Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Margaret Skinner Parker, March 7, 1976. Interview H-0278. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The tenant farm system in early twentieth-century North Carolina

Parker offers a brief glimpse of the tenant farm system in early twentieth-century North Carolina.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Margaret Skinner Parker, March 7, 1976. Interview H-0278. 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

MARGARET SKINNER PARKER:
Well, see, the company had farms, and these colored people (like the Pruitts and the Watkins and different ones of these families, their children—of course they're all grown now), they had farms. They worked farms that belonged to the company, see. And Mr. Koontz was over them, and then after him it was Mr. Tatum, Carl Tatum. They raised mostly cotton, you see. And so when they sold the cotton, then from one season to another the company store, the J.N. Ledford Store, they carried their account, see. But the OKs came from whoever was the man in charge.
W. WELDON HUSKE:
Exactly what was the arrangement between the company and the tenant farmers?
MARGARET SKINNER PARKER:
Well, we carried their accounts from one season to the next. And then when they sold their cotton (which they sold to the mill)…
W. WELDON HUSKE:
Did they have to sell it to the mill?
MARGARET SKINNER PARKER:
Well, I think that was the arrangement.
W. WELDON HUSKE:
It was mill cotton.
MARGARET SKINNER PARKER:
Yes, it was mill land, see. So then they paid up their bill. And I understand years ago when Mr. Ledford was there, when they would come in there was a long front desk there and there was a bell under there. And when they would come in Mr. Ledford would ring that bell, which told the clerk that these people, you know, had money—in other words, get busy and sell. Because back then you bought, I think, your children's clothes about maybe once or twice a year, see: you bought everything you needed while you had it.
W. WELDON HUSKE:
Well, did the tenant farmers ever have much money left over? Or what was their income?
MARGARET SKINNER PARKER:
Well now, I don't know what arrangements they had. Of course, they finally did away with the farms. You know, I think they made Durham the central cotton buying place. And then these farmers, of course a lot of them had gotten older by then.