My Remembers, A Black Sharecropper’s Recollections of the Depression   [back to issue]

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  • by Tom Keener  
     
    Born in 1929, Eddie "Sarge" Stimpson, Jr. was raised in Plano on the Haggard farm near Spring Creek Parkway and Preston Road. In his book My Remembers, Sarge described the experiences of black sharecroppers and farm workers. Other history books on Collin County provide valuable historical information, but they are written from a white man’s perspective. His book is the only known Collin County history that was written by an African-American. A major theme of the book can be summed up in Sarge’s words: "Tough times never last, but tough people all way do."  
     
    Although his childhood would be viewed today as impoverished, there was an abundance of love and fun times. Even though his family had minimal possessions, the basic necessities of food and shelter were satisfied. Sometimes they had to shoot a rabbit or fish for their supper, but there always was food on the table.  
     
    "I knowed every hole where I could go and pull out a rabbit and every tree hollow where I could pull out a possum."  
     
    Sarge recalled the times when it rained. Since he could see the stars through the roof of his family home, they were prepared to bring out the pots and tubs to catch the water when it started to rain. Rats were another constant problem. One night when he was falling asleep, he noticed sparks near the corner of the upstairs roof so he called his dad. It was discovered that the rat carried matches from the kitchen and added them to its cotton nest. They surmised that the matches were rubbing together, causing sparks which could have caused a tragic fire. Sarge’s keen awareness possibly saved his home from a tragic fire. After this incident, matches were kept in a sealed container and never in an open area. Further, the family also acquired a cat, which put an end to the rats.  
     
    Sarge mentioned that family members visited Doctor Wyatt of Plano for serious health problems. However, treatments for most maladies were home-brewed medicines. "Sheep ball tea" was used for colds. Sarge gathered dried sheep manure balls and his mother placed them in boiling water with sugar. Another cold remedy was lemon stew. This was concocted by boiling a whole lemon with Vicks Salve and whiskey. Tobacco or snuff was used for wasp or bee bites. Sulphur was the only insecticide used to prevent bug bites. It was also used to prevent bugs from attacking vegetables. (On a personal note, the only insect repellant my grandmother permitted me to use on her farm was sulphur.)  
     
    In an era where few people had telephones, farm workers devised various means to communicate with each other. In the event of an emergency such as a broken leg, a worker in one field would wave a white sheet in the air until a worker in the next field saw the signal. That person waved a sheet until someone with access to a telephone could call for help. By supporting each other with ingenious means, farm workers survived many adversities.  
     
    In 1944, the Stimpsons left the Haggard farm to work on the Moore farm in Allen where Sarge’s father was in charge of the dairy. Sarge attended the Allen Colored School; Hazel Williams (who later married George Anderson) was his teacher. Even though this move was a profitable experience, Sarge’s father, Eddie Sr. was concerned about being gone too long from the Haggards and not being allowed to return.  
     
    A major influence on the Stimpson family life was the church. Sarge recalled when older people were called upon to read the Bible, those who could not read were embarrassed but those who could read would provide assistance. Baptismal day was held once a year along White Rock Creek. After the regular church services concluded, members went home to gather up the food and then ventured to the creek.  
     
    A typical meal at a baptismal service included fried chicken, red beans, black-eyed peas, green beans with potatoes, potato salad, greens, dressing and gravy, cakes, pies, cookies and hand-churned ice cream. After the meal, the preacher did the baptizing while women stood along the banks singing. It was a woman preacher, Sister Riddle, who baptized Sarge when he was seven.  
     
    Sarge notes that he has a preference for the old spirituals from slave times being sung a capella but he is not opposed to modern music or songs. His favorites include "Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah", "He Heard My Cry", "Down By the Riverside", and "If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again".  
     
    Sarge states that the walls between races began to disintegrate during World War II. Black and white soldiers alike served their country during World War II. White mothers and fathers understood the concerns of black parents and a bond began to emerge. Sarge states, "There were more concern about one another. Whites and blacks began to speak with each other with a little more love because son and husband and father were call away."  
     
    Sarge graduated from Plano Colored High School in 1948 and joined the military, becoming a career soldier. He was stationed in several foreign countries and later honorably discharged. Returning to Plano, he pursued farm work until he retired.  
     
    As a closing statement, Sarge recalled how his parents never turned away a hungry person, white or black. Even if they had no money, his parents never rejected someone in need of food. This is a legacy in which he takes great pride, and properly so.  
     
    My Remembers, A Black Sharecropper’s Recollections of the Depression is available for check out at the Allen Public Library.  
     
    Tell me your story at 214.509.4911 or email tkeener@cityofallen.org.  
     
    Tom Keener is the cultural arts manager with the Allen Public Library.

     
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