In this episode, we listen to the oral histories of Margot McMillen. We hear from a river boat captain, a train engineer and an independent woman. These and several dozen other Missourians were the subjects of Margot’s late 1970s oral history recordings.
At that time, Margot was a young mother of two, a graduate student in English and a budding author. She was also was a listener.
When the Union Electric utility started buying land from farmers in Southern Callaway County for a nuclear power plant, Margot jumped into action. With her recording kit and an abundance of curiosity, she set out to preserve stories of a rural lifestyle that was rapidly disappearing. The stories illuminate what a different world we live in 45 years after they were preserved.
Hear more episodes of the Mo’ Curious podcast at MoCurious.com and wherever you get your podcasts.
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.
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.
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.
Whereas 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 an intentional community, or commune, people organize themselves around cooperative activities.
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.
Thanks for listening. Let me know what you think and share ideas for future episodes.
Contact me at Trevor@RecollectionAgency.com.
The Mo’ Curious podcast is generously sponsored by Missouri Life.
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.
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.
We’ve lost a lot in the pandemic to date. Many Americans have lost their jobs, their health, their loved ones. When the rent came due and her fellow Kansas Citians faced eviction, Diane Charity helped organize tenants to fight from losing their homes, too.
In this Field Notes, Ms. Charity talks about her mother’s influence on her activism, the culture of sharing at Parade Park and why she still fights the good fight.
We talked on March 26, 2021 at Kansas City, Missouri’s Black Archives of Mid-America.
In 2019, my wife and I moved to Kansas City for her new job. We wanted to live in a real neighborhood with real people. We needed to dwell near enough downtown for her to walk and bike to work. The house we rented was in Beacon Hill. From our earliest days on Tracy Avenue, I immediately saw two neighborhoods existing in one urban space.
As the middle class fled Kansas City’s urban core after 1970, Beacon Hill’s fortunes changed. Many families and retailers decamped for greener suburban pastures. Numerous families stayed put in Beacon Hill. In recent years these long-timers had increasingly been joined by the likes of my wife and I: younger and mostly white professionals. Renters like us tended to drive up prices in the local rental housing market. Growing numbers of newcomers to Beacon Hill had bought available lots, then built and occupied new homes. These homes commanded prices previously unheard of in the 64108 zip code.
At my first neighborhood meeting, I met the leadership of the Beacon Hill/McFeders Community Council. These women had spent decades in Beacon Hill and raised families there. They were eager to share their neighborhood memoirs. In 2020 and 2021, seven long-time neighborhood residents discussed how their part of Kansas City had changed during their years there.
Drawing on oral histories conducted at the Black Archives of Mid-America in 2020 and 2021 this episode of Mo’ Curious podcast draws on the cultural memory of Kansas City’s Beacon Hill, one of Missouri’s urban neighborhood in transition.
Mike B. Rollen grows food in the center of Kansas City. His culinary herbs fill a formerly vacant lot. Here, he shares his vision and some of the challenges to providing comestibles for urban residents.