Southern Town Stuck in Time, Photo Essay

This photo essay tells a story of an small Southern town that was completely skipped over in the reconstruction phase. Agriculture is all its ever known, and it is quite obvious. Small farmers in this area have to delicately balance between providing for their families and putting money into updating their equipment to ensure their farming operation is successful. Farmers in this area are often stuck in sharecropping contracts that plague their profits, and the visual clues are everywhere. As you can see in these pictures, these towns are dying out due to the fact that there are no jobs for young people. If something doesn’t change, these towns will not have a population in 20-30 years.


Shot of a small southern town where farming is still the only business around

Another view of the small town

Mid 1900’s model tractor. Massey Ferguson

Seat shot of the Massey Ferguson tractor


Another Massey Ferguson tractor still in use today

John Deere 2510 mid 60’s model tractor. Although not typically still used by small farmers for big tasks such as tilling ground anymore, they are still in use to do odd jobs such as spin ditching and running PTO powered equipment

Another older model tractor that small farmers still depend on to accomplish basic tasks

A more modern tractor that small farmers are beginning to acquire. The use of technology has significantly reduced the amount of time it takes to accomplish the same task. With this set up, a full truck load could be deposited into the bin in less than an hour

Another example of how modern technology and equipment has changed the way farmers operate

Modern day tractors are able to till land several times faster than older one were able to. The constant pressure for increased yield pressures farmers to update their equipment as quickly as possible

This modern day combine could fill this trailer in under an hour, something that would have taken an entire day 50 years ago

Seat shot of a modern tractor. An example of the technology inside a tractor. Compare to 50 years ago in the photos above

Top view of a grain trailer filled with corn

Example of a southern soybean field. Notice the size is relatively small (compared to others in Mid West)

Example of a corn field in the South. Again, notice the many divides in the land due to creeks and waterways

An excellent example of a small Southern farmers inventory. Notice how quickly technology advanced, the small number of tractors, and how many of the old tractors are still necessary to the success of a crop





Southern Environmental Racism

We have been talking a lot about environmental racism lately, and it has really sparked my interest. While I do believe it is wrong, I have come to a conclusion, that in my opinion,  it is probably one of the problems that will be the most difficult to fix. Until technology gets better, and we somehow come up with a way to reduce waste to a minimal, we will always produce garbage.  Obviously, when we produce garbage, we have to do something with it. Currently, most of the landfills and nuclear waste facilities are in the poorest counties of each state, and particularly the south. The south tends to attract landfills and waste facilities because it has much more poor, rural areas than compared to the north. However, what could we do about this? I’ve heard some suggestions such as just evenly distribute the waste between multiple counties in each state, and stop bringing all of it to the South. Well, while this sounds like a simple solution, it won’t exactly work like people think. Let’s say that we decide to put a landfill in the wealthiest county in Tennessee. If we did that, within a year or so, every single wealthy family would have moved elsewhere. Why? Because, no one wants to live by a landfill. Since the wealthy have the means to easily pick up and move, they will. This will in turn result in the property value decreasing and the only people living there doing so because it’s the only place they can find work. Within a couple years’ time, if even that long, the wealthiest community in Tennessee could be transformed into one of the poorest. My point is with this, we can’t stop it. The wealthy families will not live in an undesirable location, because they don’t have to. They can pick up and buy another house elsewhere, whenever they want. Poor people can’t do that because they simply cannot afford it. This will not change unless we stop people from being able to move residences freely, which will not happen. Keep in mind; I’m not saying that these dumps will always be in black neighborhoods, because there is a solution there. We can do things as a society that will allow blacks to be on an equal class status as whites. However, as far as class, theses landfills and dumps will always be in the poorest neighborhoods.

Now you’re probably asking, so what do you propose, just make the poor people live among garbage just because they’re poor? No, I believe there are solutions, but I do not believe that the government will take actions on any of these, because they are simply too expensive.  One would be funnel more money into developing technology that produces less waste. Another, come up with a better system to get Americans to recycle. Currently, we suck at recycling. I’m seen numerous examples of people throwing away a water bottle in a garbage can when there has been a recycling can right beside it. Americans just don’t care anything about recycling. Granted, recycling wouldn’t eliminate garbage, but it could significantly reduce the amount. The last would be ship the garbage somewhere where people do not live. This could help the many communities that have to live with landfills, but this would require the government to spend larger amount of money on garbage, something that they are not willing to do.

Surviving on 10 an Hour

Watching the documentary about the cook working for $10.00 an hour really opened my eyes to how hard it is for some Americans. Several people, that do in fact work hard, work for less than 10.00 an hour. With minimum wage currently at 7.25 an hour, it is safe to assume that several people work for that. While in college, I have worked some jobs here and there for minimum wage, and I had the mindset that it would be like working for little to no money. But once the pay checks started coming in, I was wrong. I thought this isn’t so bad, I could survive off this. I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about with people saying the “living wage” was around $11 and something. I kept thinking I could easily survive off of $8.00 an hour if I had too.

The fact of the matter was until seeing this documentary, I was blind. Granted I still do believe that I could survive off of minimum wage if I had to, but survive is all I could do. For some reason, blame it on my youth I guess, I had completely forgot about retirement. It wasn’t until I seen someone older working day after day for minimum wage while not receiving retirement benefits that it hit me. Sure I could survive on minimum wage, but when I hit retirement age, and got old enough I couldn’t work anymore, I would be in the crapper.

It is kind of sad that America, the land of opportunity, doesn’t have a better system in place than this. The South, particularly, is known for selling its labor for cheap. When in the end, we are all humans; it would seem to me that we would take better care of each other than we currently do. We care more about having a little extra money in our pocket than we do if our neighbor can barely afford to eat. The companies will do everything in their power to keep labor costs at a minimum. If labor in the U.S. gets too expensive, they will simply move overseas to another country where than an exploit its workers for cheap labor. This cause labor wages to stay low in the U.S.  For example, if a group of workers go on strike for higher paying wages, the companies will simply go out and hire minorities for an even lower wage. Then once the previous workers start going hungry, they will bring them back for sometimes an even lower wage than they were getting paid when they went on strike, this is very common in the south, where there are high populations of minorities willing to work for cheap.

The “simple” solution to this would be to raise minimum wage. However, this could potentially devastate the south. The southern economy operates on selling its cheap labor. If minimum wage was raised, this could eliminate one of the incentives to companies staying in the south. It could and probably would have negative effects on America in general as even more companies would move overseas. Labor is already cheaper overseas, if America raised its minimum wage, it would only push more companies to move their factories overseas. It is going to take both the American corporations and American people to come together to agree to stay operating in the U.S. while also paying its employees a fair wage. Until this happens, things will only get worse.

Believing We’re All Middle Class

When you think about class structures in America, you tend to only think of one, the middle class. I think about all the times I have heard someone describe themselves, it’s always middle class. I honestly cannot remember a single time when someone has categorized themselves as something else. Even teachers often make the mistake of saying “Well all of you are sitting in a college classroom so it’s safe to assume you are all at least middle class.” However, this is simply not the case. I personally know several people that their families fall under the working poor class and are still able to go to college. Thanks to scholarships, they are able to attend college and sometimes receive some refund to live off of. If not, they find a job and live off of the job.

Why are we stuck as a society believing we are all middle class? One reason is because nobody wants to say or admit they are poor. Being poor has a bad connotation to it, it means you’re either homeless, or just about there. If you can eat a couple meals per day, sleep in a bed at night, or have a car, you can’t be poor. Since the south has the majority of the poorest states, which leads to majority of the poor people, America couldn’t allow the southern people to feel left out, so they created a symbol. It’s called country. If you have pots and pans to catch the rain from the roof, you’re country. If you have to plant a garden instead of buying your groceries, you’re country. Therefore, since you are making it, you are middle class, not poor.   Just think of all those homeless people out there. Those are the people we save the term poor for. On the flip side, calling yourself rich is an absolute no-no. There’s always someone out there that can put you to shame so they’re the “rich” ones, not you. That only leaves us with middle class. Believing we are middle class puts our mind at ease. We are able to feel good about ourselves because we are “making it” in the world, but we don’t feel good enough to feel guilty at all the things we can afford.

Politicians, especially, milk this for all its worth. If you had a nickel for every time the term “middle class” was used in campaigning last election, you would be set for life. They do this because it’s the one term that speaks to everyone. If wealth inequality continues to separate as it has in the recent past, America will soon have no middle class. There will be only a rich class and a poor class. Currently the top 20% hold 85% of the nation’s wealth. That just leaves the remaining 80% of people with 15% of the wealth. Granted some American’s are in fact middle class, however the majority of American are not. According to two different polls, the Gallop and Pew, over 50% of American’s would classify themselves as middle class. Until we develop class consciousness, especially southerners, nothing is going to change. We must see through the lie that we have been fooled into believing and change the system. Don’t allow people to tell you it’s acceptable to live below standards just because you “live in the country”. Realistically evaluate yourself and those living around you and get up and do something about it.

Roots of Infant Mortality

The United States has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world among first world countries. Memphis, however, has one of the highest in the United States, so it would be fair to call Memphis the worst of the worst as far as infant mortality rates. If you know anything much about the medical side of Memphis, you would know that Memphis has some of the best hospitals in the nation. On top of that, Regional Medical Hospital is known for having one of the best neonatal intensive care units in the nation.  The two facts I have said so far seem to contradict each other. How can one city have one of the highest infant mortality rates, but yet have one of the best NICU centers. Minorities, particularly, have an even higher mortality rate. The question is why? How can a city have the best NICU but the highest infant mortality rate? Why are minorities much more susceptible to infant mortality not just in Memphis, but all across America?

Premature birth is the leading cause to infant mortality. Therefore, I think we have to start there with the problem. Stress, drugs, smoking, and lack of prenatal care are some major factors known to increase the chances of premature birth. When we think of these things, it makes a little more sense why minorities might be more likely to have premature births.  When I think of the big picture, education has a huge part in this. Stress, for example, can be related to many things. However, a major stressor in people’s lives is financial means. If you are struggling to keep your family afloat, you will be stressed all the time, especially if you are barely hanging on and find out you’re pregnant.  Minorities have a much higher percentage living in poverty. The way you get out of poverty is get an education, get a college degree, and find a job that will support you and your family. This of course is much easier said than done. The problem is our education system is discriminatory towards minorities, which makes it much harder to overcome poverty. Minorities that live in low income neighborhoods, go to low income schools. High income schools and low income school do not exactly teach the same way. Often in major cities, the low income schools are the public schools, while the high income schools are private schools. Obviously low income families can’t afford the private schools so they have no choice but to go public. Many people say that the public schools problem is the teachers and our tenure process, but that’s another topic. Many low income schools focus on teaching the basic skills of obedience, being on time, and proper discipline. How convenient as that’s exactly what I would want as an employee. Because the southern economy thrives by selling its cheap labor, southern schools are ensuring this process stays alive. If we taught our kids leadership skills, as many private schools do, then we wouldn’t be able to support the many jobs that major companies in the south depend on.

Therefore, low income children, that are forced to go to low income schools, are prepared to work in low income jobs. They are then in the same situation as their parents are in. Notice the cycle? I can see where people would ask, well the government gives Pell grants for children like that, so why don’t they go to college and get a degree? Well, one major reason is because the south can’t let that happen, or else our economy would not operate the same. Schools have tracking to ensure kids are ready to take the low wage jobs. Tracking is where the schools choose a “track” for the children to be on their freshman year of high school. This is based on their GPA among “other things.” Because the higher income children (who are majority white) have higher GPA due to advantages and privileges that minorities tend not to have, it’s no surprise that they are the children chosen to be on the “university” track. Other children are put on a “tech” track or a non-university track and therefore, once they graduate, they can’t even get into a four year university because they haven’t met the requirements.

The lack of education also links to smoking, drugs, and the lack of prenatal care. If you do not know what you are supposed to do during pregnancy, how are you supposed to properly take care of your body? Granted, there are programs such as WIC helping this problem, but there again, if women are not educated and do not know about WIC, it defeats the purpose. Even if low income families know what to do, it doesn’t mean they can. If a low income family doesn’t have a car and lives in a low income neighborhood, they may not be able to get to a store that provides healthy foods. As you can see, there are several problems that our society places on low income people. However, many can be link directly to our education system.

Our society has many problems, but one major one is the education system. I believe many of our social problems are linked to education, not just infant mortality rate. Maybe, just maybe, if we as a society quit looking at the differences in people, quit being afraid to take the lead instead of always being the followers, then we could become something America has never seen before. Fix our education system to educate everyone, not just the privileged, and maybe we can come together to fix this mess the South and the entire nation is in.