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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Charles D. Thompson, October 15, 1990. Interview K-0810. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Farmers struggle in the 1980s

Thompson remembers the "great mythology" of the 1980s, when farmers were encouraged to demonstrate America's productive power by planting from "fence row to fence row." The resulting glut hurt farmers' financial and mental well being, and Thompson and his colleagues sought to help them.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Charles D. Thompson, October 15, 1990. Interview K-0810. 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

JUN WANG:
What kind of job did you do?
CHARLES D. THOMPSON:
The program was called Farmers Survival project. And it started by offering a hot line called the farmer crisis hotline. And people can call any place from North Caroline. Actually, it is not a toll-free number. People had to call but we offered our home phones. And these people would call for problems on farm loan problems. This was going on in other parts of the country too. In early 1980s, the farm situations were so bad.
JUN WANG:
Is that due to President Ragen's policy?
CHARLES D. THOMPSON:
Well, it's part because of that. But also because that really started after WWII, people were told that they should plant as much as they could. The policies suggested that the market was going to maximized. And back to Nixon's early 70s that there was a secretary in agriculture named Earl Bucks. He encouraged farmers, this is his implement quote, to plant fence road to fence road, in other words, to plant everything you can find. Because we had this new deal with Russia. We are going to market everything to them. We have surplus. There would be no surplus. You can go and buy new equipment, buy new land. We are going to have great agricultural economy now. Because we are great country in the world. This was one of the great mythology in a sense. So farmers geared up to that. Well, as Cartor followed Nixon. He was a Democratic fellow, a very honest guy. He just didn't continue that sort of lie. He told the truth that they had a real negative impact on the economy. Interests rate gear rocked. And therefore, the interest loans that farmers had earlier raised up. So they had to make more and more per acre to simply get even. So by the early 1980s when I just started this program, thousands, tens of thousands of farmers all of the country claimed bankcruption. They were closed on by various lenders. Because this is such an occupation to people. A different kind of occupation from a job in grocery store. It's where you live, it where your parents live, where you go to church and all that staff. [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A] [TAPE 1, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
CHARLES D. THOMPSON:
SO these people were not just losing their jobs, they were loosing their lives, losing all they knew, loosing all their parents worked for so forth. You can imagine how painful it is for people have to admit that this is all going have to be sold or worse going to happen at all. This is what people told us through the hot line. Occasionally, we would get a call from a woman usually, who would say: "my husband is talking about killing himself that sort of thing. Or, he is talking about shooting somebody." You know getting involved. WE weren't really equipped mental health workers. We were community organizers who would answer the phone. Our solution was to sustimite rather than individual anyway. We rather than to say: tell me your feelings, We would say: "can we get other people in the community to talk about loosing farms; can we have a meeting at your community center, a meeting at the restaurant and have farmers together to see what the problems are. And so we can all work together to solve the problems. We did pretty good organization and we got several farmer groups in North and South Carolina, that was where I did for years, various counties… These are very rural counties who recently got flooded down the east. And I really enjoyed that work a lot.