Race, as seen by a white N.C. sharecropper in 1956

“In [a ‘Voices of the White South’ article in Life magazine in 1956] a 38-year-old white sharecropper in North Carolina summed up his support of segregation and his views on his black neighbors and fellow farmers this way:

“ ‘We’re working to own our farm. We want to hurry up and get someplace. But they just don’t work. They just don’t care. All they’re looking for is the end of the week when the landlord will shoot ‘em a little money. [T]hey take a bath once a month, and their fields don’t look like they’s hardly tending them.’ At the same time, according to LIFE, the sharecropper’s approval of segregation was ‘based as much, or more, on personal pride than notions of color. He would rather have a Negro living next door than he would a white “redneck” or “peckerwood.” In his view, “there’s nothing sorrier than a sorry white man.” ‘

“The white sharecropper’s wife, LIFE wrote, ‘also approves of segregation and will not let her 9-year-old daughter play with an 8-year-old Negro neighbor. This is the reason she gives: “If our landlord came down here and saw her playing with a colored boy, he wouldn’t respect us. Only poor class whites do that. We’re trying to keep our self-respect and keep the highest level socially we can. We’re willing to work with the Negroes, but that’s as far as we’ll go.” ‘”

— From “LIFE and Civil Rights” at life.time.com


Elite make merry, and thousands pay to watch

“Every June since 1880 the Carolina Cotillion Club has given a German which provides fun and frolic for thousands, makes the thriving tobacco town of Rocky Mount a cynosure  for invited guests from many another State. This year’s German, underwritten by the club’s 220 members who paid $10 each, attracted 8,000 guests, was witnessed by 3,000 spectators who paid 50 cents apiece to watch the elite make merry. The party began at 10 p.m. in the lavishly decorated Mangum tobacco warehouse [and was] officially over at 5:15 a.m., but festivities continued informally throughout Saturday [with] swimming, high jinks at the country club and barbecues.

“For days ahead Rocky Mount citizens had outfitted themselves at local stores, were beautified at local barbershops. For weeks to come they will recall the success of their traditional No. 1 social fixture, which derives its name from huge festivals held at watering places in Germany during the 19th Century.”

— From Life magazine, July 5, 1937

Life seemed quite taken with Rocky Mount, printing no fewer than 17 photos. My favorite caption: “Sunday morning found many a pious partygoer in the  First Baptist Church where Pastor J. B. Kincheloe in a rather pointed sermon… referred to the penalties of debauchery. Observe that many of the front pews are conspicuously empty.”