Hearings before the Select Committee Investigating National Defense Migration, House of Representatives, Seventy-seventh Congress, first session, pursuant to House Resolution 113, a resolution to inquire further into the interstate migration of citizens, emphasizing the present and potential consequences of the migration caused by the national defense program.
MAY 7 AND 8, 1942
Concerning CHILDERSBURG BAG-LOADING PLANT
TALLADEGA COUNTY, ALA.
Late in November of 1940 information was given out that some 27,000 acres of land in Talladega County bordering the Coosa River north and west of the small town of Childersburg (515 population in the 1940 census) were to be taken as site for a powder plant. The location was tentatively outlined in January and agricultural agencies, both Farm Security and Extension workers, were set to work warning people to vacate this property.
Because no certain information as to the location of boundaries could be obtained, the actual work of relocations did not get under way until the last of January and February. By the time Farm Security had made its original survey a good number of families had moved, both from the area finally taken and from land around it.
After this survey had been made, and after 80-odd families had been moved from land finally not included in the area, an accurate boundary line was established. While no official confirmation was made of the original territory marked out on maps used in the area, all indications pointed so clearly to its being taken that farmers in this territory decided to move while there was still time to find a new place, and to make another crop.
The section of land finally taken was one containing much river land. Some of this 14,000 acres was good farm land, ideal for large farm operations. Most of it was poor, carelessly operated by Negro tenants, or lying out. Of the farm operators, almost 30 percent were receiving Farm Security aid. When the final area was chosen, 210 families were displaced.
The survey revealed that the area contains very few owners who will be financially able to relocate without some assistance. The number of cash renters, sharecroppers, and cotton renters constitute the largest group in this area.
Note these things: While 39.2 percent of Talladega County’s total number of farm operators are colored, 72.3 percent of the farm operators in this section were colored. Note also the comparatively large number of Negro landowners. In the county 22.3 percent of the Negro operators are landowners. In this section almost 32 percent were landowners.
In other words, about one-fifth of all Negro farm owners in Talladega County were in this section. Their holdings were small. The bulk of the land was owned in large tracts either by white resident operators or absentees. The comparatively small number of nonfarm workers is significant, especially since so many of these displaced families have gotten their first taste of “public works money” at the powder plant. Will they want to go back to this kind of marginal living again?
This was a section of old plantation holdings that had gradually been abandoned or partially abandoned by the old families who held on to them. In it, along the river and in the low places, were a few very small communities of Negro landowners who supplemented their farming income with fishing, hunting, and working for white men who came to enjoy these sports.
The average of all grants for moving totaled $37.50, which again reveals how little these people had to move.
Here, then, is a group of dislocated people who know almost nothing except farming, and of that the cruder kind. Some few of these were making a new beginning and, where they could get some of the better land, were succeeding on a very moderate scale. Some few were making a fair living from the game and sportsmen, whom the very desolation of the place had brought to the area. Only a few are going to make alone the readjustments life in a new place will call for.
Few [Farm Security Administration loan] applications for next year have come in. The county supervisor expects many to come in during the next few weeks, because the powder plant job is “turning off” men at the rate of 300 to 600 a week. The full tide of applications will not come, he said, until late February, when many farmers (especially Negroes) who have had their first taste of public works wealth will suddenly realize there is little hope of getting more such work and will want to farm again.
Farm Security will, he said, get more than its share of these people because they have broken their relations with their old landlords, sometimes without ceremony, and in the middle of crop season, and will not be able — or will not want to — go back again.
About 90 percent of the Farm Security Administration borrowers have gotten at least a few weeks of work on the [bag loading plant] project. E. E. Wilson, county FSA supervisor for Talladega Countv, knew of only two who had paid back loans with defense-earned money (one paid $150, another $250). The rest have wasted some of the money. But not as much as people think. We’ve had practically a crop failure in here for the past 3 years. These people have gone without, all that time. They’ve had other debts and they’ve had to buy clothes and something to eat and some of the other people they’ve owed have put the kind of pressure on them [the FSA] can’t.