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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Samuel James (S. J.) and Leonia Farrar, May 28, 2003. Interview K-0652. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Young lives lived in poverty

The Farrars recall childhoods lived in poverty, as well as Samuel's decision to leave farm life. His father, like most African Americans in rural Chatham Country, was a sharecropper. Samuel become a sharecropper, too, but his temperament did not gel well with the job. After suing a white landlord for a greater share of his earnings, he left his farm married Leonia, and took a job at Duke Hospital in Durham, North Carolina.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Samuel James (S. J.) and Leonia Farrar, May 28, 2003. Interview K-0652. 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

I've seen my mother, when I was five or six years old, I've seen her… and Leroy, my brother lives next door, he's two years older than myself. Our other brother died three or four years ago that was two years younger than I. She had to walk, my mother, in extremely cold weather, to wash and iron and her pay was old hog heads coming out of the smokehouse with and bugs in it. She'd have to lay it out in the sun, let the sun run the bugs away, then she'd cook it for us. Let the bugs swim to the top, she'd skim them off. That sounds horrible, doesn't it? But it is absolutely the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But we survived.
PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
Was your father paid to be a minister?
SAMUEL JAMES FARRAR:
No.
PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
No, not at all. So did he also farm?
SAMUEL JAMES FARRAR:
Yes, he was a farmer, a sharecropper. That's what 99% of us blacks in that area farmed, but we were share farmers. You kept half of what was left, not half of what was made. You get half of what was left. Sometimes we had nothing to sell to figure out what was left. You just had to take the landowner's word for what was left and be thankful to get it, to have that.
PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
So you were also a sharecropper in the beginning? How did that work? Were you given your own plot of land to raise everything that you could on that land and then you split…
SAMUEL JAMES FARRAR:
You wasn't given the land, you was allowed to work the land. And we moved from farm to farm. That's my family. My wife came from a big family and large families, she's a member of nineteen children. And her father was a sharecropper too, but when you had that many children…
LEONIA FARRAR:
We didn't have quite as hard a time as you all did.
SAMUEL JAMES FARRAR:
Because her father, my father died when I was nine years old. My mother was left out there with that. Her father, he just died what, fifteen, twenty years ago. He was a hard worker. She doesn't know what it is to eat the last biscuit because he was there to provide for her. That was different. What made the difference in the family lives was the number of children that they had. The larger family of children you'd have a larger farm to work with. A small family of children had a small farm. Just say for instance, I don't remember us ever having more than five acres of tobacco, and then corn and sweet potatoes. We couldn't sell the sweet potatoes, we'd eat them and of course, we had to have them to eat, you know. Corn, we didn't sell any corn until we was getting ready to leave the farm and then I had to be tough-mouthed. I guess, and they say it now, I'm one of those that broke out. And I did, I broke out. I just would not allow any more. One year, we had a right nice crop. When I say crop, our tobacco turned out to be nice. The man tried to take it away from me. I would have been dead because they would have electrocuted me or hung me or something of that sort back there in those days if she would have let me do what I wanted to do. So after that I broke out of it. I couldn't take it. I said, I'm not going to work my wife, and we had three children at that time, work them to death and then give somebody else everything we made. I said I'm just not going to do it. That was my turning point. And I have a sermon that is entitled, "Christmas, the turning point." I will never forget that.
PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
I bet not, oh my, but what courage that took for you.
SAMUEL JAMES FARRAR:
It took a lot of courage and a lot of harassment. I had to leave the farm because I was considered a troublemaker. I wouldn't put up with everything.
PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
Good for you.
SAMUEL JAMES FARRAR:
Well, I don't know. I made it. With her help I made it.
PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
So how did you do it? How did you break out?
LEONIA FARRAR:
Well, the way he broke out that when we sold the last crop of tobacco and they carried it to the market to sell and the farm that we stayed on, the landlord, he wanted all of the money. And he determined he wasn't going to let him take all of the money. So they went and got a lawyer and they went to court. And the lawyer found…
SAMUEL JAMES FARRAR:
The judge, justice of the peace…
LEONIA FARRAR:
They found that he was right, he deserved his share of money. And they made this man pay the cost of the court and gave him his money, what he supposed to have had. And the judge told him that, if I was you, he said I would move from this farm. And that's how we made it down here. He told me, he said, "Honey, I'm going to find you a place to build you a house." At that time I said, "You can't build no house. How can you build a house?" He said, "I'm going to put you in a house, Honey." I said, "Okay, but I ain't going to stay in it because the bricks might fall down on me," like that. He said, "I'm going to put you in a house. I'm leaving this farm."
SAMUEL JAMES FARRAR:
We were living in a pack house where they packed tobacco over here and we lived on this first floor. That's when Carolyn was born. Carolyn was born two years before we was in the pack house. No, she was born the year that we moved into that house, wasn't she?
LEONIA FARRAR:
Yes, but I was determined that I was going to… when I was on the farm I determined that I was going to… with my father, because my Daddy had nineteen children. And I'm the seventh child, so I determined that I was going to better myself after I married this man here. I asked Daddy, can you send me to school? And Daddy said no, I cannot send you children to school because there are too many of you. I said, okay I'm going to get married.
SAMUEL JAMES FARRAR:
That was the thing for farming children, for girls to do back then was to get married. Because the father needed to thin the crowd out, thin it down so.
LEONIA FARRAR:
I said Daddy I'm goint to get married but to a good man. Daddy said, alright. So I got married to Farrar and I said, I want to be a good wife and I want to have some children.
SAMUEL JAMES FARRAR:
I'm the only one of his son-in-laws that had the courage to go ask him for his daughter. Of course I was scared to death but I did it.
LEONIA FARRAR:
So I married him and we went to South Carolina to get married. We came back and I told him, I want to make you a good wife and I want children. I want to stay home and be a good mother for these children, a good mother and a good wife. After I get these children in school I am going to better myself. I love to fix to hair, 'cause that's all we did on the farm, fix hair, press hair in the home and all of that. So after I got my last child in school I wanted to be really a beautician so I said, I'm going to put Gwen, she's my baby, in daycare and I'm going to stick with her until I know she's well put. And I'm going to school, to beauty school.
SAMUEL JAMES FARRAR:
That was way after, Honey. That was many, many trials and tribulations from the time that we got started up until the time you were thinking of going to school.