Camera Rolls: 315:92-93
Sound Rolls: 315:52
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Vera Ellis , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on January 31, 1993, for The Great Depression . Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of The Great Depression.*
Take one, marker.
OK, so if you could tell me about settling it up, and the planters taking it all, and how that made you feel?
Start? Oh, when I was a child we lived on a plantation in Arkansas and it was a sharecropper. And the way it supposed to be, the landlord got half the profit and the sharecroppers got half, but we'd never get half, we'd always get a small amount of money and the rest went to the planter.
And so, can you tell me about the, it didn't matter if you went from place to place—
It was the same thing.
And there was no hope in that, and that's why you joined the union?
And my dad always moved every year, trying to find a better plantation, but they all were practically the same. And, what was I going to say now?
OK, can you say that again, that it wasn't different from place to place.
—and that it meant that he had no hope and that's why he joined the union.
So it wasn't—?
We would move from plantation to plantation, and there wasn't any hope because all of them were the same. You'd get a small amount of money after working a year on any of them. Therefore they'd join the union thinking that the, they would get better qualification or, you know more money from the crops.
How'd you feel about your daddy being in the union?
Well, I didn't like it because I didn't want to get thrown out, I didn't want to, you know, be out doors. But he decided that that was the best and that's what he did, and they stayed there.
You've got to do that again to include her dad's name.
My dad was Cleveland Clayton, and we lived on Mr. C.H. Dibble's plantation at Earle, Arkansas, and that's where the union started. And the lawyer told them not to move out, Mr. Dibble asked them to move at a certain time and they didn't, so about mid-January he came with the wagons and the sheriff and moved sixteen families on the roadside.
OK, we're out. We're just going to switch films. OK.
Take two, marker.
So will you tell me about why you were afraid of your daddy being in the union? And start off by saying, I was afraid for my daddy, or something.
OK. Now? Oh, I was afraid for my dad to be in the union, first I was afraid he'd get killed because the planters didn't allow you to have the union, and he had the only transportation to bring them into Memphis, to the lawyer's office, and that's why I was so afraid for him.
Now, they had these meeting in secret, can you—
Yes, they had the meetings in secret. They'd have them at night from house to house, you know, different places. And, when Mr. Dibble found out about it, that's when he gave them news that they had to move or drop the union. And they didn't want to do that. The lawyer told them to stay there until he moved them out, and that's what they did.
Can you tell me about that day when the wagons pulled up to your house?
Yes, it was about mid-January, and the wagons came early in the morning, and started to move everybody, and loading furniture on the wagon until they get [sic] it full, mixing it all together. And it took practically all day to move all of them away, and put them on the roadside. And, that's where they stayed until they got another place to move.
OK, can you tell me that again? Can you tell me that whole thing about when the wagons pulled up to your place and—
—put stuff on, and when from house to house until they got a wagon load—
—how they dumped it all off on the side of the road—
—how you had to pick through?
Vera, you're going to have to just wait a little while until after Susan finishes talking before you begin.
Yes, I noticed that. [laughs] I noticed that I was saying that.
OK, I'm ready now though.
When the wagons came on the date that he had given them to move,
they'd start at one house and they'd keep going from house to house until they'd get a wagon load, then they'd carry it, dump it out on the road, and come back and get another load.
** And it took practically all day to move us out there. We were out there, we got finished about fresh dark.
** And everybody's furniture was together,
** piled like a dump truck would pile gravel or something, and you had to scramble through everything to try and find yours.
** And some of the people were living in houses on the hill in front of that, they let the women and the children come into their houses because it was snowing that day, and the men stayed outside.
And how'd your mother feel?
Oh she felt very disgusted because she had a young baby and nowhere to stay, other than, you know somebody let us stay in their house. And they would be afraid because they were afraid of the planter that they were living with on his plantation, might put them out too.
My mother was very disgusted because it was seven of us, she had seven children at that time, and had a baby about five or six months old. And she was very unhappy, my mother. And, we stayed out on the road for so many days, and eventually they rented a lot at Parkin, Arkansas and moved us up there in tents. And we lived there all the winter until spring.
Now you all, your whole family lived in this one tent?
Can you tell me what that was like?
Oh, it was awful.
Can you say what was awful?
[laughs] We had, we had two beds in the tent, and the tallest, all the children had to sleep in one bed. And the bed, you had to sleep crossways, we all couldn't get up in there straight up and down. [laughs] And my daddy would put a bench on the side and the taller children would have to sleep with their feet on the bench. [laughs] It was awful. We had a wood heater in there, burn coal in it, and that's how my sister got burned very bad, and thought once she wasn't going to walk anymore. Spilled hot ashes on her cleaning out the heater, and she was burned bad.
Can you tell me the dynamite story?
Yes. One day after we had moved in the tent column—didn't anybody want us to live there. The people around didn't want us there. I don't know what they thought about us.
And one day a car came by, a man got out and put a package in a paper bag on a table, and got back in the car and sped away.
** Someone picked the bag up, it had a note on it saying, "Get out, or get blown up."
So what happened then?
What happened then? We didn't have anywhere to go, we had to stay and take a chance until we got away.
So if you could tell me about when you started in the fields and what was that like?
Living on a plantation
when I was a child, I started working in the field at eight. And, you didn't go to school until the season was over for the crop. They would have two months in July and August you could go to school. Then you had to stop and work until about the last of December or the first of January. And when I started working it was cotton picking time,
** so first thing I did I started picking cotton. I had to pick
** a hundred every day, that's what my daddy would set for me to do, and I'd pick, oh, about a hundred and nineteen. So—
Did I start that too soon?
I don't think so. A hundred, a hundred what though?
OK, OK good. Great.