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
- MACK PEARSALL:
...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….
- WALTER E. CAMPBELL:
This is the M. C. Braswell Company?
- MACK PEARSALL:
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
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
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.