The Sunday porch: Delta Farm

Front porch, Delta Coop Farm, 1937, Library of CongressThe front porch of a Delta Farm home, Hillhouse, [Bolivar County,] Mississippi,” June 1937, by Dorothea Lange, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division (all photos here).

Delta Cooperative Farm was a privately owned and administered agricultural resettlement project for white and African-American sharecroppers evicted in the mid-1930s.

Founded in 1936 by several religious thinkers, educators, and organizers — including well-known missionary author Sherwood Eddy, who had $20,000 to spend from a follower — the enterprise avowed a commitment to economic equality among the races.

Over half of the first group of 31 farmers to settle at Delta were Black. All members worked together to grow cotton and cut and mill the land’s cypress timber.  All of them shared in the first year’s profits: $327 per family.

Delta Coop Farm houses, 1937, Library of Congress

The farm’s small houses had the same simple plan and amenities — “Screen windows and porches are uncommon in cotton cabins,” noted Lange — but they were segregated in two rows: one white, one African-American, separated by a road. And the children attended segregated schools.

All the families shared the produce of a 10-acre vegetable garden, however, which appears in the photos above to have engulfed the cabins.

And they all used the farm’s clinic, nursery, and library and attended the integrated cooperative meetings.  There had to be at least two Black members on the five-person farm council.

Delta Coop Farm, 1937, Library of Congress

At the start of World War II, the project lost members to wartime industry jobs and military enlistment, and, in 1942, the land was sold.

Four years before, in 1938, the Delta trustees had established a second inter-racial farm project in Mississippi — Providence Cooperative Farm in Holmes County. It operated until 1955, when its staff and residents fled after being threatened by the white citizens of nearby Tchula.  The empty land was sold the following year.

You can read a more complete story of the two visionary cooperative farms here.

The Sunday porch: the hollows

Nicholson2
There seems to be a potted oleander on the left side.

The front porch of a home of the extended Nicholson family of Nicholson Hollow (top three images) in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, October 1935.*

The Shenandoah National Park is a narrow strip of supremely lovely wilderness along the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. It begins at Front Royal, about 75 miles west of Washington, D.C., and ends west of Charlottesville.

The park was authorized by Congress in 1926 and fully established by the end of 1935 — two months after these pictures were taken by Arthur Rothstein for the U.S. Resettlement Administration (later the Farm Security Administration).

In order to create a fully “natural” environment, over 450 families were moved out of the park area under the process of eminent domain. Most were small farmers who had been portrayed in a widely publicized 1933 sociological study as desperately poor, primitive, and cut off from 20th century society.

Nicholson3

After they were gone, the Civilian Conservation Corps destroyed their homes and outbuildings. The only structures saved were some log houses and rail fences around Nicholson Hollow.

Nicholson

In the mid 1990s, the National Park Service sponsored an archaeological survey of 88 pre-park human settlements in Nicholson, Corbin, and Weakley Hollows.**

The findings of the study strongly refuted the earlier claims that the families (who were indeed often poor) were cut off the modern world. Researchers found china plates, mail order toys, 78 RPM record fragments, pharmaceutical bottles, and automobile parts.

CorbinPorch view of Corbin Hollow from one house of the Corbin family (above and below).

The Corbins were very hard hit by the Depression-years decline of the nearby Skyland Resort, which had previously given them employment and a market for their crafts.

Corbin3

There are two very good papers on the displaced people of Nicholson and Corbin Hollows on the National Park Service website, here and here.

Corbin Hollow farm, Shenandoah Natl. Park, 1935, LoCAbove: another Corbin Hollow farm.

ViewAbove: an abandoned house in Nicholson Hollow.

More of Rothstein’s Shenandoah images are here. Recording the last days of the park’s human inhabitants was his first assignment with the Resettlement Administration.


*All the photos here by Arthur Rothstein, in 1935, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

**In 2000, not long after the study was completed, a forest fire destroyed all but two of the remaining above-ground buildings.