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Editor's Note: This 1943 newspaper article was contributed by Ollie Burnett's grandchildren. The Burnett homestead is still in the family.

Forty-Year Loan Repaid In Five By Chatham Negro Who 'Just Couldn't Sleep In Debt'

Family Thought Nation's First To Own Farm After Payment Under Bankhead-Jones Act

Durham Morning Herald
September 27, 1943

Negro Farm Family Makes History In Chatham County
Negro Farm Family Makes History In Chatham County

Ollie and Flonnie Burnett pay off a 40 year plan in 5 years to become full owners of their farm in Williams Township, Chatham County. Phillip R. Jackson, FSA supervisor at left, is presenting the canceled note and deed of trust, making them perhaps the first rural Negro family in the nation to earn their farm under the Bankhead-Jones Tenant Purchase Act, administered by the Farm Security Administration. Standing behind the canceled papers is Clerk E. B. B. Hatch of Chatham County Superior Court. In the rear, left to right are J. Vivian Harris and Lewis Norwood, Chatham FSA Committeemen and A. N. Tatum Jr., county soil conservationist. The loan which farmer Burnett repaid in record time was $3,022.

Pittsboro, Sept. 26 — (Special) — Ollie Burnett, 36-year-old Negro farmer, and his wife Flonnie, stood in front of their neat cottage in Williams Township, Chatham County, one day last week and though they were unaware of fact, took part in a little drama that was unprecedented in the Nation.

The Burnetts, so far as it can be learned, became the first Negro farm family in the United States to repay their 40-year farm purchase loan to the Farm Security Administration which they obtained under the provisions of the Bankhead-Jones Tenant Purchase Act, and it took them only five years to do it.

Led by Phillip R. Jackson, Chatham FSA supervisor, who presented the Brunette's with the cancelled note and deed of trust, a group of Chatham citizens came to congratulate them and inspect the model farm. The party included E. B. Hatch, Clerk of Superior Court of Chatham County; J. Vivian Harris and Lewis Norwood, FSA committee members; A. N. Tatum. Soil conservationist and W. B. Morgan State news editor of the Durham Morning Herald. Another FSA committeeman, T. Henry Harris was unable to attend the ceremony.

As he assumed title to his 132-acre farm, Ollie Burnett found that his net worth was now about $4,000. It was a far cry from the old days, just a few years back, when Ollie, as a tenant farmer, used to pack his family and meager possessions to a new farm on the average of once every two years.

It was on April 5, 1937, that Ollie first went to the FSA for help. The first time he was only seeking money for operating expenses. Interviewed in the FSA office in Pittsboro, he said that in 1935 he grossed only $350 and the he had financed his crop through merchants, borrowing $170 for seed and fertilizer and paying interest.

His worldly possessions at that time included an 18-year-old mule, a cow, two small pigs, 17 chickens, half a ton of hay and 50 bushels of grain. On top of that he owed $15. Including his household goods he was worth $571.

Working under the guidance of the FSA his net worth increased to $643 in 1938, and in 1939 he was worth $895, and in 1942 he was worth $1,174. The FSA made him an operational loan each year, which enabled him to pay cash for his supplies, thus saving him money which usually went for interest. He repaid his FSA loans promptly.

In January, 1938, Ollie decided to make application to buy a farm under the Bankhead-Jones Tenant Purchase Act. It was a 40-year loan and the interest rate was 3 percent. His application was reviewed by the Tenant Purchase Committee, and he was considered eligible. They located a tract which was found to be a family type farm. Owned by the Citizens National Bank of Durham, the 132-acre tract contained 30 acres in cultivation, with a four-acre tobacco allotment and a cotton allotment of 1.3 acres.

The loan was finally approved Oct. 12, 1938, for $3,022, which included option of $2,300, repairs to dwelling $312, repairs to other buildings $270, land development $90, and fees and other acquisition expenses of $50.

Ollie confessed that he just couldn't sleep at night with that $3,000 debt haunting him and the 40 long years staring him in the face. The FSA has two methods of repayment, the first being the fixed payment plan and the other the variable payment plan. Ollie chose the variable plan under which he paid the landlord's share, kept records, and after deducting the operating expenses, pay the rest on the farm. Under this plan he could make several payments in one year if crops were good, and when a lean year came along he found himself ahead.

The first year was a pretty hard struggle and Ollie was able to pay only $26.79 when his average payment should have been $130.55. He worked hard and cooperated fully with FSA officials when they visited him and soon his diligence began to reap dividends. In 1942, he had a good year, according to his record book, having a net income of $1,530.57 from the sale of tobacco, eggs, pigs, AAA payment. On his fourth year under the FSA program he paid $450.

He had some mature, marketable timber on his farm and with the help of the FSA, Mr. Tatum, the soil conservationist, and H. M. Singletary, county agent, Ollie decided to get bids on the timber. The three bids ranged from $8.75 to $10 a thousand on the stump. Using the selective method Ollie sold enough timber to finish paying for his farm, with a small balance left over. He has a good stand of young trees left which will be ready for market in another 10 years.

At the rate he was going Ollie would have paid off his loan far ahead of time through the sale of crops, but timber prices were good and he took advantage of this fact.

The appearance of the Burnett farm and home is pleasing. The buildings are in excellent condition. The Burnetts are well-fed and well-clothed. Besides Ollie and his wife, there are six children, five boys and one girl, and Ollie's sister who lives with them. Flonnie, his wife, and the older children keep the record books.

On the farm now one may see a young, healthy-looking mule, two cows, a heifer and a male calf, 200 chickens, one sow, three hogs, and a goat. The barns are well-filled with feed. His corn crop is excellent this year, with his tobacco on fair, however. His pantry is fairly bursting with 365 quarts of vegetables and fruits canned during the Summer with the pressure canner bought during the first year of cooperation with the FSA. Last year was favorable for canning and he and his family canned over 500 quarts.

Ollie Burnett and his wife have taken the leadership of other colored families in the neighborhood, and the others gather at their home for community meetings. Knowing what the FSA has done for him, he declared that he will always cooperate with that organization and will continue to attend FSA meetings. When Ollie was ready to pay off his loan, the letter he wrote to the FSA office was a perfect gem, and his appreciation was genuine.

Being just a little bit superstitious, perhaps, Ollie admitted he hated to make the last payment on the farm, because he had always heard that when a man paid for his farm he was about ready to die.

The farm is located about half way between Pittsboro and Chapel Hill, two miles from Farrington. It is on a good sand-clay road, near churches, markets, and on a school bus line.

In addition to Jackson, the personnel of the Chatham FSA office which negotiated the loan includes Mrs. Kathleen F. Nicholson, associate FSA supervisor, who helps in home management problems; Eugene E. Culberthson, chief clerk, who is a former mayor of Raleigh and Mrs. Elizabeth M. Ivey, clerk-typist.

All of these assisted the Burnetts as well as the other 28 families who have farm ownership loans in Chatham County. Four of these families are colored and the rest are white. Two of these borrowers, John H. Briggs and Alexander Thomas, are six years ahead of schedule on their payments, and all the rest of the borrowers excepting three are ahead of schedule.

In addition to these long-term farm purchase loans, the office is handling 300 standard loans made to farm families for the purpose of increasing food and feed production.

Further evidence of the work being done by the FSA in Chatham is seen on the farm of J. Clabiron Falls, who is beginning his third year on the FSA program and who lives in the same community as the Burnetts. Mr. Falls is turning out food for victory in a big way, having 25 hogs, 500 broilers, two cows and a yearling, four acres of tobacco, and three acres of cotton.

Howard T. Bennett, who lives in the same section, has just purchased his farm under the FSA plan, and his progress is still in the blueprint stage.

When the group of Chatham citizens completed their tour last week and watched the Burnetts, the Falls and the Bennetts at work and headed for a richer and fuller life, opinion was unanimous among them that the Farm Credit Administration and the other farm agencies were doing even more good than their creator expected.

Durham Morning Herald
September 27, 1943

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