Browse Oral Histories (678 items total)

Bernard Lipsey

Biographical Synopsis of Interviewee: Bernard Lipsey was born in October of 1945; he was born in a hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, but he was raised in Lepanto, Arkansas; his parents opened a grocery store in 1948; during the fifties, eighty percent of their business came from braceros; all the stores in town began expanding so much that by the time the bracero program ended, they had already lost too much money; his parents’ store eventually closed in 1963.

Summary of Interview: Mr. Lipsey talks about his parents and what the small town of Lepanto, Arkansas was like while he was growing up; he came from an agricultural community that was predominately white and adhered to segregation practices; in 1948, his parents opened a grocery store; they had an agreement with people bringing braceros into town and would open the store at whatever time the men were transferred; each bracero received $5.00 to buy groceries; sometimes, they would get into small groups of five to make their money stretch further; Bernard’s parents even gave the men sandwiches and a drink to ensure they would keep returning; their supplies were delivered to the camp sites; oftentimes, they went into town on Saturdays, after getting paid; even so, interactions were kept separate, and they only socialized among themselves; in addition, they were only there for three months, and as a result no one knew them; Bernard speculates that some of the men surely disappeared for speaking to the wrong person or saying the wrong thing, and no one ever noticed; even so, during the fifties, eighty percent of their business came from braceros; they inevitably changed the entire economy of the town; store owners became more market conscious and adapted their products to their consumers; they began selling boots, jeans, radios and luggage; Bernard even mentions that part of the family store was converted into a small department store, and they even sold jewelry; all the stores in town began expanding so much that as mechanization took over and the braceros stopped going, they lost too much money; his parents’ store eventually closed in 1963.

John Gray

Biographical Synopsis of Interviewee: John G. Gray was raised in Monette, Arkansas; his father owned a grocery store in town and eventually started farming as well; John later married in 1954 and left home; two years later, his father passed away, and he came back home to help take over the farm; in 1957, he hired braceros to help pick cotton; he also served as a secretary for the local association and helped coordinate which braceros went where.

Summary of Interview: Mr. Gray briefly talks about his father who passed away in 1956 and how he went back home afterward to help take over the farm; although his father had mechanical pickers, it was too wet to use them in 1957, and John had to employ the help of braceros; he explains that at the time, farmers were financed through cotton gins, which is how they were able to hire braceros; they were transported to the gins in trailer trucks with open backs, where they all stood to accommodate greater numbers; John spoke a little bit of Spanish and served as a secretary for the local association to help coordinate which braceros went where; he kept groups of braceros together as often as he could; the farmers were responsible for providing housing, bedding, stoves, pots, pans and two burners for every three men; in addition, each bracero was given $5.00 and taken to the store to buy groceries; he also explains that the town of Caraway, Arkansas had a population of one thousand people, and the five thousand men that the bracero program brought provided a huge boost in the economy; most braceros were particularly drawn to buying pocket knives; John relates a humorous incident in which his men tried to cook soybeans to eat, but they became very ill due to the excessive oil; he even tried to take them into town for a drink once, but he lost too many of them in the whore house and decided not to do that again; even so, he remembers thinking of himself as pretty tough, but the braceros even outworked him; until then he had never seen anyone work as hard.

Vance E. Beasley

Biographical Synopsis of Interviewee: Vance E. Beasley was born on March 11, 1916, in Heber Springs, Arkansas; in 1927, his family moved to Heth, Arkansas; he was the third eldest of his six siblings, four brothers and two sisters; with the exception of one of his sisters, the rest of his siblings passed away; he was educated in public schools, but he often went in late and left early in order to help with the crops; in 1939, he graduated from the University of Arkansas with a degree in agriculture; soon after he married, and he and his wife had three children; he later went on to help his father and brother with their farming partnership, CJ Beasley and Sons.

Summary of Interview: Mr. Beasley describes his family and what his life was like growing up; he also talks about his wife and children; during the midfifties, his father asked him to help with the family farm and the partnership of CJ Beasley and Sons; the dwindling labor supply led to their hiring of braceros, particularly for help with cotton, their primary crop; they took on thirty-five to forty braceros per season, and they stayed for contracts of roughly two and a half months; the farmers were required to provide basic necessities such as housing, bedding and cooking supplies; in addition, the braceros were given picking sacks, which were roughly seven feet long and could hold up to one hundred pounds; there was always at least one man in the group of braceros who spoke English and served as a leader; he would receive pay for all the workers and distribute it accordingly; he was also responsible for helping the men buy groceries; Vance repeatedly mentions the incredible work ethic of the braceros; they picked cotton better than any other workers; in fact, he mentions an instance in which he hired workers from Memphis, Tennessee, but they drank too much and did not pick the row of cotton as clean as the braceros did; he found it easier to pay them to leave; eventually, mechanization took over and eliminated the need for manual labor, which in his opinion, ultimately led to the end of the bracero program.

Thom E. Beasley

Biographical Synopsis of Interviewee: Thom E. Beasley was born in 1949, in East Central Arkansas, between Hughes and Forrest City, Arkansas; his grandfather, father and uncle owned a farming partnership by the name of CJ Beasley and Sons; they had roughly five thousand acres of land, one thousand five hundred of which were dedicated to cotton alone; they hired workers throughout the duration of the bracero program.

Summary of Interview: Mr. Beasley talks about his family as well as the farming partnership owned by his grandfather, father and uncle, by the name of CJ Beasley and Sons; although the bracero program began before Thom was born, he remembers braceros being around as he was growing up, until the program ended in 1964; the braceros came to the farm headquarters, and from there they were taken to tenant houses in school buses; they slept in bunk beds and were supplied with mattresses, blankets, cooking and heating stoves and propane; although there was no indoor plumbing, they did have outhouses; moreover, they stayed in the same places the year-round employees did; oftentimes, the same braceros were hired; Thom recalls that one of their biggest complaints was about the water, because it gave them gas due to the high levels of calcium and iron; if they were ever sick, they were taken to the doctor in town; the braceros’ daily routine consisted of making and eating breakfast very early, and then picking in the fields until 11:00 AM, at which point they made lunch and took a siesta until about 2:30 PM, before returning to pick until dark; there were never any problems with their siesta, because they prepared their food from scratch and still managed to out produce everyone else; braceros often picked an average of five hundred pounds of cotton per day; some picked up to seven hundred pounds; Thom repeatedly mentions how amazed and impressed they all were at the braceros’ work ethic; he also mentions a curious incident in which a few years after the program ended, he found a field of marijuana growing behind the tenant houses where the braceros had lived.