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People in the News No. 14

People in the News

Episode 14 

Nov 05 1937

ANNOUNCER: Once again, Pall Mall's new fifteen cent cigarette, The Modern Blend, takes pleasure in presenting to you Miss Dorothy Thompson, America's First Lady of Journalism.

Because Miss Thompson's audience is the fastest-growing audience of any 15-minute weekly program on the air it is likely that tonight many of you are listening in for the first time. To these new listeners and to every man and woman who smokes cigarettes ... I want to tell the brief, exciting news about Pall Mall's new 15¢ cigarette.

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And now - Miss Dorothy Thompson, with PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

MISS THOMPSON:] I am indebted to one of my correspondents for the subject of this evening's broadcast. A woman wrote in and said, "Tell us, please, about the underprivileged man. Who is he? How does he live? What does he do? 

Last Friday, in his press conference, when the President was asked about the reform of the tax structure, he answered that he was less interested in taxes than he was in the third of the nation that is still "ill-fed, ill-housed, and ill-clothed." Who are this third of the nation? Well, of course, they live here and they live there, they work, or fail to find work at many sorts of jobs. But the greatest number of them live in the South, that part of the country which is richest in natural resources, richest in its birth-rate, but poorest in income. And the largest number of the poorest people, in the poorest section of America are share-croppers.

In fact, the share-cropper is the nation's problem child. His income, his expenditures, and his whole destiny furnish miles of statistics to the United States Department of Agriculture. But this evening I don't want to present the share-cropper to you as a statistic. I want to try to make you see him, who he is, how he lives. The word share-cropper partly describes him. He is a man without land of his own, who nevertheless works the land. He is the product of a war -- our own Civil War -- in which seventy years ago we set free three million negroes -- and set them free to starve. The former slaves, many of them, stayed on the plantations of their owners.

The owners themselves were bankrupt, so they arranged that the slaves should to furnished land, and tools, a cabin to live in, and food to keep them alive, and that they should plant and harvest a crop under an overseer, and when that crop was harvested, share the money that it brought, fifty-fifty, with the owner. That system, inherited from slavery, exists in our country right down to the present day.

The share-cropper gets his rent and keep. He is never without a roof over his head, and he can never starve. But he is generally in debt to the landlord, for his food and medicine, and other wants, most of which he borrows from the landlord's commissary store, and the landlord himself is usually in debt to the banks from which he borrows the money to finance his share-croppers between crops. Scores of northern writers have gone south to look at the white and negro share-croppers and to fulminate against the system, and most enlightened southern planters agree with them. But no one, not even the United States government, has been able to offer another immediate solution.

Meanwhile, our sharecropper lives. And our particular sharecropper this evening is my friend Willy Waddy, who lives in the flat Arkansas country, on the banks of the Mississippi and works twenty acres of cotton and corn on shares for the "boss". Willy is a Negro. He lives with his wife, Lagirtha, and his three children, Ruby Pearl, Ruth Rebecca, and the little boy, whose name is Mankind, in a two-room cabin, one of thousands, dotting the vast, flat, land of the Mississippi Delta, treeless except for the fringes of forest around it. The land is the richest on the face of the earth. The Mississippi river in its perennial floods, has deposited around Willy's house the finest soil washed away from the rest of America.

Up to Willy's door, when the crop is growing, billows now the voluptuous pink and red blossoms of the cotton, and then its snowy waves, which look like a wind-blown sea. And when the cotton is picked again the flat, black land is there.

Willy's cabin is made of boards, thinly white-washed. Sunday supplements, and old magazines, furnish his wall-paper. Lagirtha cooks her corn pone, fat meat, and turnip greens surrounded by faces which record twenty years of the history of movie kings and queens. Francis X. Bushman is slightly faded, but next to him Joan Crawford and Clark Gable are fresh and vivid. The cabin is poor, but Willy's, at least, is immaculate. Three things in that cabin represent Willy's pleasure and his culture -- a shotgun, a guitar, and a Bible. For Willy's meagre living costs him 120 days work in the year -- grueling work, while it lasts, under the southern sun. But when the crop is in, and Willy gets his little pile of money, and has paid off his debts, and has left over anywhere from nothing at all to seven or eight hundred dollars, Willy is free until the next crop must be planted.

He is free to hunt quail and larks, to play his guitar and sing with his fellows, to indulge in the church meetings, which are his theatre, his social club, and the deep solace of his life. And he is free to talk, and Willy talks sheer poetry. He talks about the White Man and Jesus -- Sweet Jesus, who is as real and vivid to him as his nearest neighbor. He speculates on the origins of the universe; on the birth of man and his destiny; on the humanness of God; and on the promises of a glorious life when all the troubles he has seen on earth are ended, and "Jesus is jes' settin' up dere on a golden throne waitin' to ketch me with open ahms."

Willy may be scared of a bad crop. Willy may have a mean overseer. If the price of cotton goes down in Liverpool, a city of which Willy has never heard, Willy may have a hard time buying even corn pone and sow-belly. But one thing Willy is not afraid of. He is not afraid of life itself. Never, never, never, has he questioned whether it is worth-while to be born. Never, or almost never, does he end his own life. Suicides amongst plantation negroes are almost unknown.

Willy loves his children. He not only loves his own children, but he loves all children. There's an economic reason for this. A child in a white family is an economic liability. A child in a negro share-cropper's family is an economic asset. The more children he has, the more land he is likely to get, and very early he puts the children to work. The rural Negro child has no economic security. But he has one security which many children do not have: the security of love. There are no Negro orphans in the deep south. If one set of parents dies -- or disappears -- another immediately present themselves, and the adopted child has exactly the status of the others. For the Negro thinks of himself as one of a great family, fathered by God.

Willy has no worldly ambition. White folks say he's lazy, but that is totally to misunderstand him. Willy is a first-class worker, and labors hard when he has to. But he considers the idea of work for its own sake as a white-folks mania. Work is a form of penance, that he patiently suffers for the reward of doing what he thinks man was put on earth to do: making love; singing songs; sleeping in the sun; fishing for catfish in the numerous creeks, and going to fish-fries and picnics; shooting rabbits in the cotton stubble; attending criminal trials in the court house, with the eager hope that he may be called as a witness, riding on trains, for the pure pleasure of the ride, and without regard for the destination.

Often he goes to the ticket-office and asks for "six bits worth of ride." The statistical bureaus list him as the under-privileged man, but Willy himself accepts life as a gift of God; he knows that it's written in the Good Book "Take no thought of the morrow". And, obediently, he takes no thought. He lives always in the present, which for him is part pain and part intense pleasure, covered all over with the wonder and goodness of God.

If Willy has money he spends it. He spends it for wondrous suits of clothes, dripping with buttons. For shiny rayon socks and ties, and guitars that sing like the harps of heaven. For dresses trimmed with marabou for Lagirtha, and long white kid gloves for her to wear when Willy and she and the children go to the circus in Memphis.

"What if the money is soon all spent? Isn't money meant to be spent? The Lord will take care of his own. Yesterday was a dream. Tomorrow may never come. Willy's boss is worried not only about tomorrow, but about next month, and even, about next year. To the boss, a big cotton crop this year will mean a glutted market and low prices next year. But Willy's existence, poor as it is, is poisoned by no such distrust.

Willy is not stupid. His way of life is not the white folks' way of life, but he often compares it, shrewdly, to the white man's, and is convinced that his is superior. He is skeptical about the power of government, or anyone else, to regulate the land. When I asked him, a year ago, what he thought of the government's cotton control program, and the plan to pay farmers for ploughing under cotton, Willy said, "Well, M'am, us done broke the White Folks and now us gwine to break the guv'ment."

Circumstances have made of Willy an actor. He is a master of exquisite and intuitive tact. He lives among the dominating White Men, whose moods and mind he must read and adjust himself to. He must be prepared to play the clown or the tragedian at a moment's notice. All of this he does, with a subtle and seemingly artless grace. He can instantly spot a "mean white man" or a kind one, "quality folks", or those whom he scornfully calls "poor white trash." He has enormous patience, humility, and the gift of laughter. In these, rests his enormous genius for survival.

In only one thing does Willy exercise foresight. He joins a burial union, and pays dues all his life, to be sure of a splendid funeral, when he is dead. And that makes sense, in Willy's cosmos. For Willy has only one certainty. It is that he will surely one day mount the golden steps into a golden heaven and be taken up into the arms of his saviour. Some time, he knows, he will see the good Lord go by in a glistening chariot, drawn by shining white horses, with the Lord's long golden hair agleam with lights. For in Willy's vision, God is a white man, white as the driven snow, a white man "with grey eyes, and a face jes' like a natural man."

And when Willy lies in his casket one day, at the Old Jerusalem Baptist Church, he will not lack mourners. They will come from far and wide, and their golden voices -- the most beautiful voices on this continent-- will be lifted up in joyous song!

"Da blood done set me free! 


ANNOUNCER: You have just heard Miss Dorothy Thompson, with PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, presented by the makers of PALL MALL CIGARETTES. If you have subjects or people that you would like to have Miss Thompson discuss on these Friday evening broadcasts, we cordially invite you to write Miss Thompson, in care of this station.

We hope you have enjoyed this broadcast and that you may have the pleasure which the natural tobacco flavor of PALL MALL Cigarettes provide. Once you try them, you'll discover that no other cigarette gives you so much genuine smoking pleasure. That's been the experience of thousands of smokers all over the country. 

This Modern Blend of PALL MALL Cigarettes is made exclusively of selected Virginia and Burley tobaccos, enriched by choicest Oriental tobaccos. And unlike ordinary blended cigarettes, PALL MALL does not add artificial flavouring to its tobaccos. Instead, the tobacco itself is so fine in quality, so carefully blended that it needs no artificial flavouring....And you get the pleasing, soothing effects of natural tobacco at its best.

PALL MALLS cost only 15 cents for a pack of 20, plus cigarette taxes in some states. And don't overlook the advantage of buying Pall Malls by the carton for use in your home. They're Better. . . . . Naturally.

PALL MALLS are manufactured by the American Cigarette and Cigar Company. Nelson Case speaking.