In My Own Words: The Mississippi Delta Then and Now

Wednesday 01 May 2024

By Frank Taylor

The Mississippi Delta is a notorious place to live and work. The landscape is currently filled with reminders of bondage and strife. When you toppled the hills along Highway 8 west of Grenada, MS, you will witness flatlands where African Americans toiled and labored for plantation owners as chattel property. 

My Grandmother, Ruby Gladney, lived on a plantation in Midnight, MS (Humphreys County) from 1936 to 1939. She would recount the sadness and difficulties of living on a plantation. Grandma said they would ring a bell infinitely before 5 am to wake up the families living in the encampment. “We would start chopping cotton before 6 am.” The entire family, including children as young as four years old, would work upward of 12 hours per day. Grandma resented the sharecropping style of life. She gave her husband, Dave Gladney, an ultimatum and moved back to the hills of Louisville, MS, to be near her family. I am thankful to Grandma Ruby for being adamant about raising her family in a choice environment.

Mrs. Ruby Gladney
Mrs. Ruby Gladney

Circumstances and times are different in the Delta today. The plantation lifestyle continues with automation driving the plantation’s labor force. Two individuals can operate a two-thousand-acre farm with the use of machinery, whereas, during the 1800s, most plantations of 1000 acres required a workforce of three hundred individuals to meet production needs.

With more than thirty years of working and roaming across rural America, I have befriended all types of individuals and characters. Over ten years ago, I met Rickey and Valda Bradford of Charleston, MS. The Bradford family epitomizes the commitment to making a positive difference in their community.  

Rickey indicated they are getting prepared for 2024’s crop season. “We are planning to plant three hundred acres of cotton, corn, and soybeans. We have added twenty-seven Angus, Brahman, and some mixed Charolais cows as part of the farm operation. We work collectively as a team to achieve our family goals. Our team consists of my wife Valda and sons Andre and Rico. Additionally, my brother David manages the combine.” Ricky paused and echoed these words: “With the help of The Good Lord, we will succeed in 2024.”

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