Delta Black Farmers Oral History Interview

Interviewee:          William Crockett OH# 367

Interviewer:           Eleanor Green / Emily Weaver

August 23, 2006


EG:                 I am Eleanor Green and today is August 23, 2006, and I am here with William Crockett and we are doing a interview for the Delta Black Farmers Oral History Project.

Okay, can you tell me your full name?


WC:    William Crockett.


EG:                 And when and where were you born?


WC:    Duncan, Mississippi, from Mound Bayou it was about twelve miles, but it was near the river so it’s pretty close to highway 1, yeah, a little place called Round Lake or Frances Landing.


EG:                 And were your parents originally from that area?


WC:    Yeah.  As a matter of fact, my grandfather I guess acquired that land sometime earlier.


EG:                 Do you know how he acquired the land?


WC:    Through the railroad purchase.


EG:                 That’s an answer that we have gotten several times.


WC:    Yeah well, Mound Bayou, the land here was acquired from the railroad.


EG:                 How many siblings do you have?


WC:    Two sisters.


EG:                 And were they associated with farming or are they?


WC:    No.


EG:                 Does your family still own land?


WC:    Yes.


EG:                 And how much, do you know how much land your family has, or you have?


WC:    Approximately 150 acres.


EG:                 And has that changed over time?


WC:    Increased.


EG:                 It has increased over time.  And is the land located here in Mound Bayou or Duncan or…?


WC:    Well, the home place, which is where I was born is located up there, and the other part is in the vicinity here.


EG:                 Okay.  And the land is still being farmed?


WC:    Yes.


EG:                 Are you farming it?


WC:    Yes.


EG:                 And what are you farming?


WC:    Soybeans and cotton.


EG:                 Soybeans and cotton – have you always farmed soybeans and cotton?


WC:    Well, that’s basically it, but at one time I was just farming soybeans.  But I like cotton so I just got into cotton.  And I basically do this as a hobby so it is not a source of income for me by no means.  I don’t think it is a source of income for anybody.


EG:                 Can you tell me some of the history of the land?


WC:    Okay.  As I said, the land in Duncan as I call it, was acquired by my grandfather.  So he farmed it and he had quite a number of children.  My father opted to remain on the farm but my uncles and all moved to the city and worked in plants, but he stayed on the farm.  Two of them, my father and uncle stayed on the farm.  We had a eighty acre spot that my grandfather acquired so you know, it just sort of passed from grandfather to my father and them ends up with me, for they have all passed away.  Now, the land in Mound Bayou was my mother’s.  So it was my grandmother’s land passed down to my mother and her sister.  So it has been in the family for quite awhile.  And that was a eighty acre block of land.  The land still remains in the family although we have –  the sisters to my mother got their part.  There is a forty acre block that is owned by me at this particular time, along with my mothers land.


EG:                 Was the farm ever used for share cropping or did you ever have tenant farmers on your land?


WC:    Yes, my father had some share croppers or tenants right.


EG:                 Did they – did ya’ll have employees on the farm?


WC:    Not really, no, you know.  Occasionally after we got out of school in the afternoons, you know, some children and myself, we would go out and pick cotton after school you know, during that particular time of year.  So that was the only kind of employment, it was just kind of seasonal hire kind of thing.  They would come out and pick cotton and you paid them for you know, the cotton that was picked.


EG:                 What would you say was your most memorable moment growing up on the farm?


WC:    Well I guess it would be when I was about ten years old, my father put me on a horse and gave me about eight to ten bales – samples and told me to go to town and sell it you know.


EG:                 How far was town?


WC:    About seven miles to Duncan, okay?  They had about three cotton buyers there.  You know he didn’t give me any instructions, he didn’t say you should get a certain amount for it.  He just said, “Go to town and sell this cotton.”  Ten years old.  So I went to the first cotton buyer and I had the samples all, he had a string around them.  If you know what samples was doing that time.  It was a round thing with a band around it, a paper band or whatever.  So I walked in and told him I had this cotton for sale.  I hadn’t ever been into it so he reached and got the sample and took his knife and cut the little string from around it.  He then broke the band on it.  Why I didn’t particularly like that.  So he broke the band on it.  Cause I thought he could get the cotton out of the end cause the cotton was sticking out of the end.  So he broke the band and laid it out and he reached over and got some cotton out of it and he would pull it and put it in here and blow it and pull it.  And so I was sitting watching him and he dropped the piece that he had picked up on the floor.  I looked over and he had a pile of it on the floor.  So he reached over and got him a little more and pulled it out and went through the same procedure.  When he finished he dropped it on the floor.  So you know those other eight or nine bales I reached over and got the samples.  That’s the only ones that he was able to touch you know.  Cause I didn’t like the idea of part of my cotton going to the floor you know.  I didn’t know.  So I left that particular place and I went to the other ones. And when I went to the others, naturally I passed him a sample and asked him what he would give me for it.  So when I left there I had all my samples and all my cotton.  Normally I guess when you sell the cotton they keep the samples, I’m not sure.  But I carried it all back home, but I sold the cotton.  I went to all three cotton buyers.  When I went to the first one I found out what I should do, you know it was kind of a negotiating thing.  When I went to the second one and the third I knew exactly what I should do.  So I sold the cotton, and carried the sample back home and carried the check back home to my father.


EW:    Was he happy with it?


WC:    Yeah.  I guess – if he didn’t he didn’t say anything.  Cause he sent me and he didn’t give me any instructions, you know, he just said sell the cotton.


EW:    So you’re not supposed to put all your samples up there to show them how many samples you have got maybe, is that what you’re saying?


WC:    Well I thought he – well, my idea he was getting it and why throw it on the floor,  why not put it back into the case, cause I was figuring he was trying to get him a bale of cotton over time and I didn’t want to be a contributor.


EG:                 How is it different?  How do you sell your cotton today?


WC:    I belong to a co-op.  You probably heard of Staple Cotton?  It’s a co-op so I don’t have anything to do with it.  Once I pick it and put it in that module at the end of the row, I’m through with it.  The gin will come and pick it up and from that point on the only thing I know is that later on I get a check.   Cause I don’t have time to deal with the puts and the hedges and I don’t have the time to put in it so you know, I’m not that large so you know I just kind of depend on this co-op to give me the best price.  I guess over a period of time you know, if you are doing something maybe this year if the price sky rockets you are kind of locked in to a lower price cause they didn’t think in terms of the market shooting up, but on the downside, if it drops that low, they have already booked it or marked it at a certain price.  So, I guess overall down through the years, I guess it is advantageous to be in a co-op cause your cotton is in with a whole lot of cotton so when they sell it they can sell it to a mill.  Where if I was selling it I would sell to a buyer. Selling it at a reduced rate.  So it is advantageous to me to deal through a co-op.


EW:    How long have you been a member?


WC:    I’d easily say ten years.  You know I guess it got to a point at one time that if you wasn’t a member then you couldn’t become a member.   I guess they had a quota or something.  But yeah, been with them quite a while.


EG:                 How has technology changed what and how you produce things over time?


WC:    Oh goodness.  Now, with technology, chemicals, no-till, minimum till, it is no comparison.  At one time we had weeds and grass in the fields naturally.  Now, I guess most farmers hate grass, you know, I don’t even grow it in my yard.  So and technology and chemicals allows this to happen you know.  I usually plant about 85 acres of cotton and we always harvest it in one day.  You know, I’ll go out and from start to finish we will do it in a day.  I work with a couple of other fellows and so you know, I’ll help them and they’ll help me.  When we go in we usually go in with either three or four four-row cotton pickers and just run through it.


EG:                 Have you heard much about organic cotton?  Has that been anything you’ve thought about?


WC:    Not organic cotton, but organic vegetables and other crops, but not organic cotton.  Is that a…?


EG:                 People will pay extra for organic clothes.


WC:    Okay.  So they’ve got an idea that some chemicals are in there?  I can understand that.  You know we are big on health and obesity and a whole lot of things, so I can relate to it.  I get Delta Farm Press and everything.   It’s not big in this area I’m sure.


EG:                 No I don’t think so.


WC:    Maybe in some other country.


EG:                 Yes.  I don’t think the U.S. has got into the market much.


WC:    Yeah okay.  But I can relate to it you know because we are big on natural.  When you think in terms of organic you think in terms of natural growth and not the chemicals and – but I couldn’t even think in terms of it you know.  They are doing some organic vegetables in small plots around here you know but, organic cotton?  Goodness.


EG:                 To make the farm work what changes have you had to make over time?


WC:    Do a lot of reading because you have to be adept at chemical applications and resistance and tolerance, so you know, we’ve gone from cotton chopping to strictly, you know, chemicals in weed control and in crop management for as far as cotton growth, you know, growth regulators.  It is a world of difference you know and I have gone through the whole, whole gambit.  Now I was out of farming – I grew up on the farm, was out of farming for a number of years.  Because I was renting the land, and if you know anything about renting then if the guy don’t make anything then you may not get anything, so I said, “Hey, I can do this.”  Not make anything too, but at least I can have the satisfaction of you know, working with it.  But it’s a world of difference, and it is easy now.  Like I said, we can go out, two or three hundred acres, we can go out and I daresay we are not out there two days for any reason.


EG:                 Did your family farm anywhere else before farming in the Delta?


WC:    Well, my mother was originally from the Port Gibson area, so that would be Claiborne County.  They farmed there but I guess she was pretty young when they moved to the Delta area.  Now my father,  he was in Duncan, he was born there too, so I don’t guess he farmed anywhere else.


EG:                 Are the original buildings still on your land in Duncan?


WC:    No, recently tore down the house.  But the home house site is still there in a just a area out in the middle of the field.


EW:    How would you get there from here?


WC:    The best way to go would be.  Make it simple.  Shelby Highway 32 to Number 1.  Go north on number 1.  You are going to basically come out near Perthshire.  Hood’s Farm?


EW:    Right.  Kenneth Hood.


WC:    Keep straight up through Round Lake.  Once you pass Round Lake the next turn to your right, they call it Francis Landing, it’s going to be Sandy Ridge Road.   I think the sign is up real high.  But you turn right.  Just follow that road on around, actually to the end of the blacktop cause Mama Hood will live in a big house to your right.  You turn down under the hill, right there at the end of the blacktop where the black tops is a road to your left.  You just go straight down and the road then turns right.  The farm is right in that curve.  The land right there.  It is a little small trailer that my cousin and them use for hunting during the winter.


EG:                 Would anyone mind if we took some pictures of the land?


WC:    No, no that’s fine.


EW:    Thank you.


EG:                 What would you say in terms of value of the land to your family, not in monetary, but how you feel about the land?


WC:    Well, I think that the land ought to stay in the family.  It has never crossed my mind that I should get rid of it.  You know it was my grandfather’s and my grandmothers’ from both sides.  I would never think in terms of getting rid of it for any value you know.  It is something that I cherish you know, and try to preserve and you know, try to – do the upkeep on it.


EG:                 Do you have children that you will pass it to.


WC:    Hopefully.  I have two daughters.  I do have a son-in-law that would probably be the most interested person but he is an attorney and lives in Texas for the time being.  So, but that would –


EG:                 There are two women in Jackson who have an organic farm down there and they are selling to every restaurant in town practically.


WC:    Okay.


EG:                 Two women!


WC:    Okay.


EG:                 I just heard about them yesterday.  So you do plan to try to keep it in the family for generations to come?


WC:    I hope so.  It will stay as long as I am around, you know.


EG:                 Have you used any assistance to continue farming, well you have mentioned co-ops,  but what about programs like FSA Programs or other USDA Programs?


WC:    Yes.  I have participated, naturally, subsidy, FSA, matter of fact, I just came off the FSA – I was the minority advisor for FSA for I think fourteen years.  And that was –


EG:                 Was that local advisor or regional?


WC:    No that’s local.  Cleveland-Bolivar County.  You have a FSA Committee that is made up of four members you know.  So I served on it as long – you could only do twelve years, so I served my twelve years.  They kind of reorganized so I had already been there two years so once they reorganized then my twelve years started.  So I served those twelve years.  I went off last year.


EG:                 Last year.  Were you replaced by another minority?


WC:    Right.  This position is a minority position.  What has happened Bolivar County has split up into three regions.  So that means you have a person from each region that is elected.  Well it is kind of hard to get a minority elected.  Oh you can be a candidate

or get nominations.  But it is hard to get elected simply because you don’t have the I guess the population – black population that could get you elected.  You got to be a farmer in order you know, to deal with it.   I guess they established a minority advisor to the three member team.  So that’s how that came about.


EG:                 Who is the new one?


WC:    James Littleton.  He farms in this area.


EG:                 Did you know that year before last, maybe the year before that, that USDA created a position within the USDA of assistant for the secretary of civil rights in USDA?


WC:    No.


EG:                 That was created two years ago to address some of the incongruities that have happened in USDA in the past.  That is a new position, so far it’s working out better I think.


WC:    I guess this GYPSA Committee…


EG:                 What is GYPSA stand for?


WC:    Grain Inspection Production Stockyard Association.


EG:                 Okay thank you.


WC:    You know it’s …


EG:                 And what – you are on that board now?


WC:    Yeah.


EG:                 And that’s national?


WC:    National right.  I think it’s a 15 member committee.  And I guess I am the only one from any of the – well, I guess there is a guy from Louisiana – New Orleans that is on it.   But nobody else from Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida, or anywhere.


EG:                 Oh, okay.


WC:    Yeah.   The only representative basically from this particular region.


EW:    What do they do?  What is their main…


WC:    Believe it or not they do, regulations for grain, inspections, and it’s basically import kinds of grain.


EW:    Oh, okay.


WC:    You know they have weights and standards so this committee does resolutions to regulate grain that is being sent to other countries.


EW:    So you get a good idea of what the south produces in grains verses Midwest.


WC:    Well you know most of the grains come out of the Midwest..


EW:    Right.  Right.


WC:    So most of the members on the committee are from the Midwest, Iowa, Illinois, and Kansas, you know, so…


EW:    Well it’s good then that our south is represented.


EG:                 I know that you said farming is a side job for you –


WC:    Right.


EG:                 Can you tell me your educational background and what your current position is?


WC:    Superintendent of Schools here.  Okay?  Educational background is Bachelors, Masters, EDs.

EG:                 Where did you go to school?


WC:    First, Morris, Brown and Morehouse in Atlanta undergrad; Graduate School North Carolina State in Raleigh, N.C.; in Atlanta it was Pre-Med and Psychology; in North Carolina State it was in Endocrinology, masters in endocrinology.  From there I came to Delta State with another Masters in education and administration and a EDs in education and administration.


EG:                 And how long have you been the superintendent of the Mound Bayou School District?


WC:    Since 1991 with two and a half years in retirement.  And then I came back in 2002 and been here since that time.  But retired back in 1999.


EG:                 Okay.  How – I have read in a newspaper article that you were talking about the split year school.  But that you were able to go to the Mound Bayou School and they didn’t do that.  Can you tell us a little about that?


WC:    Well, well, to go back a little bit, Mound Bayou, during the founding, the main thing was education.  So it was always a mecca for individuals all around you know, even from a hospital stand point.  You had, this was the area, you know people would come from Tunica, to Yazoo City, everywhere to the hospital here.  And they would also come from all those areas to the school here because this was at one time the only school that would take you through the twelfth grade.  So then they set up schools in places like Duncan, okay for example, you had basically elementary schools, because when I finished high school they didn’t have a high school.  Students from Shelby and everywhere had to come here to finish high school.


EW:    What year?


WC:    ’58.  Yeah.  So they had to come to Mound Bayou to attend.  But when they did establish schools, then you had what they called split sessions.  That is to say that you would go to school up to a point where your farm time would start and then you would get out and you would go out and make the crop and then you would go back to school.  So by the time from planting to I guess, maturity, not opening now, but once you got the crop clean then you would go back to school.  Then you would go to school from that point until it was time to harvest.  So that is what you call the split session.  You were splitting the year.  So then once you would harvest then you would start back to school.  But Mound Bayou always started, just like now, you would start in, maybe not in August because I think at the time you had eight years rather than nine – maybe seven.  But anyway whatever length of time everybody else had, then Mound Bayou was on that same scale where you would start and go to the end of school which would be the latter part of May.


EG:                 How would you say that race has affected your family farm over the years?


WC:    Well maybe from an economic standpoint.  You know, I don’t know how receptive cotton buyers or individuals that was buying the product was.  Was that was there equality or equity in pricing?  I really can’t say, but as far as, seeing racism, I could never see it.  Even when I was in Duncan, and I was only there during summer.  Cause we had a house down here.  When I was four years old I was down here going to school. So I guess when I was there, we were kind of isolated, so it was never a thing where we had to do anything as far as race or working in other situations.  So we were kind of cushioned from it simply because we had our own farm.  Owned it and managed it and everything you know.  I imagine it might have been a little different for somebody that was a sharecropper or something.


EW:    What about your friends?  Were all your friends the same kind of situation that your family was in?   Playing with them, visiting their farms?


WC:    Like I said, this was only – I was only there during the summer.  When I was here all of my friends parents owned, owned land here, so naturally when we were here we were never in a black/white situation.  So you know it was kind of I guess, I guess in Mound Bayou we never experienced the possible things that other surrounding people experienced.  So I can’t really associate with that.


EW:    Yeah.  There wasn’t violence in your childhood growing up that we are so prone to expect in the south?


WC:    No, we never did.  Like I said, in Mound Bayou we were kind of cushioned from those kinds of possible violence.


EG:                 We talked with Mr. Wendell Paris in Greenville and he was telling us that the civil rights movement was helped by farmers who would, not so much that the farmers were participating in actual a lot of the movement so much, as they providing places for the people stay when they came to stay to do different activities, voter registration, and stuff.  Did you know of that kind of activities?


WC:    Oh yeah.  On a whole, if a black was somewhere else and got in trouble let’s say.  If they made it to Mound Bayou then they were, I mean they were safe.   Somebody here would see that, I mean if he needed to go to Chicago or somewhere, somebody would see that he would get there.  I mean those were the kinds of things that was going on all the time.  I guess whites just didn’t come in here.


EW:    What about the railroad that came through?  That was the Illinois Central?


WC:    Yeah.


EW:    Is that the Illinois Central?  Did they have a depot here?


WC:    Yeah.  It’s right here.  It’s right across the street.  They moved it from over there to right here.


EW:    That’s the Quick Stop that’s there now?


WC:    No.  Right here.  The Quick Stop is down…It’s on the corner right across from here.  The Elks Club?


EW:    And the Taborian?


WC:    No.  No.  You can see it once you go outside.  You came in here.  Right across is the Elks Club.   Right across the street.  That is the Depot.  We had a large depot.


EG:                 When did the train stop coming?  Do you know?


WC:    Oh, I can’t remember.


EW:    I know the train stopped running when I was little.  I used to wave at the man in the caboose in Duncan.


WC:    Duncan?


EW:    Mm hmm.  That’s why I am interested.  When I was ten I remember waving to the man and then all of a sudden he didn’t come anymore.


WC:    I don’t, I don’t know.  You probably would know.  You said you were ten so you can do your mathematics and you probably will come up with a number.


EW:    That will be ’86 maybe about then.


WC:    Think about that long?  Duncan?


EW:    Erwin.


WC:    Oh, Frank Erwin?


EW:    C.W. was my granddaddy.  Mayor and Postmaster at Duncan and ran the hardware store.


WC:    Oh.  Did you know Mr. Percy Brown?  He worked there for years and years.

Probably before your time.


EW:    Probably.


WC:    Short guy.  Okay.  It was across the railroad track over in there.


EW:    The hardware store?


WC:    Um hmm.


EW:    Oh yes sir.  Um hmm.  Um hmm.


WC:    It’s no stores there now you notice?


EW:    Noooo.


WC:    That whole strip – I was through there the other day.  Usually I don’t go that way, I go around.


EW:    Round back the other way.


WC:    So when I talk about Hood you know the area that I am talking about?


EW:    Yes.  Very much so.


WC:    Okay.


EG:                 I am from East Mississippi.


WC:    What part?


EG:                 Starkville.


WC:    Okay.  You city.


EG:                 I’m actually all over.


WC:    Isolated from the surrounding Oktibbeha County.  You know they are sitting in the middle and they have got four schools out.  One, two, …on the corners.


EG:                 Yeah I volunteered for the Oktibbeha Schools when I was an adult.


WC:    Okay.  Okay.  They don’t have enough students for one high school and they have four.


EG:                 I think they should just have one.  Of course I think Cleveland should just have one but I’m the minority there.


EG:                 I have actually asked all of my official questions.  Do you have anything to add?


WC:    I just enjoyed doing it you know.  I grew up here and contrary to what some may think that farming is degrading kind of work experience.  I think it’s important and is something that somebody‘s got to do to in order to keep the world moving.


EG:                 What – when is your next harvest?


WC:    Oh, I’m doing a little harvesting now.


EG:                 You are?


WC:    Yeah.  Matter of fact probably later today they will be cutting the little soybeans.  Up there at the place we have been talking about.  I’ll drive – well normally if I have a break,   I will drive a combine up there, cut it, and drive back down the same day you know.  The harvest is only two or three hours to do that, you know, that forty acres.


EW:    Do you share your equipment with the other folks?  You said you farm with a couple of other folks.  Do you share yours or do you own your own equipment?


WC:    I own it.  I own it.  I own a lot of equipment really.


EW:    Yeah.  Wow.


WC:    Usually I just buy it.  I don’t know why.  Not that I need it.


EG:                 You can share.


EW:    Buy the equipment because it’s shiny.


EG:                 Do you have anything else?


WC:    No.


EG:                 Well I thank you very much for your time.  It’s been very enjoyable.


EW:    You’ve been very helpful.


WC:    Okay.



Tape Ends.