From Ahoskie to China with a single goal

“In 1916, Lee Parker left his father’s tobacco farm in Ahoskie, North Carolina, for Shanghai, China. He wrote 60 years later in his memoir, ‘I was fresh from the United States, sent by BAT, the British American Tobacco Company, to “put a cigarette between the lips of every man and woman in China.” ’

“Parker’s father had sent him to Wake Forest College in hopes he would, upon graduation, join the small white professional class. But even with a college degree, ‘jobs was hard to come by for a country fellow,’ Parker recalled. He had heard that a buyer at the tobacco market in Wilson, North Carolina, hired young men for jobs in China, so he borrowed five dollars from his brother and made the journey to Wilson. After an interview on the tobacco warehouse floor that lasted ‘between 30 seconds and two minutes,’ Parker’s life path veered sharply east, and he headed to China to work as a cigarette salesman for one of the world’s first multinational corporations.

“Parker was one of hundreds of young white men who journeyed from the bright leaf tobacco–growing states of Virginia and North Carolina to work for BAT-China from 1905 to 1937, the very years that cigarette consumption skyrocketed worldwide….”

— From “Cigarettes, Inc.: An Intimate History of Corporate Imperialism” by  Nan Enstad (2018)

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