Como-Pickton Middle School Students
Explore the Cotton Culture in the Old South
by: Bobby McDonald
In an ongoing, year long, study of the Civil War, Middle School Enrichment Students at Como-Pickton are learning about the causes and effects of the war and the many, many facets of what developed the ideas behind the Confederacy. With this study, they are exploring "the Cotton Culture" and the way that cotton was the economic influence in the Southern states before, during and after the Civil War.
Students had Bobby McDonald, author of "Out of the Darkness....The Black Face of Hopkins County," as a guest speaker on Wednesday, as he told them about how cotton was grown, and how even here in Hopkins County, it was the major economic "cash crop" for local farmers. McDonald told them that until the dairy industry moved into Hopkins County, in the 1930's about the only cash that local farmers received was when they sold their cotton crop in the fall. McDonald explored with the students how the local economy focused on the cotton crop and that many of the students grandparents and great-grandparents, would not start to school until after the cotton crop was harvested.
"On a typical day, during the 1930's and before, you would get up before sunrise and make your way to the cotton patch, and pick cotton all day, in an endless maze of cotton rows," McDonald told the children. "And, likely your family wouldn't have the money to buy school clothes until they sold their cotton, and got their check from the gin!"
Students were told that for African-American families, little changed for the next one-hundred years, following their freedom from slavery, as many of them were engaged in a sharecropping system that was "stacked" against them, where they were barely able to have sustenance living. "They labored all year and would have very little money to feed their families and were so poor that they couldn't leave the situation to improve their livelihood!"
McDonald discussed with the students the hard work and labor that was involved on a typical Hopkins County cotton farm. Then, he told them how that in the Southern part of Hopkins County, that is typically sandy soil, cotton reduced the fertility of the soil, when farmed in cotton year after year. "The dairy business was the salvation of many families in Southern Hopkins County, as Bermuda Grass could be grown on the depleted cotton soil, and it adapted to raising dairy cattle that provided a year-around milk check for families," expressed McDonald. "This allowed many families a much more stable income and a rise from the straights of the cotton industry!"
McDonald ended his discussion with some examples of genetically engineered cotton, that is being grown in the Texas Panhandle, today, that is "khaki" colored and does not have to be dyed, when it enters the mill to be made into colored cloth.
Students will continue their studies about the Civil War and the many economic and social issues that contributed to life, during that period of history.