Browse Oral Histories (644 items total)

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.