The Courier News from Blytheville, Arkansas on June 18, 1966 · Page 5
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The Courier News from Blytheville, Arkansas · Page 5

Blytheville, Arkansas
Issue Date:
Saturday, June 18, 1966
Page 5
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The Man: Lait In o Strict Examining Th« Lift of th« Ana's Field Wafer Strawberries: Delta Bonus Crop, Day Laborer's Pocket Money (Editor's Note: This Is the final instalment In a scries written by Courier News Staff Writer Jack Baker who last month spent a day with field workers in the strawberry harvest of south Mississippi County.) By Jack Baker Staff Writer In the heart of most American males grown to maturity since the advent of movies, radio, comic books, and the livingroom tube, there is a rich private blood of conceit that makes them prey to the Clark Kent syndrome. The Mulloy of this syndrome is In variations of the phrase: "You see, I am the real . . ." If, for example, you are impersonating a type of presumably meaner station than your own, you expect to be just un successful enough to create doubt in the minds of others about the authenticity of your pose. If you choose to reveal your True Identity to Wilbur Johns, The Man at Joiner, you expect him to play the game by utter ing some variation of the phrase: "I suspected it all along. I could tell by your bearing, your natural aristocracy that You do not expect him to say: "We thought you were a wino." But there is, after all, no pretension in the strawberry fields. Social position as such is non-existent. The Man is The Man, and that is that. Everybody else is permitted the luxury of being exactly what he does. This is not true in cotton- chopping season, which follows by a Spartan breath tbe strawberry harvest. Supervisors have been known to employ boot- camp techniques — with literal emphasis on the boot — to re- instill the urge to labor in lagging cotton-choppers. But hands in the strawberry fields are rewarded according to their whims or their determination — whichever they choose. Regardless of their motivation, they are paid nine cents a quart for the products of their industry. It is an exact practical definition of the Stalinist maxim: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his work." And, obversely, it is also a vindication of the Social Darwinist dogma of the Right Wing: that he who lias initiative will be truly and proportionally rewarded. It may be argued from t h e point of justice that nine cents a quart is bardly an accurate translation of work into reward. But at least there is no discrimination, and Hie only "heat" is that which comes from the oppressive sun. "I got this rotten headache out there," I was telling Johns. "If it hadn't been so hot, I think I might have just laid down and gone to sleep — in which case you'd have probably been out there shaking me loose with a stick." "No, people do it all the time," he said. "If you had, I'd have just thought you were sleeping it off from the night before. "We don't care. Hell, there's no telling what goes on out there, especially with those kids and their transistor radios." "I saw a game of blackjack right out there," I said, pointing to where I meant. Johns laughed. "That's no surprise. I think half the people out here — the young ones, I mean — come out because they've got nothing better to do. Some of them don't even bother to start picking. Others knock off early. Like you," he smiled. - "Yes," I said. "But we don't bother any of Stem unless they're interfering with the work or molesting the oilier hands." That made it my turn to smile. I'd seen some "molesting" going on among the adolescents. * * * I had borrowed Johns from his chair at the cashier's table, where pickers brought their hauls and were paid for what was left over after two white women had thrown out all the questionable, i.e., mushy berries. (In my case that had amounted to 'two of my six quarts — leaving me with 36 cents, which I suspect will be my career earnings in this field.) Johns bad been relieving the regular cashier, another white man, who was, like the two women and like foreman Bud Dean, apparently attached to Johns and the farm on some sort of tenancy basis. To accommodate me, Johns had turned the chair back over to the cashier, and we walked a short distance away, to a point where we could see Dean nearby supervising the loading of crates on a truck, and, in the distance on all sides, the hordes of pickers and loafers, their black skins looking oily and identical in the sun. * * * I was curious about Johns a his view of the strawberry harvest, and I was in some doubt as to the exact nature of his relationship to this land. All I knew for sure was that he was The Man — a term which is not facetiously applied. Johns, as it turned out, holds the title of vice - president and general manager of the Semmes Farming Corporation, but, wherever southern Negroes labor under Sie supervision of white men, the summit of power is always called, more simply and perhaps more accurately, The Man. Their northern brethren of the ghettoes have stylized the term into a pejorative reference that collectivizes the entire Caucasian race into an omnium gatherum of evil and injustice. But these southern black folk are unspoiled by the hatreds of the city — perhaps because they have enough to worry about without the added bile of such useless recrimination. They have traditionally said "The Man said ..." or "The Man wants .. ."—as if they recognized this ubiquitous man as an artificial father who determined the code of performance from their birth on—and enforced it. At one time in history The Man was simply the man who owned the land on which they — the blacks — labored. They have been entirely ignorant of the strange change in agriculture that has given birth to farming "corporations" and the, proprietorships of men like Johns who bear longish and bureaucratic titles. The Man is nevertheless and unchangeably The Man. * * * Johns explained that tbe Semmes Farming Corporation was a creation several years ago of a man named Pruitt Semmes, who attracted as an executive officer and stockholder Johns, then a Mississippi feed merchant. "We own or lease 3,000 acres of farmland in Arkansas," Johns told me, "1,300 of which is right around here. Most of our land is cotton and soybeans — with some wheat. This 75-acre strawberry plot is the extent of that." He added, "This Joiner land is under my personal control." "Isn't this something relatively new — this leasing of so much land from other people? Aren't you in effect tenant farmers on a grand scale?" I asked. "You might put it that way," Johns said. "As far as 1 know, Semmes and I were the pioneers of this system in Arkansas — at least on this scale." In response to further questions Johns allowed as how yes, indeed, this was file wave of the future and the same process that incorporated industry was now at work on the family farm — and had been ever since the first farm machine put a mule out of work. As tbe mules go, so do the human beings, Johns said. "The fact is, we're getting to the point that we only need people to operate machines. They're becoming superfluous." Besides strawberries, what other crops required the existence of a corps of unskilled farm hands, I asked Johns. "Well; there'* cotton • picking in the fall — and less and less of that, sine* machines can do that Job better, too. There's cotton-chopping in the early summer — and even that's on the way out with these new chemicals we've got. And that's about it." "And there's nothing else?" "Hmmm. Well, there's blackberries and asparagus. Wilson's got some Of that, but it doesn't amount to much as far at these people are concerned." Johns has a dogmatic, amost Spenglerian quality of speech when he talks about these things — appropriately so, since they are things having a decisive effect on what is called rural depopulation, and, consequently, an enormous and largely un- weighed influence on the chang- ling South. He behaves very much like an inheritor of the future. But he also acts according to the archetype of the old-style farm boss he is replacing his- Wiien I first approached him, for example, he had been amusedly watching a couple of his hands matching pennies as they loaded a truck with strawberry crates. "C'mere, Charles," he suddenly ordered. "I'll match you a coupla times." The teenage Negro named Charles obligingly climbed down from the truck and flipped a coin with Johns. "Like you," Charles said, un- cupping his penny, which was heads up. "Well, let's see," Johns said. He performed an adroit motion with his cupping band and turned his coin up tails. "Aw, you turned that over," (Siarles said, which was the simple truth. "Oh, no," Johns said, taking Charles' penny. As Charles walked away, Johns said, "Don't call me cheating, Charles. I might have to whup you." The remark was made good- humouredly, in the same sense of noblesse as the sleight-of- hand had been performed, but there was enough firmness in it to indicate The Man really meant It. Subsequently. Johns matched Charles for another penny and generously worked the sleight- a tenant's - where these things and hamburgers were told from a back porch which led out from the kitchen. "Same as them," Johns Mil "Well, that's all they ever eat. they don't even eat the strawberries when they are good. It's like they don't regard them at food — just work." "Well, that stuff in the kitchen's not very healthy," I said. "It's just as good as what these folks eat at home," Johns said. "They aren't very healthy either." He mused a bit, then continued, "No, they aren't very healthy. That stuff gives them energy they can use on the spot, though. The young ones don't work and the old ones do the best they can. . "It's not like the Mexican program. We used to get acres Of strong young Mexicans who would come in here and go at it with no nonsense and they'd average 150 quarts a day. The best locals can do maybe 75 to 100 quarts." : "And the worst?" "Well, you've seen 'em. Some of them just piddle. Maybe they'll get better as years go Kir HiAl-ntt ** ! by, though. * Johns told vested. "It'll never happen," he said unequivocally. I thanked him for the conversation and made my way around the dirt road back to the but area. It was late afternoon and about time to leave. * * * There wai * but parked next to ours that contained three or four young Negroes, and, On an impulse — perhaps On a hunch that I might "hear it the way it is" - I boarded it. "How'd you do?" I asked an indolent - looking boy of perhaps eighteen. He had a transistor radio. "Aw, I didn't do much," he said. "What's your name?" I asked. It didn't sound like tuch a strange question. "Billy," he taid impassively. He didn't give a last name. "What's the best you ever did picking strawberries?" I tried. "I ain't never done no,good with them berries," he said. "You cain't do : no good with nothing around here." "So what do you do for money?" "I don't do nothing. Maybe I'll of-hand so as to let Charles equal the score. + * * There was a similarly revealing incident that cams as we stood in the loading area talking. A matron in typical subur- me that dependence on "locals" since the Department of Agriculture curtailed importation of Mexican labor in 1964 and the inability of the "locals" to come up to Mexican standards would likely force cuts in strawberry acreage here and everywhere. "We're at 75 and may have to cut down. Wilson had something like 300 acres under the Mexicans, and they're down to 90 now." I suggested it was an irony that agricultural technology had so improved harvesting methods that farm hands had departed the countryside in droves with the result that strawberries, one of the few crops still depending on manual labor, were actually harvested less efficiently. "Yes," Johns said. "Of course this is just a bonus crop anyhow. Strawberries are three times as profitable per acre as any other crop we grow. But we grow relatively little acreage, so if the crop fails, we're not hurt too bad. If it comes . ban out-of-door clothes had ap- I through, it gives us, like I say, a bonus. "It's the same for those folks out there. This is pocket money for them. The season only lasts a month, so that's not enough in proached us. "You're Mr. Johns?" asked him. "Yes, ma'am- Can I help you?" "Yes, sir. I'd like to buy a crate of strawberries." "What is your name, ma'am?" Johns asked her. "Uh . . . (Sarah Jones)," she answered. "Well, Sarah, I'd advise you to come back Monday. They aren't worth eating today on account of the rain." She thanked him and walked jjoin the Army." Maybe, I 'thought, and maybe you'll go to Dee-troit or St. Louis or Chicago Or Kansas City and become Billy X. I got off before he decided to ask me what my name was. Back on my own bus I discovered Our bunch had averaged about 18 quarts for the day — with 26 being the individr ual high. Roosevelt the legless man had picked 20 — and so had Ralph the Big-Timer. I wondered if the 75-100 quart a-day average I kept hearing about were wholly imaginary — a myth agreed upon by all parties to romanticize or dignify this unusually grueling picnic. Housewives all over the nation demand a quantity food where a limited one exists, and here were people — increasingly less of them — doing the best they could — for one month out of the year and for limited remuneration — to supply this demand. The situation held its own dignity. Charlie let me out in the block on Ash where the BSD office is. He'd already 1st most of the others off in Sawdust Bottom. "You goin' with us Saturday?" he asked. "I don't know," I said. "How gryfnevme (Art,) Courier rTewi - Saturday, Junt la, 19M- Pagt fin Capitol Notebook By JOHN ft. STARR Atlociated Prtti Wrltir tlTTUS ROCK (ArV and tomatoes should be taken with a grain of salt and the North Little Rock Times applied a shakefful to the Campaign doings at the Pink Tomato Festival in Warren. The weekly newspaper picked some choice quotes from the speaking, labeled them as "profound remarks" and proceeded to add its own comment. Nothing that Charles Honey, a candidate for Congress had Said, "When Chuck Honey goes to Washington, it'll be just like you- being there," the editor retorted, "That's what I'm afraid of." Dale Alford taid he was glad that Winthrop Rockefeller got to meet him and the editor quipped, "Another millionaire, «w«Ks:ra^ S^BS are they ***•«• away. Johns other would-be customers — men — the same thing, but it was the combination of his measured courtesy and the cozy assumption of this stranger's first name that interested me. Johns told me he'd been a Marine and had attended Mississippi State. Both facts figured. Easy-natured but firm, roughhewn but apparently literate, he seemed cast in the mold of the men — "shucks, ma'am," but no nonsense about formalities — who had run industries in the salad days of big-time incorporation — before the evolution of a new and professionally educated species of managers. It occurred to me that Johns represented an historically analogous type in agriculture. What he'd said about the strawberries also interested me. * •. * "That's true, you know, about the strawberries not being worth eating today," I said. "I ate a few out in the field. Maybe that's what gave me the headache." "What did you have (or lunch?" he asked me. "Hot dog and Coke over there," I said - indicating a I imagine that most of these she I young ones will eventually be off to Dee-troit or St. Louis or Chicago or Kansas City. "And God knows what they'll do there." * * * I asked Johns some technical questions about the crop. He told me that his strawberries were of the Blakemore variety — a kind that balances flavor with firmness and resistance to adverse weather conditions. He admitted that there were perhaps other varieties that are had told a couple of I tastier — and more perishable, 'a fact which weighed against them. Mass • production techniques are what's happening down on the farm. "We invest $150 an acre in the planting, which we do in March and April of the y e a r previous to the harvest," Johns i said. "As you know, we pay 9j cents a. quart, and we get 30 j cents a quart from our buyers." j I asked who these buyers were. "Breyer's Ice Cream Company is our biggest customer," Johns said. "They've got a plant in Wilson and we sell direct to them. Our other sales are only incidental." Sales to an ice-cream company seemed appropriate. Strawberries, Johns insisted, are still a luxury item and would remain so - to the consumer as an occasional dessert and to the grower and picker as a bonus crop. I had heard it theorized that strawberries might replace cotton as the big cash crop in Mississippi County someday. Johns scoffed at such talk. In particular, he discounted the efficacy of breeding a berry that grow high enough from the "I 'speck about another That's what Johns had said also. "Then what are you going to do?" "Well, they'll be cotton-chop- pin startin' June." "And after that, what?" "Sir?" "After strawberries and cotton-chopping are over, what are you going to do?" "There's always some place to go, I reckon." "Well, so long." "So long," Charlie said. It was foolish, but I waved goodbye at the departing bus. nearby tormhousa — apparently' ground to b* machin* •« fear- Vernell Morgan USE VER Ph. RE 8-3617 Frtt tstimatos Senath, Mo. Got Termites: Call ACME! Don't Want Ttrmites? Call ACME! PO 3-3280 ACME TERMITE CO. John Tyrone NEWS BRIEFS FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) The State Board of Education considers next Wednesday whether to require all newly certified teachers to complete a fifth year of college within a 10- year period. CRETE, Neb. (AP) - Dr. Donald M. Tepeer, president of Doane College in Crete since 19S4, has resigned to become president of the Mississippi Valley College Association to Chicago. TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Gov. Richard J. Hughes has signed legislation increasing New Jersey's cigarette tax three cents per pack to 11 cents. The bill is expected to yield thee state upward of $25 million annually. HAMMOND, Ind. (AP) Bank manager John Etters had just finished reading an FBI pamphlet with instructions on what to do during a bank robbery when two men entered. "This is a holdup," the armed pair said. They fled with $8,230 after making Etters and nine other bank employes and customers lie on the floor. "It happened so fast I didn't have time to trip an alarm," Etters said. BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - The Rev. James M. Demske has been named president of Canisius College of Buffalo. Made to sell for much man. Still Guarantee it tllit unbtlievibli low priw. M DISCOUNT t.l STORES Main & Franklin — Ely. & Air Base Highway Coffonwood Raceway Int. 55 ft Hiway HO OSCEOLA, ARK. Racing this Friday & Each Friday Night Time Trials — 6:30 p.m. Races —8:15 p.m. All New Track St««l Bltachtn Class "C" Stockera and Class "A" Super Modified front * 5-State Are*. THf MSTfST QUARTER-MI Lf GUMBO TRACK IN THf SOUTH Raymond Rebsamen, was al-*most that lucky, too, but he had to choose between meeting Alford In Warren and staying in the air conditioning in Little Rock, bale lost." Rebsamen was the Only one of 10 candidates for governor who failed to appear on • hot, sunny day to bid for votes at Warren. Richard Arnold, another congressional candidate, said, in replying to a chargt by a Republican that Democrat* were in the White House when all four of the 20th Century wars started: "If the Democrats defeated the Kaiser in World War I and Hitler in World War II, then I'm proud to. be a Democrat." "You're not old enough to remember," the editor cracked. "But Our recollection is that the Army and Navy had something to do with, all that:" Jim Johnson declared: "If you'll join hands and hearts with me, we')! drive the rnoney changers from the halls of the capital." To which the editor remarked, "But you'll sure make a bloody mess in the halls while you're doing it." And finally the editor recalled that Kenneth Sulcer, charging corruption in government, asked: "Have you had enough?" "Yes," replied the editor. "But, unfortunately, this is only the middle of June." Today In History Golfers Golf is enjoying great popular ity in the United States today, with more than 3.8 million men, women and children, playing the game at least 10 times a year, according to the Encyclo- paedia Britannica. Today is Saturday, June 18, the 169th day of 196«. There are 196 days left in the year. Today's highlight In history: On this date in 1812, Congress declared war on Great Britain as a result of a long-Standing controversy over arbitrary British inteference with American ships on the high seas. On this date " In 1819, Napoleon was defeated in the Battle of Waterloo." In 1895, the Great Northern Railroad was opened for traffic. In 1940. Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini met in Munich to draft terms for a French arihi- slice. In 1942, Winston Churchill-, arrived in the United States for a series of talks with President Franklin D. Roosevelt about the war. In 1946, President Harry': S. Truman, authorized improvements in medical care for veterans. • •;. Ten years ago Soviet Foreign Minister Dmitri Shepilbv, during a visit to Egypt, offered Egyptian President Nasser' a .Soviet loan for almost the entire amount of money needed for the proposed Aswan High Dam on the Nile River. Five years ago a Stratsbmifg- to-Paris express train derailed and 24 passengers were killai and more than 100 others injured. BRING THE KIDS! MINIATURE TRAIN RUNS EVERY SUNDAY AFTERNOON WALKER PARK, BLYTHEVILLE, ARK. AIRPLANE SPRAYING sr On ^ SMALL GRAIN JOHN BRIGHT Phone JO 4-2475 NOW SERVING EVENING MEALS 5-7:30 p.m. Westbrook's Cafeteria PLAZA SHOPPING CENTER Open Mon. - Sat. T AM-7:30 PM (Sun. 7 AM-2:0» PM) . GENERAL MACHINE WORK i WELDINE • TOOL AND DIE WORK • HEAT TREATING • ENGINEERING And DESIGNING Manufacturing and Machine Works • PO 2-2911 BARKSDALE 325 South Broadway Katz Jewelers NEW LOCATION 221 W. Main St. Next Door to Martin's Men's Store and Gaities-Wright Shoe Store.

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