Interview with Cora Harrell
Interview with Cora Harrell
Interview Date: January 31, 1993

Camera Rolls: 315:93-94
Sound Rolls: 315:52
Interview gathered as part of The Great Depression .
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Editorial Notes:

Preferred citation:
Interview with Cora Harrell , 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.

*
INTERVIEW
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[camera roll 315:93] [sound roll 315:52] [slate marker visible on screen]
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QUESTION 1
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

Speeding. Take one, marker.

INTERVIEWER:

Look at me  [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] . Look at me.

CORA HARRELL:

OK. My father talked a lot about the Union,  [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ]  about how it was organized. At that time, there was sixteen—

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

I'm sorry, I missed the beginning of that  [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] .

INTERVIEWER:

Just continue to roll, start again.

CORA HARRELL:

Now? My father used to talk a lot about the Union, and he would tell me how it was organized, and he said that, how they would do it, they would have to get one person at a time. Of course, he would be one of the people, he would go around to a family, and he would tell them about the Union, and he would tell them not to tell anybody, because they didn't want any of the information to get out. Now, after they had gotten every family except one, there was one last person, and they saved him for last because he was known as a snitch, he would tell everything that was going on. So, they saved him for the last person, and when they told him, he did go on and join, and of course, apparently, he did not tell Mr. Dibbles, because when everything was all settled as far as what the sharecroppers were going to do in the Union, and they presented it to Mr. Dibbles, he didn't know anything about it. It was like a surprise to him.

INTERVIEWER:

Now, tell me why they had to have this code of secrecy.

CORA HARRELL:

They couldn't let, the sharecroppers could not let anybody know anything about it, because nobody wanted a union, 'cause they were very afraid. The sharecroppers had to be secretive because, if the plantation owners found out that they were in a union, they would evict them, do whatever they wanted, so they had to be secret about it.

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QUESTION 2
INTERVIEWER:

Now, in regard to the plantation-owners' response, you told me earlier that their word was the law, that the tenants and sharecroppers had no recourse, the sharecroppers, I mean, the land-owners could do whatever it is they wanted to do. Tell me about that.

CORA HARRELL:

OK. When you lived on a plantation as a sharecropper, the plantation owners, whatever they said was law. The sharecroppers had no recourse as far as anything was concerned. My father used to tell me stories about how, even if somebody got killed, and they were a sharecropper, and they were killed by another person who was a sharecropper, whatever happened totally depended on how the plantation owner felt about the person who did the killing, and about the person who was killed. If the person who did the killing was somebody that he liked, well, then he'd just call the sheriff and maybe let him know that this had happened, but nothing was ever done about, nothing more was said. Next day, this person would be out in the field working. But if the person who got killed was somebody he liked a lot, and he didn't like the person who did the killing, then the sheriff would come and perhaps take this person to jail, or they would have some kind of hearing. There was a lot behind it, but it totally depended on what this plantation owner wanted. So, he was the law.

INTERVIEWER:

Now, in regard to that—

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

We're going to roll away here, Dante  [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] .

INTERVIEWER:

We have to change reels, I think.

[cut][slate][change to camera roll 315:94] [sound roll 315:52]
INTERVIEWER:

I was talking to Cora, not yet, I'm sorry.

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

OK, take two, marker.

INTERVIEWER:

OK.

CORA HARRELL:

One of the stories that my sisters told me, about living on a plantation as a sharecropper, was how the plantation owner had total control over everybody there. What they would do with the men, if they did anything the sharecropper, that the plantation owner didn't like, he would just hit them or whip them, or whatever. There was no recourse, there was nothing this man could do about it. There was this lady who lived on the plantation as a sharecropper, her husband was not with her, and so one day her baby got sick, so she decided that she was not going into the fields to work that day. So, the landowner decided that she was going to go to work that day, and so after she wouldn't go he went into her house and he was going to give her a whipping, just like you do a child, and make her work. 'Course, he went in, and he and the lady got into a fight, and she beat him up, and she refused to go out and work that day, and nothing ever happened because he was really ashamed to admit to anybody that this woman had beat him up.

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QUESTION 3
INTERVIEWER:

Now, the story of living on the road-side that your brother told you, about after the eviction from the Dibble plantation.

CORA HARRELL:

OK, let me see—now, that's before, that's not the tent story that's on the...

INTERVIEWER:

This is living on the road-side when they slept between the logs—

CORA HARRELL:

Oh, OK. OK. My older brother told me about the day that everybody was evicted. All the bed things were moved to the road-side, and how the men had to into the forest, and they would cut logs. They would bring the logs back, and the men would sleep between the two logs, and they would pile clothes and coverings on top of them so that they would stay warm. When they woke up the next morning, a lot of times, they would be covered with snow, because it was very cold, and it was in January and it was snowing during that month.

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QUESTION 4
INTERVIEWER:

Now, when you think back on this, and think about how your family, your brothers and sisters were treated, how does it make you feel?

CORA HARRELL:

Well, sometimes, it's real hard to really think about. I mean, they talk about it sometimes and they told me. I cry easily, and sometimes I really cried just listening to it, and it hurts a lot to think of the hard time that they had to go through. So, you know, it's a very painful thing for all of us.

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QUESTION 5
INTERVIEWER:

Now, when they were on the road side, the abuse didn't end there, it didn't just end with the eviction. There was the dynamite incident.

CORA HARRELL:

OK.

INTERVIEWER:

Can you tell me about that?

CORA HARRELL:

Yes. That was one day that my sister tells me about, when, this car, she said it was a relatively new-looking car for that time, and there was a white man driving, and there was a black man who was on the passenger side. She said the car came into the area where their things were, out on the road-side—no, this was in, when they actually were in the tent. And there was a table, kind of sitting between some tents, and this car came in, and they parked there, and the black man got out and he ran up to the table and he put a package down, then he ran and got back into the car, and the car sped off. Then one of the men
** who was there in the tent, came, and he walked up to the table and he picked up the package. When he opened it up, there were about six or eight sticks of dynamite in there, and it had a note attached, and the note said "Mr. Nigger, take your woman and your children and get out of here, or we're going to blow you up."
**

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QUESTION 6
INTERVIEWER:

Just tell me, 'As a sharecropper', and then...

CORA HARRELL:

OK. As a sharecropper, the people who were sharecroppers were, you know, they would work the land, they and their families would work the land, and they were to get a share of the money once everything was sold. They used to call that settling up. But what would actually happen, before the cotton was sold, then the plantation owner, at a certain time during the year, would just give them whatever money he decided that he wanted them to have. Later on, maybe several months later, he would actually sell the cotton, and it would always be when he would wait until the time, when the price had gone up, or the price was right. My dad used to talk about it, and he said they would never get what they were promised, and they never got what was considered fair. What they got was a very, very small amount in comparison to what the plantation owner himself would receive for all the cotton, for all the labor that had been put in. He was the only one who really profited anything.

INTERVIEWER:

Now, thinking back, the way it was then, how oppressive the landowners were, how do you think these people, these poor tenant farmers and sharecroppers, were able to come up with enough courage to try to change their plight in life?

CORA HARRELL:

Well, it was a great struggle back then, and I feel that they must have, they had to have a lot of courage in order to stand up and want to change the situation. I think, maybe, it was living together, praying together, talking about it and thinking that, what, how much worse could it be? It was really very close to slavery, when you really look at what happened. It wasn't that much different from slavery, but yet, they had, you know, do all this stuff, so maybe it was just, getting together and trying to see what can be done about it. Just, forming a united front, to stand, and try to make a difference.

INTERVIEWER:

So, when you think about that, we talked about that a little earlier, but you think about that now, does it pain you, does it make you angry, I mean, how do you feel about all that now?

[airplane in background]
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

Jet, sorry.

CORA HARRELL:

It, it, it hurts a lot.

INTERVIEWER:

You want to stop?

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

No, let's go.

INTERVIEWER:

I'm sorry.

CORA HARRELL:

It hurts a lot to think about it, because, when I think about the kind of person my dad was, and the kind of person my mom was, they were very strong, very smart people, but they didn't have a lot of education, they didn't have a lot of opportunities. When I think about that, it really hurts, because they could have done so much, there was so much they could have accomplished with their lives, but yet they had to deal with struggling from day to day, for survival, and it was not because they were [sic] hard-working or didn't care, or what have you. It was because they really were not allowed opportunities.

INTERVIEWER:

Let's stop for just a second.

[cut][slate]
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

Take three, marker.

CORA HARRELL:

Looking back on the, and just thinking about what my father and what my mother and my sisters and brothers had told me about the whole situation, individually, they felt that they did not accomplish a lot. They suffered, they struggled, but they didn't see a lot of promise for what they did.
** But when I look at it as a whole, I think that it had a great implication, because it was one of the efforts in which people were being mistreated, and yet they came together and they banded together and they stood up for what was right, and they fought to be treated fairly. I think somewhere, somehow, that was like a major step in the progress that has been made in general. I think it had a lot to do with it, even if those individual people did not see what they really hoped to see as a result of what they did.

INTERVIEWER:

Let's stop again.

[cut][slate]
CORA HARRELL:

OK. As my sisters and brothers and my parents talked about the Union, and all the efforts and everything that happened, even though individually they did not see what they really hoped to see, or they did not get what they wanted to get out of their struggle and out of their effort, they really feel that it was a stand, it was important in view of the fact that they took a stand against oppression. They were oppressed, they were having a very difficult time, they came together
** and, and they really stood up for what they believe in,
** and that was a step toward freedom
** , toward making a change.

INTERVIEWER:

Let's stop again.

CORA HARRELL:

I didn't say—

[cut][slate]
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

Take five, marker.

INTERVIEWER:

Go.

CORA HARRELL:

Looking back over the whole situation, and listening to my sisters and brothers, and what my parents had said, as they looked at it, they felt that the individual, the effort that they made and the struggles that they went through, did not help them individually, did not change, at that time, you know, that much that was going on. But when they look at the whole thing, they really look at how they came together. They were oppressed, they were having difficulties and they came together as one unit, and they fought the system, and that in itself they saw as a step
** toward progress.

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QUESTION 7
INTERVIEWER:

Susan, the other question you had, just let us continue the reel, what was the other question you had?

INTERVIEWER #2:

Your father's hope of owning his own land?

CORA HARRELL:

Constantly, my father talked about the fact that he wanted to own his own land, even though—

[camera cuts, audio continues]
CORA HARRELL:

—he had moved, and, he did have a small plot of land in Memphis, but he wanted to go back where he could grow crops, and he wanted to grow cotton, and he wanted to do all those things. So there was a constant conversation that he had, that he would go back and buy land. He never got enough money to actually do that, but that's really what he wanted.

INTERVIEWER:

OK. That's it, we're out. Thanks.

[end of interview]