Two men in the Black Belt, 2017
June 1, 2017 | View PDF
The focal point of my backyard is a ten acre pond. Before it was a pond, it was a cotton field. You can't tell it just by looking anymore, but through the woods is an antebellum home that once oversaw it. It still stands silent and majestic. Its walls don't talk at all.
We could ride over to the river. We could be there within five minutes and from a secluded cliff we could look down at the sparkling Alabama River that once brought people in and carried away bales of Black Belt cotton. But the proof of it now lies beneath a watery grave and can only be seen in black and white pictures.
It was the black fertile soil that invited in agriculture and helped fuel it. This region was once the wealthiest in the nation. It was home to affluent men and accomplished women. They wore the finest of dresses and slept on the best of linens and furnished their homes with elaborately handsome furniture.
None of this remains. Only in fragments and pieces. In busted-up sets of dishes forgotten about in old china cabinets. What wealth remains in Wilcox County has more to do with pine trees and paper than the cotton plant.
The one way in, one way out road I live on is named after the son of a slave. Perry Johnson is said to have fathered 23 children, though a set of twins passed away at birth. Most of my neighbors, practically without exception are the sons, daughters, and extended relatives of his children.
There is calm here now. You can feel it in the evening shade. Even the spirit in the air seems to whisper peace. But I'm glad the ground can't talk. I know what was witnessed here and mirrored everywhere. You just would never know by the terrain.
Growing up I didn't expect that I would ever live on a farm. I was not a member of the FFA. And maybe in retrospect, I should have been. It's no secret that I have a fair amount of "Green Acres" in me. Usually my responsibility when it comes to farming is to stay out of the way. I'm too sensitive for some parts of it, and other parts can be tedious and unavoidably dangerous.
Such was the case this past Saturday morning, as it became clear that a first time mother cow needed help delivering. She had become panicked and unpredictable. It was more than one man could safely handle.
A neighbor came over and helped. These two men have helped one another many times over the past 25 years. They have prepped gardens that fed their families and other families. They have shared pears, pecans, Catawba worms and catfish. There has been an exchange of a couple of pet kittens and puppies along the way.
After storms they have worked together with other neighbors to cut fallen trees from the one way in, one way out road we all live on. If time allows, they will help one another again, both as neighbors and as friends.
They reminded each other of this assurance as they shook hands Saturday morning.
I don't think they have ever noticed their hands aren't the same color. It's just not something that matters to men in the Black Belt.
Amanda Walker is a blogger and contributor with The Alabama Gazette, AL.com, The Thomasville Times, West Alabama Watchman, and Wilcox Progressive Era. Contact her at Walkerworld77@msn.com or at https://www.facebook.com/AmandaWalker.Columnist.