Friday, September 28, 2012


Last year Sue and I were riding around Mooresville, looking at the pumpkin fields just before Halloween, when we saw the most beautiful field of cotton. Stopping the car I managed to pick a few bolls, feeling very much like a sharecropper as I did. It was, after all, someone else’s crop which I was picking.

I have grown cotton before; just a few plants on my back porch. I love the way it grows so patiently, with the buds giving way to the white flowers; which quickly turn pink; eventually become hardened bolls of the coveted white fluff.

We live in North Carolina, a state known for tobacco and cotton, both during the days of slavery, as well as after. Most of the tobacco is gone now, but cotton is still grown in the area. The beauty of the crop, as with opium, belies the pain behind the façade; the pastoral image of the Old South, with slaves singing in the fields as they harvested the crop.

In reality, when this time of year came, and the plants flowered so beautifully; creating fields of white flowers mimicking a snowfall; the slaves were very cognizant of what that beauty meant to them. This was the yearly lottery; when whole families could be separated from one another, never to meet again.
From late November, after the last of the crops were in, until the first of March, was the usual time when slaves were hired out for the winter; if they were lucky; or sold outright if they were not. The difference between the two lots is staggering; as with the former there was at least a chance of being re-united with your family after your “hiring out” was done. But, with the latter, there was no way of predicting what your fate would be, or even where that future lay. When you were “sold”; a vulgar term when used in conjunction with human beings; you were simply gone, most likely never to be seen again by your family or friends.

So, when I look at the beautiful plant which I have grown, or drive about looking at the fields of soon to be harvested cotton, I am very much aware of the “social” history of this pretty little flower. All of the cotton raised in this area is now harvested by machine, although many adults my age, both white and black, have picked cotton at some point in their lives.
There is no point to this post. It’s just me, looking past the flower.

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