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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Mack Pearsall, May 25, 1988. Interview C-0057. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Pearsall's business differences with his father, Thomas J. Pearsall

Pearsall describes the differences between his and his father's, Thomas J. Pearsall, relationship to farming. Unlike his son, Pearsall's father viewed farming as a means of cultivating ties with tenant farmers instead of as a profit-making venture. Thomas Pearsall consequently doused his farming business in racial paternalism.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Mack Pearsall, May 25, 1988. Interview C-0057. 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

...But I got, you know, I was more or less selected as lead member of the next generation. I have a brother who's older who's been involved in various types of landscape architecture. He went to landscape architecture school. He's a graduate of Parsons, Pratt, and lots of other places, and he's chosen a different work style than I have. I had a cousin who had his own business ventures, and therefore the responsibility for running the business affairs of my mother and two aunts, at least from an agricultural standpoint, fell my lot as it had fallen my father's lot, by choice, in the early 1930s. He had chosen to go over there and help my grandmother take over that venture, and he had gotten very involved in it. At that time, agriculture was the basic industry, the primary industry, of North Carolina, and it was a primary footing for a major political base across the state, with the Grange and the Farm Bureau. He was involved in politics, and he developed a lot of contacts through his agricultural involvement that sort of fitted into the process of being elected and being appointed to various boards, the Milk Commission and things like that. I took on the agricultural situation because it was more or less what was expected. I spent ten years over there wrestling with it during periods of cost-price squeeze and trying to make it into a factory which it just does not lend itself to that type of structure. It's a business that consists of a lot of entrepreneurial people who are individually in it for reasons other than strictly making money. It's a lifestyle and other sorts of things, and I didn't relate to the lifestyle like my father did. I mean, he used to go out….
This is the M. C. Braswell Company?
Yeah, the M. C. Braswell. He used to go out, and he'd ride around on a Sunday afternoon or a Saturday and talk about how tall the corn was, and he'd pat the cows on the tail and say what kind of a good time we're having. And I'd say, "What's in the bank account?" And he'd say, "Nothing." Then I'd say that's what counts, you know, what's important to me. In order to understand his psyche and understand the things that motivated him—if we understand his love for the land and his love for agriculture and understand the empathy that he developed over the years for the disadvantaged position of the black race, and the efforts that he made in a humanitarian vein over the years which earned him the Harvey Firestone Landlord-Tenant Award, which I've got at home, a plaque, back in the late 1940s, early 1950s, you understand what the man was made up of, and you understand where he came from as he dealt with various types of political problems. He was a great student of human nature. And I can remember to today how he used to compare the black race to the white race in terms of, the fact that blacks just don't seem to carry grudges like white people do—that was something that he marveled at. That that group of people as a race seemed to be able to overlook the transgressions that had been heaped upon them. And I think he felt a great sense of responsibility and a great purpose to see that their position in life was changed—that they were given an opportunity. I can remember back in the 1960s when we had a farm that was adjoining the town of Battleboro, and we were able to get the town of Battleboro to extend water out there to that farm. At that time the FHA was lending a lot of money for people to build houses. It gave my father no end of pleasure to be able to ride through that subdivision and see the children of former tenants who had been on the Braswell farms and the tenant themselves, who had ultimately been eliminated from agriculture because of mechanization, to see them have a decent brick home with a landscaped yard and nice cars and the amenities that only economic where with all can provide. The family was part of that process because we happened to own some very key industrial land here and we sold some of that industrial land off, and I can remember how happy he was to see former tenants and their children working for Abbott Laboratories and making a good salary and being able to afford things for themselves and their children that prior generations had never been able to. They had been released from the bondage of an agricultural lifestyle which was living from hand-to-mouth where you basically produced what you ate. It was a subsistence existence. They never had any discretionary income. They never could afford the things that the people who were working in public work could. And it was that transition from total dependence on agriculture to a better balance with industry here that made him so enthusiastic because he saw an opportunity for these people to upgrade their own lifestyle. That was something that I experienced, and I watched him do that. Watched the pleasure that it gave him because it was part of his political and part of his sociological philosophy.