I am glad to be able to give some facts regarding what my brother Dow and I have been able to do since leaving the Tuskegee Institute.
We did not graduate, I am sorry to say, but the lessons given us have not been forgotten. These lessons started us on the way to our present success. I do not use the word "success" boastfully, but because it really states a fact: we have done much more than we ever hoped to do, and have been the means of contributing in some slight measure toward the uplifting of the immediate community about us.
We are located at a place called Dawkins, not more than twelve miles from the Tuskegee Institute, and immediately within its sphere of influence.
Our mother and father were born within a few miles of where we now live. Both of our parents, at the time I write, are living, and are each about sixty-five years of age; they were, for twenty-five years each, slaves. Neither can read or write. My brother and I each spent about three years at Tuskegee, and, in addition, he attended school for two years at Talladega College.
I had a very thorough course in carpentry, and my brother worked on the Institute farm. We married two sisters, Susie and Lillie Hendon. Shortly after my marriage my beloved wife Susie died, leaving me with one child. My brother's wife still lives; they have three children.
Until ten years ago we, with our father, were renters, all of us working together. But the Sunday evening talks at Tuskegee by Principal Washington, and his urgent insistence, at all times, that Tuskegee graduates and students should try to own land, led us to desire to improve our condition. We were large renters, however; for twenty-three years our father and his relatives had leased and "worked" a tract of 1,100 acres of land, having leased it for ten years at a time. We still lease this tract, and, in addition, rent an additional 480 acres in the same way, ten years at a time. We subrent tracts of this total of 1,580 acres to thirty tenants, charging one and one-half bales of cotton for each one-horse farm. We pay twenty-three bales for the rent of the 1,580 acres. My brother and I run a sixteen-horse farm, doing much of the work ourselves and paying wages to those who work for us. A number of others also work for us on "halves"—that is, we provide the land, furnish the seeds, tools, mules, feed the mules, and equally divide whatever is raised. This is largely done in all the country districts of the South.
About ten years ago we bought in our own right our first land, 320 acres. Since that time we have acquired by purchase another tract containing 285 acres. The first tract we paid for in two years; the other is also paid for. The total of 605 acres, I am glad to say, is without incumbrance of any kind.
The following statements may give some idea as to what we have been able to do since leaving Tuskegee:
During the year 1904 alone, we paid out $5,000, covering debts on land, fertilizers, and money borrowed with which to carry our thirty tenants.
We own sixteen mules and horses, fourteen head of cattle, thirty hogs, and have absolutely no indebtedness of any character.
My brother Dow lives in a good three-room house. My father and I live in a good six-room house, with a large, airy hall, and kitchen; it cost us to build, $1,500.
We conduct a large general store, with everything carried in a country store of this kind. The colored Odd Fellows use the hall above our store for their meetings.
The Government post-office is located in our store, and here all of the surrounding community come for their mail.
Our store does a large yearly business averaging about $5,000.
We have a steam-gin and grist-mill. We gin about 500 bales of cotton a season for ourselves and others living near; of the 150 bales got from the land owned and rented by us, 100 are ours, the other 50 belong to our tenants.
We raise large quantities of corn, potatoes, and peas, in addition to our cotton crop.
We are now trying to purchase the 480 acres we have been so long renting.
The church and the schoolhouse are on four acres of land immediately adjoining ours. The church is roomy, well-seated, ceiled and painted, in striking contrast with most of those in the country districts of the South. The schoolhouse has two rooms, and is but partially ceiled, though it is nicely weather-boarded. The school is regularly conducted for five months each year, and part of the time has two teachers. Mr. J. C. Calloway, a Tuskegee graduate, Class of '96, is principal of the school. We are cooperating with Mr. Calloway in an effort to supplement the school funds and secure an additional two months. We helped pay for the land, and gave a part of the money toward the schoolhouse, and have done all possible to help, keeping in mind Principal Washington's oft-repeated statement that "it is upon the country public schools that the masses of the race are dependent for an education."
My brother and I, with our father, it will be noted, own and rent 2,185 acres of land, but we try to help our tenants in every possible way, and, when they desire it, subrent to them such tracts as they desire for ten years, or less. We have established a blacksmith-shop on our land, and do all our own work and most of that of the whole community. Rev. Robert C. Bedford, secretary of the board of trustees, Tuskegee Institute, some time ago visited us, as he does most of the Tuskegee graduates and former students. He is apprised of the correctness of the statements set forth above. He wrote the following much-appreciated compliment to a friend regarding our homes and ourselves: "The homes of the Reid brothers are very nicely furnished throughout. Everything is well kept and very orderly. The bedspreads are strikingly white, and the rooms—though I called when not expected—were in the very best of order."
This further statement may not be amiss: Under the guidance of the Tuskegee influences, the annual Tuskegee Negro Conferences, the visits of Tuskegee teachers, etc., the importance of land-buying was early brought to our attention, but because of the crude and inexperienced laborers about us, we found that we could, with advantage to all, rent large tracts of land, subrent to others, and in this way pay no rent ourselves, as these subrenters did that for us. We could in this way also escape paying taxes, insurance, and other expenses that naturally follow. We could, as many white farmers do, hire wage hands at from $7.50 to $10 a month, with "rations," or arrange to have them work on "halves," as I have already described.
But at last we yielded to the constant pounding received at Tuskegee whenever we would go over, that we ought to own land for ourselves; and then, too, it occurred to me that we might not always have the same whole-souled man to deal with, and that terms might be made much harder. My brother and father agreed, and we set about to purchase the first 320 acres. As I feared, rental values have increased; formerly we rented the 1,100 acres for three bales of cotton; now we give sixteen bales for the same land.
My brother, our father, and I have worked together from the beginning. We have had no disputes or differences; we have worked on the basis of a common property interest.
We have encouraged the people of our community as much as possible to secure homes, buy lands, live decently, and be somebody. The following are some typical examples of thrift and industry in the community about us:
Turner Moore owns 210 acres of land adjoining ours. He was born near where he lives and was over twenty-five years a slave. He has 11 mules and horses and raised 65 bales of cotton last year. His property is all paid for. His brother, Moses Moore, also has 65 acres, all paid for, and Reuben Moore, a nephew, owns 212 acres, all paid for. Their farms join.
James Whitlow, father-in-law of Mr. J. C. Calloway, the teacher referred to, owns 1,137 acres in one body, only about two miles from our place. It is all paid for, and the deeds are all recorded at the Macon County Courthouse. He was born right where he now lives, and was twelve years old when freed.
Mr. Whitlow rents a gin, but will own one of his own this year. He also carries on a store. He has 20 tenants, who will raise over 100 bales of cotton this year together. He has raised over 30 himself. He has 20 mules, 3 horses, 30 head of cattle, and about 75 hogs. He does not owe a nickel. His taxes are $60 per year. He has a very good four-room house, besides a kitchen.
Mr. Whitlow has fourteen children, ten boys and four girls, who go to school on our place. He himself can not read or write, but he helps the school and church.
J. C. Calloway was born near us. He graduated from Tuskegee, and has continued to work near his old home. He married James Whitlow's daughter. He has a very good two-room frame house. Mr. Whitlow gave them 40 acres of land, and he is trying to buy an additional 100 acres. He raised 17 bales of cotton this year and 150 bushels of corn. He has 4 horses and mules and 7 head of cattle, besides hogs, chickens, etc. He is very highly thought of in his school work, and is successful as a farmer.
I believe we are doing well. Our community is rated high, and I shall never fail to praise Tuskegee for starting us in the way we are going.
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