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

By Melissa Walker | Go to book overview

Chapter Two
Rural Southerners and the
Community of Memory

Black North Carolina sharecropper Susie Weathersbee told an interviewer, “And when I come up, I was a farmer…. And that’s all I ever done, any work on a farm.” Arthur Little, the son of a prosperous white landowner in Catawba County, North Carolina, concurred. Little was born on a 250-acre cotton farm. College-educated, he farmed for five years as an adult and then became an accountant and a glove-factory owner. He told an interviewer that all of his brothers and sisters “farmed as a main occupation” even though most worked full-time as textile industry owners and managers. When asked to which class he belonged, he replied, “We belong to the farming class. We’re basically farmers.” The interviewer asked if this was so even though Little ran a glove mill. “Yes,” he answered. “I travelled [sic] across Europe for six weeks, and I told everyone I was a farmer.”1 Weathersbee farmed all her life, struggling along as an economically marginal sharecropper. Raised on a prosperous farm, Little rose to prominence and relative wealth as a textile mill owner. Yet at the end of their lives, both possessed a clear and succinct vision of who they were—farmers. Although they probably never met, Little and Weathersbee would have seen themselves as belonging to a community of memory formed by shared experiences on the land.

Though most oral history narrators did not articulate their sense of belonging to a community of memory in such clear and explicit terms as Weathersbee and Little, the recurring stories in their oral narratives reveal the experiences that shaped and bounded that community. Many scholars have noted that people preserve their community of memory by telling stories about the past. As Sherry Lee Linkon and John Russo have pointed out, “Communities of mem-

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Southern Farmers and Their Stories: Memory and Meaning in Oral History
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • New Directions in Southern History ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter One - Three Southern Farmers Tell Their Stories 37
  • Chapter Two - Rural Southerners and the Community of Memory 77
  • Chapter Three - Memory and the Nature of Transformation 117
  • Chapter Four - Memory and the Meaning of Change 139
  • Chapter Five - The Present Shapes Stories about the Past 177
  • Conclusion 223
  • Appendix One - Demographic Data 231
  • Appendix Two - List of Interviewees 237
  • Appendix Three - Interviews 255
  • Notes 281
  • Bibliographic Essay 305
  • Index 319
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