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Mo-Curious

Mo’ Curious: The living legacy of Missouri’s dramatic 1939 sharecroppers’ strike

Back in 1939, the world was a different place. For one thing, there were a lot more people involved in farming. In Missouri’s Bootheel region, this meant bodies were needed to grow cotton. Under the sharecropper model, those Missourians who grew cotton had no guarantees of a wage. They could be evicted anytime from the land on which they lived and worked.

In this episode of Mo’ Curious, we learn about the 1939 sharecroppers strike in Mississippi County, Missouri. It was on January 1 of that Depression year that Bootheel tenant farmers, or sharecroppers, participated in a protest. They camped on the roadside to draw attention to the deplorable economic and housing conditions that kept them impoverished and dependent.

Click here to hear part one of a two-part episode about the impacts of the 1939 sharecroppers’ strike on Missouri’s bootheel region.

For two months, fifteen hundred Missourians lived their lives on the side of Highway 60 between Sikeston and Charleston.

In order to bring a better understanding of the strike to area youth, we asked Charleston High School students to conduct oral history interviews. These interviews aimed to explain the strike and its legacy on the surrounding communities. Here is some of those exchanges.

Mo’ Curious by Missouri Life is a podcast about the past, present, and future of the 24th state. Hear other episodes at MoCurious.com.

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Field Notes

Field Notes: The Slow Path to Deplasticizing Your World

The health risks associated with plastics are astonishing. I am not a chemist, but even a casual read of the hazards surrounding plastic give me pause. Once ingested, the chemicals used to create single-use food packaging are now linked to cancer, they impact human development and can impede reproduction. Much plastic now ends up in our environment where it wreaks havoc on marine life.

Columbia businesswoman Leah Christian has a solution for removing plastic containers from your home one bottle at a time.

My logical self says to never bring plastic in the home and to remove all the plastic already here. The realistic side of me understands that plastic is everywhere. It is in my computer, appliances, food packaging, pens and toiletries. Plastic is everywhere.

Armed with the awareness that most plastics in our home are unsafe, I started eliminating those plastic containers that seem to be closest to the foods we eat. Getting my wife on board with no more Tupperware took some doing however. As it turns out there are plastics with sentimental value. We ultimately found some lovely glass jars in which to store our sugar, flour and coffee.

Leah Christian understand the quest to remove plastic from our lives. To that end, she started a business. The Clean Refill sells soaps, cleaners and hair care in re-fillable glass containers. Leah’s mission? Remove plastic from your kitchen and bath one bottle at a time.

For more information about Leah’s business, check out TheCleanRefill.co. For more on the dangers of plastic in your home and in the environment and tips on how to get plastic out of your life, check out UnwrappedProject.org.

I will tell you it is a process removing plastics from your life. My advice? Start small. Take it one bottle and container and thing at a time. And don’t go touching the Tupperware without consulting your wife.

Thanks to Leah Christian for the interview. And until next time, remember, your neighbors are more interesting than you think.

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Field Notes

The Dalton Interviews

Dalton Vocational School was a trade school for black students that operated in Chariton County, Missouri from 1905-1956. Their alumnae stories deserve to preserved and shared as a way to hear first-hand the stories of life in Missouri under segregation. During the summer of 2021, a few colleagues and I interviewed former students and alumni about their time at the school. I remain grateful to have been part of the documentation of these Missourians’ stories.

The interview subjects were all in their late 80s. They are a shrinking group of people who can tell us first-hand what it was like to attend an all-black school during America’s era of racial segregation. The Dalton alumni were honest about what they had and did not have during those years. The folks we talked with were universally proud of their school. They expressed confidence as they described how tiny Dalton Vocational School prepared them for success later in life. I am grateful for being allowed to preserve their stories.

The Dalton interviews were also humbling. There was no tangible benefit for the Dalton alumni to talk with me. None of them knew what a podcast is nor were they familiar with the county historical society where their stories will be shared with visitors. I am moved that they let me record their memories. When Madelyn Payne, William Payne, Gladys Mann, Leroy Jackson, jr., Virgil Redding and Diane Pippens saw that my collaborators and I were sincere about preserving the memory of their school, they invited us into their homes and for that I will forever be grateful.

Some of the Dalton audio recordings ended up as an episode of my Mo’ Curious podcast. I am also editing the videos for part of an upcoming display about Dalton Vocational School at the Chariton County Historical Society museum in Salisbury. I am adding video edits of these interviews to my Recollection Agency YouTube page as I get them complete.

Thank you to Lizzy Kalinka and Jennifer Thornburg for their partnership in collecting and sharing these important Missouri oral histories.

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Mo-Curious

Mo’ Curious: Preserving the Disappearing Memory of Missouri’s Little Tuskegee

Madelyn Paine remembers getting weighed at the Dalton elevator. Diane Pippens feels her light skin helped her pass for white or Mexican when she integrated her town’s high school. William Payne recalls the town’s annual reunion where he met his future wife.

It was at Dalton, Missouri’s annual reunion in 2021 that I did my first interview for this episode of the Mo’ Curious Podcast. Throughout that summer and ending on Labor Day of the same year, my collaborator Jennifer Thornburg and I conducted six oral histories with alumni from the former Dalton Vocational School in Chariton County.

The living legacy of Missouri's dramatic 1939 sharecroppers' strike Mo' Curious by Missouri Life

Back in 1939, the world was a different place. For one thing, there were a lot more people involved in farming. In the Bootheel of Missouri, this meant cotton. Under the sharecropper model, those Missourians who grew cotton had no guarantees of a wage. They could be evicted anytime from the land on which they lived and worked. In this episode of Mo’ Curious, we learn about the 1939 sharecroppers strike in Mississippi County, Missouri. It was on January 1 of that Depression year that Bootheel tenant farmers, or sharecroppers, participated in a protest. They camped on the roadside to draw attention to the deplorable economic and housing conditions that kept them impoverished and dependent. For two months, fifteen hundred Missourians lived their lives on the side of Highway 60 between Sikeston and Charleston. In order to bring a better understanding of the strike to area youth, we asked Charleston High School students to conduct oral history interviews. These interviews aimed to explain the strike and its legacy on the surrounding communities. Mo’ Curious by Missouri Life is a podcast about the past, present, and future of the 24th state. Hear past episodes at MoCurious.com.
  1. The living legacy of Missouri's dramatic 1939 sharecroppers' strike
  2. Preserving the disappearing history of Missouri's 'Little Tuskegee'
  3. Digging Deep: Macon County Mining Memories
  4. The View from Beacon Hill
  5. Start Your Engines: I-70 and Missouri's Culture

Dalton, now listed as a village by the U.S. Census Bureau, had an official population of seventeen in 2020. Nathanial Bruce started the school for blacks in Dalton in 1907. Between 1907 and 1956, Bartlett Agricultural and Mechanical School (later Dalton Vocational School) graduated young men with skills in farming and machinery. Young women learned how to type and cook in preparation for future work in offices and as house-keepers.

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that separate-but-equal facilities like schools were unconstitutional. This led to the closure of the school perched on the hillside in Dalton. After the 1956 school year, active Dalton students attended now-integrated schools in their hometowns.

Now seemed like a great time to gather memories of Dalton Vocational School from the shrinking pool of aging alumni. This podcast tells the story of Dalton Vocational School—Missouri’s “Little Tuskegee”—in the former students’ own words.

Videos of these oral histories are planned for a future online and in-person display of Black education at Salisbury, Missouri’s Chariton County Historical Society Museum.

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Field Notes

Field Notes: Getting Recharged at Slaughter Sink

As the New Year approaches, I look forward to making more outdoor discoveries and quite likely taking a new year’s day hike. Missouri has many stunning geologic features worth visiting. Sometimes it helps to have a guide along to point out what’s what.

Earlier this month, I met geologist Fletcher Bone at his Missouri Geological Survey office in Rolla. We drove down Highway 44 a dozen or so miles, exited, turned right, then right again and then left.

Here’s some audio from that hike where we visited a pair of Missouri’s larger sinkholes. Perhaps our experience inspires you to take a First Day Hike of your own.

Interpretation at Conical Sink, which lies near Slaughter Sink, Phelps County, Missouri

To learn more about Missouri geology, check out this episode of my podcast, Mo’ Curious.

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Field Notes

Field Notes: One Less Drive-Through

It’s hard to always do the right thing. Hi, my name is Trevor Harris and I have high cholesterol. My body is genetically predisposed to higher cholesterol says the doctor. I also have a family history of heart disease. Those factors taken together led my doctor to suggest lifestyle changes. It seems like an extreme term for what is needed. I hear lifestyle change and I think about becoming trans or becoming a travelling hemp activist or something like that. None of that is required. The good doctor says to eat less meat and other high cholesterol foods. 

And that is where doing the right thing comes into play. Most days I can eat oatmeal and kale and veggie burgers and tofu and love it all. 

It is when I travel that I get off my nut as they used to say. 

Last week I went to Missouri’s Bootheel on a podcast reconnaissance trip. In case you didn’t know, the bootheel is not known as a vegan hotspot. The hotel in the small town where I stayed for three days was near enough a McDonalds that I could almost smell it. So I went there. I went there three times in three days. There was also a Burger King visit in there somewhere. 

I don’t travel too much, but when I do my diet such as it is all falls apart. Somehow, I psych myself into believing that food eaten far from home doesn’t count. Or at least that’s how I justified snarfling down those Quarter Pounders and yes, I’ll take fries with that thank you. 

Back home, I can honor my mandate for health and eat at regular times. I am blessed to have a wife who is a committed vegetarian and a good cook. Lisa seems to genuinely enjoy creating new dishes for us to try. Although Friday night is always pizza night. When Lisa is here, she sees to it that our noon and evening repast happens like clockwork. We eat balanced meals and I am grateful. I am very good at dish doing. When Lisa goes to a work conference, however, my schedule shifts. I can be mercurial about when I eat and sleep. Not eating lunch until 3:00pm doesn’t bother me until I am on one of my regular mulch site runs and realize how hungry I am what with it now closer to dinner than lunchtime.  

Suddenly the Boca burgers at home in the fridge are forgotten as I create a fast-food map in my mind. It takes a healthy dose willpower to skip the fried chicken at the first grocery store I pass. Then avoid other. I visualize how I could drive to KFC for a three-piece or over to Arbys for their gyros. My intellect battles with my stomach. The part of me that knows all the food at home is so much healthier works to suppress my stomach’s urge to navigate our Ford Ranger to the drive-thru for a full meal deal thank you not just the burger! 

It is in these choices each day that I imagine my body is healthier instead of in some stage of the inevitable decline that we will all experience. I’ll know more about my cholesterol when I go back to the doctor for my next annual check-up. This is of course a First World Problem. Billions got rice and beans today or less and I am worried about an elevated LDL. I saw on Al Jazeera last night that the Philippines is soaked after a typhoon and many are suddenly homeless. I heard on NPR this afternoon that 8% of Africans are vaccinated and the continent probably won’t wipe COVID out until 2024. My African brothers and sisters not getting enough daily calories and access to the COVID vaccine is truly tragic.  

This all makes my concerns about heart health seem kind of petty.

What kept my will power strong today is indeed the global picture. I am not deeply concerned about cholesterol. I should be more so, I know. I am concerned about climate change. What I believe in more than that oatmeal can lower my cholesterol is that eating meat increases methane in the atmosphere. The BBC reports that almost a quarter of greenhouse gasses come from agriculture and that livestock are a major part of that. 

Call it altruism or call bullshit on me. I don’t care. What I do care about is having a livable planet on which to dwell. I don’t want to evangelize. I did enough of that in college and afterwards. I am sorry if you were on the receiving end of it. I am much funner to be around now. I swear. I do believe that the climate on our one precious planet Earth is changing. I want the young people and the future people to enjoy nature as much as I have and do. I also believe that eating a plant-based diet can slow the damage as can avoiding plane travel and minimizing unnecessary car trips. 

You do what you need to do and I am going to do what I feel is best for the planet and my arteries. I am far from perfect. My cholesterol and my quite likely my karma tell the tale. 

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Mo-Curious

Mo’ Curious: ‘There is a better way’

In an intentional community, or commune, people organize themselves around cooperative activities. Where much of modern, industrial, late stage capitalism is based around competition for scarce material resources, there are a few among us who choose to work together to achieve a standard of living that’s good enough.

In the first part of this two-part episode, we explored what 19th and 20th century Missouri utopias were like. In this episode, we head to Northeast Missouri’s Scotland County to meet some contemporary communards and hear what draws them to the land in search of a more intentional and low-impact life.

Part one of this two part series on Missouri utopias can be heard here.

Thanks for listening. Let me know what you think and share ideas for future episodes. Contact me at Trevor@RecollectionAgency.com.

Kyle Yoder lovin’ on his cat at Dancing Rabbit near Rutledge, Missouri.

The Mo’ Curious podcast is generously sponsored by Missouri Life.

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Field Notes

Field Notes: ‘In Burma we really need help.’

Soethu Hlamyo is a Columbia resident. With his wife, he owns and operates Shwe Market. Trevor Harris interviewed Soethu about his family, his business and his hopes for a return to democracy in his native Burma.

This is an excerpt of an August 11, 2021 interview.

The nation of Burma – highlighted in red above – sits on the Bay of Bengal and is bordered by Bangladesh to the Wets and Thailand to the East. Photo credit: TUBS/Wikipedia.
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Mo-Curious

Mo’ Curious: ‘That American Ideal’

Almost as long as there has been a Missouri, there have been idealists in our midst. In 1844, “Doctor” Wilhelm Keil and his followers established the German Communal Society of Bethel in Northeast Missouri. They were followed by an Icarian outpost in 1858 near St. Louis.

In this episode of Mo’ Curious by Missouri Life, you’ll learn about these settlements, what inspired them and how the lineage of radical rural cooperation continues into the 21st century.

This is the first part of a two-part episode on utopias and communes in Missouri. Here is part II.

The Mo’ Curious podcast is generously sponsored by Missouri Life.

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Field Notes

Field Notes: ‘Missouri is ready made for dramatic writing’

Steve Wiegenstein draws on real life settings from his native state when crafting his works of historic fiction. The Columbia, Missouri-based writer’s recent work – Scattered Lights – was nominated earlier this year for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. Here, Steve shares why ‘Walden’ inspires him, introduces us to a group of 19th century Missouri utopians and makes no promises that you’ll meet anyone famous when you read his stories.