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Strawberry pickers near Lakeland, Florida

[Detail] Strawberry pickers near Lakeland, Florida

He Never Wanted Land Till Now (excerpt)

NOTE: This is an excerpt. The full text version of He Never Wanted Land Till Now is in American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940.

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Moss and his wife and two youngsters were busily engaged in going through a poor stand of cotton , plucking the white fiber from the scattered bolls and depositing it, with an automatic-like movement born of long practice, into sacks which were tied around their waists.

There was something about Mose's appearance that reminded me of the two mules I had observed in the yard-- something that suggested too much hard work in the fields and too little to eat at times. He seemed glad of the chance to stop picking cotton and talk to me.

With a little prodding and prompting, Mose told me how the Southern tenant farmer or sharecropper about whom the Administration evinced so much concern in 1938 lives and what he lacks.

"What is your average annual income, Mose ?" I asked. "That is, how much money do you make off your farm in a normal year?"

"Nothin', or almos' nothin'," he replied. "If I have enough left over, after payin' for my go-ano and such, to buy flour an' meal and rise through de winter, den I calls myself lucky. I ain't made no money farming in ten or fifteen years.

"De landlord, he gets a fourth of de peas (soy beans)

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and de cotton and a third of de corn and sweet potatoes, and I gets de rest. He furnishes me a house, de outhouses and de land, and I furnishes de team, de work, de seed and de go-ano. He keeps all de books and accounts, and he settles up wif me at de end of de year. If I'se got anything a-tall comin' to me atter all de bills is paid, I feels lucky.

"You sees dis cotton , don't you? Two or three bolls to de stalk, where dere ought to be two or three pounds. If I had to hire hands to pick it, I'd lose money on it. I'se got a pretty fair stand of peas, but dey ain't selling for nothin'. And dem's de only two crops I got dat I can sell. I didn't raise no sweet potatoes to sell, and I jes about got enough corn to feed my team till next year."

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