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Shaw, MS 1995

Through his late 70’s, James Burgs still hand-picked most of the cotton he and his wife Elvie grew on their small farm in the central delta. With the introduction of the mechanized cotton picker at Hopson plantation in the 1940’s, the need for mass labor in the Delta dwindled sharply, leading to the greatest internal migration in our nation’s history as blacks moved North in search of economic and social opportunities. By the 1960’s, virtually every cotton farm in the South had gone mechanical, leaving only isolated individuals still farming in the ways of their enslaved ancestors. By the end of the 20th century there were only a handful of farmers still hand-picking cotton and today there are none, where as, at one time they numbered in the tens of thousands. James Burg said that he and his wife handpicked because that’s the way they came up, they enjoyed working and besides, they got a higher price for “clean” cotton. A season’s cotton harvest of 1-2 500 lb. bales often yielded less than $1,000 for the Burgs.

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