The quarters of a turpentine farm was an interesting place to be raised. Here one could see every aspect of human nature at one time or another, from great compassion to murderous, senseless rage. The black inhabitants of these quarters were to be respected, feared, and pitied above all because this way of life existed before civil rights had ever been heard of and poverty was a constant bedfellow.
Blacks were offered little assistance by our northern brothers after the Civil War. Once they were told they were free there was jubilation for a while but when the jubilation wore off, hunger pangs took its place. Most newly freed blacks had no choice but to drift into share cropping, which was simply another form of slavery. The turpentine camps fostered this economic captivity up until I was grown. It disappeared almost overnight after the Civil Rights bill of 1964 was made law. Up until then, a man and his family could be practically bought and sold, just like cattle. I have seen it with my own eyes.
We took a truck over to Sylvester in 1957 to a turpentine camp’s quarters, sought out the Boss Man and paid the ‘run bill’ of a man who could work the turpentine faces. The truck was backed up to his shanty, their meager belongings thrown aboard along with the man, his wife and two children, and their debt. I thought nothing of it at the time for I was only 10 years old. It was the way things were; the way things had always been as far as I knew. The family was moved to another shanty in new quarters along with possessions, and of course, the debt. I guess it was better than starving, which was the only other option for poor folk back then no matter what color they happened to be. Of course back then it was better to be a poor white than a poor black because at least the whites, if they worked hard enough, had some opportunities that most blacks did not have.
Thank God this is not true today, hasn’t been for nearly 50 years, and this is why it grieves my heart to see so many young blacks (and their white counterparts) reveling in their ignorance and spurning all opportunity to succeed. If they and their parents only knew the way things used to be, the sacrifices their forebears made in obtaining for them their precious civil rights, and understood the challenges now facing everyone in this modern world, parents would be making sure their children valued an education that would enable their young to succeed at any profession they choose.
I believe a major part of this problem is that too many children of all races never know what is to have a father. This is a tragedy that should be avoided if at all possible. This is not to say that a single mother cannot raise her children and do a good job, but without a father the deck is stacked against her and the children. One of my oldest friends had two children out of wedlock but she was fortunate to have an extended family around to help raise and nurture her offspring. Her son, now grown, turned out to be a fine man; gentle, soft spoken, a college graduate and a hard worker. Her daughter, like one of my own children, had to work hard to get over fools hill, but she did.
All parents should be teaching their child or children that, next to loving the Lord, achieving their education is the most important thing if they want to live free of poverty and ultimate despair.
I tell you now, proverbially speaking, no matter who you are, no matter what race, creed or color, unless we mend our ways and get our priorities in order as a nation, a return to the cotton patch and the turpentine quarters is only a heartbeat away for all of us. Matthew 7:24-27