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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Vennie Moore, February 24, 1999. Interview K-0439. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Black children pick cotton; white children go to school

In Moore's farming community, white children left the fields to go to school, but black children remained to pick cotton. Moore remembers her cotton-picking days, including her propensity to lie about how much she had picked and entertaining her fellow laborers.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Vennie Moore, February 24, 1999. Interview K-0439. 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

BRIAN CAMPBELL:
So did most kids have to work a lot after school?
VENNIE MOORE:
Yes, we used to go pick cotton after school. You know where I used to live over there? That's my old home place where my sister stays now. We'd be on top of the hill after school - we called it on top of the hill right up there. And they'd come pick us up in the trucks, and we'd go I'd sit up in the cotton patch. I didn't never pick a hundred pounds of cotton. I'd lie, and made like a hundred pounds. And when time comes to pay the money I didn't have it, you know. And I ran a little bill at the store, and I done eat up everything I had at the store and didn't make no money picking cotton. I just went for fun. And I never will forget. You know Arthur Jean [Davis]? My sister's boyfriend who drives the white car? Well, his grandmother used to go with us, and she was old and she was crippled. There was a lot of old people that went too. And she went to pick cotton with us and she said she never could get nothing done because all she could do was just sit there and look at me, because I would preach in the cotton field and I would shout and get happy. And I would have a blast doing just anything.
BRIAN CAMPBELL:
So you liked picking cotton more than you liked school even?
VENNIE MOORE:
Yes, because I could cut up out there, and they'd give me attention just like I was a movie star. You know, they wouldn't pick no cotton - they'd stand and look at me and I'd entertain them. Then time it was about ready to come home I'd work hard trying to get something. We'd get out at one o'clock and pick cotton till it was dark. We picked cotton, and the people we were picking cotton for, their children would be going to school, and they'd go to school all day and we'd get out. But that was the rule - the black children picked cotton, the white children went to school.
BRIAN CAMPBELL:
So everybody pretty much went out there?
VENNIE MOORE:
Yes, it was old people. I know men picked cotton to feed their families, would go and pick cotton all day. They could pick. Picked blackberries, strawberries, apples, anything. My mama came.
BRIAN CAMPBELL:
So where was this cotton patch and who did you work for?
VENNIE MOORE:
Oh, all old people dead and gone now. Some of them or most of them. From here to Cornelius and farther, Caldwell Station, out 73, just the first one would come to pick you up, that's the one you went with. You could choose whoever you wanted to go with, you know.
BRIAN CAMPBELL:
So they would just come to, what did you call it?
VENNIE MOORE:
Up on the hill. They'd be standing there waiting for school to get out when most of the time they'd be standing there waiting for school to get out. And we'd get out and go on, and our parents would know we were going.
BRIAN CAMPBELL:
So these were white people who would come over in their pickup trucks?
VENNIE MOORE:
Yeah, now the black people that raised cotton, they picked their own cotton. Then, like if they stayed on your farm they'd pick your cotton first, and then they'd pick their cotton last.