An Open Letter to Rex Tugwell
DEAR Mr. Tugwell: I have just visited Mrs. Pierce White, who, lives on a rehabilitation farm near Lafayette in Chambers County. Mrs. White and her four little girls had a very unhappy Christmas this year, not because they were starving on the farm--they were hardened to that--but because Mr. White had been sent to jail. I promised Mrs. White that the Share-Croppers' Union would do everything it could for her husband and family, and that is why I am writing this letter.
The local representative of the Resettlement Administration in Chambers County is Vernon Jennings, a small landowner. He is known as the field foreman. You have perhaps read about him in your special investigator's report on Chambers County.
You remember that the Rehabilitation Administration stopped advancing money for food last August and many of the people got in a pretty bad fix. Mr. White tool: a couple of hundred pounds of his seed cotton and sold it in order to buy food for his family. Mr. Jennings found out about it and had Mr. White arrested. When Mr. White's brother, Walton, tried to get signers for a bail bond for Pierce, he found that Mr. Jennings was going around telling everyone not to sign the bond. Of course, only the landlords are eligible to sign a bail bond and they are friends of Mr. Jennings.
To cut it short, Mr. White was held in jail until his trial and then was convicted and sent to jail for six months. Pierce White's brother Walton was arrested, too, because he had hauled the cotton. However, he appealed his case and he will be free until the spring-term court.
Pierce White has been in jail for two and a half months now, just for selling about 200 pounds of his own seed cotton But this isn't all. After Pierce went to jail Mr. Jennings came out and took the steer (the work animal), the fertilizer distributor, the plow stock and tools, the scooter, the scrapes, and the mow boards and gear. Then Mr. Jennings took the three bales of cotton they had made and their AAA rental and parity checks; the Whites didn't get a penny out of this. A little later Mr. Jennings came and asked Mrs. White if she would need the syrup, corn, and sweet potatoes. She said she would because she had nothing else for the winter except a cow that only gave half a gallon of milk a day.
To tell you the truth, Mr. Tugwell, Mrs. White doesn't understand just how she stands because she has not received any accounting of what they were given by the government, what they owed the government, or how the government was to get it back. Mr. White must have figured that the cotton was his; so he sold a little (I haven't talked to him about it). Also the Whites believe that they had paid for the things that Mr. Jennings too}away from them. You see, the cotton Mr. Jennings collected must have brought at least $150; this with the rental and parity checks would surely have paid almost all of their debt to the government. Now, Mr. Jennings has not given them any account of what they owe or any receipts for what they paid. He may have given an accounting to the Resettlement administration, but as far as the Whites are concerned, the bookkeeping system is just like the landlord's system. Mr. Jennings just takes everything and says it is for "indebtedness."
Mrs. White only got six gallons of syrup, about ten bushels of sweet potatoes, and about fifty bushels of corn, and that is all she has for the winter, along with a little milk It is a pretty terrible diet for her little girls--the oldest is five and the youngest is four months old.
When I last saw Mrs. White she was very worried about something else, too. Mr. Paul Martin, the federal land agent, had ordered her to move. Mr. White signed the rehabilitation contract for three years, and it seems as if Mr. Jennings should be looking out for a place for the family but he isn't.
I remember Mr. R. K. Greene, the Alabama Rehabilitation Director, saying that they could not let these rehabilitated farmers get a better living than the share-croppers because all the croppers would want to be rehabilitation farmers. Well, Mr. Greene did a 100 per cent job, and there is not a rehabilitation farmer in these parts who is getting along as well as the share-croppers.
And much as Mrs. White needs help, all the other rehabilitation farmers are in almost as bad a fix. Mr. Jennings has collected almost everything they raised and intercepted the rental and parity checks and cut off the food advances; so you can see that they are in a terrible fix. Many of the rehabilitation farmers are being told to move, and Mr. Jennings isn't paying any attention to it and is letting the landlords run them off the land.