ten or twelve years.  I want to be where I want to be at so I can retire and farm full time hopefully if things go well.


KB:     And is there anything else that you would like to add to this interview?


TB:      No, I think that is about covers it as far as me personally.


KB:     Alright, well I want to thank you so much for your time today and I appreciate your help.


TB:      Okay.  Thank you.  Now who’s going to look at that?


Tape Ends.