Southern Farmers and Their Stories: Memory and Meaning in Oral History

Southern Farmers and Their Stories: Memory and Meaning in Oral History

Southern Farmers and Their Stories: Memory and Meaning in Oral History

Southern Farmers and Their Stories: Memory and Meaning in Oral History

Synopsis

"In Southern Farmers and Their Stories, Melissa Walker explores the ways in which a diverse array of farmers remember and recount the past. The book tells the story of the modernization of the South in the voices of those most affected by the decline of traditional ways of life and work. Walker analyzes the recurring patterns in their narratives of change and loss, filling in gaps left by more conventional political and economic histories of southern agriculture."

Excerpt

Texan Leota Kuykendall explained, “Farm life of later years became like a factory in town really. It was a totally different kind of farm life.” Interviewed in 1992, Kuykendall offered a detailed description of the changes in southern agriculture since her 1936 birth. As she outlined the impact of specialization, mechanization, and expansion on farm families, Kuykendall was not sure that twentieth-century transformations constituted progress for farm people. She said, “I believe, personally, that the farm life of my childhood had more potential for a lot more personal fulfillment than the farm life of the later years. Even my own father’s farm, in the later years, I do not believe was as personally rewarding as the much earlier years. For example, when I was a very young child, … my father might be in the barnyard training the horses and mules or he might be fixing fences or out on the cotton farm, or the corn, or the maze [sic], or the oats, or the garden, or the peach orchard. the variety of work was tremendous, which I believe creates a lot of potential for a lot of personal fulfillment in the work.” When Kuykendall asked her father whether he would choose farming again, he told her, “All I ever wanted to do is be a farmer and I did what I wanted to do.” She went on, “So he had that kinship to the soil…. [But in] later years modern mechanization took that in a whole different direction, which I think created … from my point of view anyway, less opportunity for that real personal fulfillment. and for the woman on the farm, it would be the same way, because in the early farm days there was all this … diversity in the home…. and the focus was not on a pretty house and a clean house and all the things that we talk about today.” Instead, Kuykendall explained, farm wives of an earlier generation focused on the essential task of providing food for their families. “So methods were … perhaps harder and less convenient, but there was a lot of opportunity for a lot more fulfillment. and I hear this particularly when I talk to my aunt because … she talks about her mother and her family … with . . .

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