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8-11-06 Follow-up on the rural history of Oconee County & Cotton Picking

In the fifties, cotton picking was done by hand. Many folks picked cotton for extra money. A number of ladies in the vicinity of Butlers Crossing picked cotton in my father’s fields. Many worked together and it was kind of a social affair too- with a kind of camaraderie. Many youngsters picked cotton after school for spending money and Fair Money…….

AVOC

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August 8, 2006

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Follow-up on the rural history of Oconee County

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By Wendell Dawson, Editor, AVOC, Inc.

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A recent AVOC article on rural Oconee County and my experiences in the area of Butlers Crossing (GA 53 and Mars Hill Road) and Rays Corner (Hog Mountain Road at U. S. 441) had several responses.  I recalled some experiences of hoeing and picking cotton along that two-mile stretch of road in my youth.

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Many of us have pleasant memories of those days and the presence and good health of family and friends who are no longer with us.    However, I have not found many who want to go back to those ‘Hot Summer’ days in a Georgia Cotton Field.

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In the fifties, Cotton picking was done by hand.  Many folks picked cotton for extra money. A number of ladies in the vicinity of Butlers Crossing picked cotton in my father’s fields. Many worked together and it was kind of a social affair too- with a kind of camaraderie. Many youngsters picked cotton after school for spending money and Fair Money.

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I remember many families and neighbors from those days with affection and fondness. Some names were Dawson, Moon, Butler, Maxey, Barnette, Robison and many more. Lifetime relationships were formed and remembered.   Many of those folks have passed on, including some of the ‘young people’.

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Much of the cotton picking was done by share-cropping families and folks from Clarke County who were brought to the field by Pick-up trucks.  Many of my father’s pickers (and hoeing hands) came from the Will Hunter road area.  As a teenager, my job was frequently to drive to the Will Hunter road to pickup folks and take them to the fields and then work with them for water, food and a kind of supervisory role. I learned a lot about the Afro-American culture, religions and values in those days. Again, lifetime relationships and memories were formed.

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Cotton picking involved a ‘pick-sack’ with a strap for the shoulder. Picked cotton would be placed in the sack until full and then taken to the ‘Cotton Sheet or Pile’ to empty. A cotton sheet was often a ‘Croker Sack’ type fabric or some heavy duty cotton fabric of about 6 by 6 feet. The cotton sheet area was also where lunches, water and babies were kept during the day.It would be in the shade at the edge of a field. Without any shade trees, sheets would be ‘propped’ on sticks for shade. For information about Croker Sacks, see: http://www.bartelby.org/61/69/C0756900.html

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Another job for me was to record the weights for the daily cotton picking. My father and another strong adult male would hold the weighing pole, with scales and hook attached, as the tied-up cotton sheet was lifted to be weighed. The weighing was done openly and in public with many witnesses. Pickers would gather around to see how they did. Many had a source of pride in the amount picked. Nothing or anybody would touch the tied-up sheet of cotton while it was suspended with the scales. Weights were never questioned or doubted. My father would then multiply the weight by the pay amount and calculate each person’s earnings. I would then call the names and Daddy would pay them on the spot from his cash box.

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Weighing Cotton in 1962 - Daddy in plaid shirt lifting weighing pole and sister to right recording weights- typical of the “Cotton Picking Days”

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Cotton Weighing time was a time for light-heartedness and smiles. An important fact was that the day of labor was over. Another was that the results of the day’s labors were known. And most importantly, it meant cash money in one’s pockets. Oftentimes, we field ‘hands’ would buy soft drinks and crackers etc at Maxeys Store at Butlers Crossing (later Dawson’s Grocery and now Athens Federal) and at Powell’s at Rays Corner. No soft drink, cracker or Moon Pie has ever tasted better than those bought on a hot day with a short respite from the hot fields!!

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 Dawson’s Grocery – Formerly Maxey’s Store

After weighing, other males would load the sheets of cotton onto a truck or cotton wagon for the later trip to Walt Jones Gin in Statham (Via Hwy 53 and Barbers Creek Road) and also the Watkinsville Gin on Barnett Shoals Road. It took about 2,000 lbs to make a bale and a bale weighed about 500 lbs. A good crop meant more money and sometimes a new car, refrigerator and the like.

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Those days have provided cherished memories and bonds with folks that time does not erase. However, during the heat of July and August, I frequently say, “I am thankful that I am not having to hoe or pick cotton today!!” Most of us would not go back to that type of manual labor in the hot sun although many of us learned good work habits and other values from the experience. Those lessons could serve us well these days in America!.

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Cotton Picking in Pulaski Arkansas- Editor Note: Our Oconee Sacks were not this long

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7-25-06 Feedback on memories of a rural Oconee County

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An Oconee County Resident & Native

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July 25, 2006

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I remember picking cotton as a little girl on the Lathan Place and Dellinger place. Mostly the Dellinger place. That is the only way we got to go to the Athens Fair - Pick cotton to have money to spend. Mama would pick all day and then when Joan and I got home from school we had to pick. Was always glad to see your Dad coming so we could get weighed up and quit. Good memories and like you say "Don't want to do it again!"

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Keep up the good columns and news!

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H


From A County Subdivision Resident

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July 25, 2006
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Wendell,

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Good article. I have similar memories of growing up on the coast. I can remember when many folks thought the drive to St. Simons from Brunswick was just too far. Jekyll was even further. You couldn't give river land away in McIntosh Co. or Camden Co.. Now it is has more value than gold. I can remember going with my Grandfather down to his cabin in Camden Co.. We would stay for a couple of days. The bugs could be horrible and you didn't see many people. He actually had a free flowing well with cold sulphur water. The taste was horrible but he always said it kept the bugs away.

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At least we have memories. I can think of a lot of places where the kids will never have good memories of their past. I feel very fortunate to have raised my children in a place where they aren't under attack every day or where they have to run to a bomb shelter and stay for days.

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Take care.

C


From A County Subdivision Resident

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July 25, 2006

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Subject: Memories

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I really enjoyed your article on "the good ole days". It really brought back memories of my grandparents, they also farmed, had a dairy and chicken houses.
Work was harder then, but I think family and friends were more appreciated.
D.


From A Retired Minister living in Oconee County

July 26, 2006
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Memories of a rural Oconee County, Georgia

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Wendell, you and I have similar backgrounds growing up...Hard work, little pay, but despite it all, there were good times. Thanks for sharing your memories of a rural Oconee County. Those days are gone forever.

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B


From: A 36 Year Resident of Oconee County
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July 26, 2006

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Memories of a rural Oconee County, Georgia

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Wendell:

I enjoyed the article. We were fortunate to come to Oconee when it was still mostly rural and can remember the 'feeling'of community. Let's get together soon.

J


From a Florida Cousin with many Oconee County Ties and common Family history

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July 25, 2006

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Memories

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I guess it is good that we remember the good and the bad pales somewhat. Farming was and is a hard life because there are so many things over which the Farmer has no control. It takes a special person to farm and do it successfully.

P


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