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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Clay East, September 22, 1973. Interview E-0003. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Impact of Great Depression on tenant farmers and sharecroppers in Tyronza, Arkansas

East discusses the impact of the early years of the Great Depression on the farming community of Tyronza, Arkansas. East explains that while his business remained unscathed and even prospered, tenant farmers and sharecroppers did not fare as well. In particular, East describes how bad crop years and other financial setbacks led a number of small land-owning farms to fold during those years. As a result, large planters began to take over control of most of the land.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Clay East, September 22, 1973. Interview E-0003. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

SUE THRASHER:
Was Hoover still president then? When did Roosevelt come in, 1932?
CLAY EAST:
Yeah. No, Hoover was in there. He's of course, back in that country, they only ate rabbits in the wintertime, see, after frost had falled and so forth. But, they used to make a remark back then that Hoover was the guy that made rabbits good to eat the year 'round. But, the thing was serious…
SUE THRASHER:
Was your filling station business suffering then?
CLAY EAST:
No.
SUE THRASHER:
Why?
CLAY EAST:
I really cut in on these other boys. I was…I don't mean to be egotistical or anything, but hell, I was…you read a letter that I had from that doctor. I was one of the best service station operators in the country, if not the best. I don't think there was a man anywhere that knew more about automobiles than I did. I'd followed them all my life and had a lot of experience and I just took the business from these other guys. Not only that, I was a good mixer and I trusted people and I was straight. People didn't have to watch me and come in there and wonder if their account had been padded, or something, which a lot of stores at that time did…put something on there that you didn't even get. Mess the figures up on it. Stations and stores…there was a world of credit done at that time. Nearly everything was done on credit and now, even in…the small farmers back at that time, but I don't want to get off on that too much. They all had to borrow money every year to make a profit. So, if they had a bad crop year, a lot of them, that's the way they lost their farms. The bad times back there, was 1920 and you just can't imagine the number of people then that was big men the year before who had lost everything they had.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, how about the big planters. What were they doing then?
CLAY EAST:
Well, naturally…this country was made upoof these small farms to begin with…people who had come in there and bought small farms for themselves. So, when these cotton factors in Memphis furnished them money to make their crop on and when something happened, well, Ritter and Emerick furnished a world of people. They had the largest store there by far and had the gin and everything. Well, when a man went broke and lost his farm, well, they got it. So, first thing you know, there's a few people who was getting ahold of all the land.