The African American farmers of Grady County: Stories of true grit and pride of ownership

CHICKASHA, Okla. - Their stories drift in the fog of Grady County's rural past, the voices recalling a different time when struggling for the American Dream meant overcoming much more than boll weevils and stubborn mules.

"It was hard work," says Willard Hayden. "We'd start real early in the morning."

They were the Knowles, the Hicks, the Berry's, the Haydens and their 12 children, including Willard and his big sister Clara, now 95 years old.

"My dad didn't have an education," she says. "But he had good, common sense."

They were the African-American farmers of Grady County, the lucky ones able to share crop and work extra jobs, earning enough to buy their own farms.

Clara recalls, "In 1921, he bought 10 acres and he paid $10 for those 10 acres."

The Haydens eventually gathered up 140 acres near Ninnekah, Oklahoma.

Willard worked there on weekends with his six brothers.

"My job," he chuckles, "was chopping that cotton."

Historian Loretta Jackson spent years gathering the stories of local African American heritage around her hometown of Chickasha, Oklahoma which included the few black farmers whose pride in owning land passed down through every generation.

"You're not renting," explains Jackson. "You own it. You own. That ownership played a major role."

Joe Hayden worked his farm and a side job at the Chickasha Milling Company for 40 years.

His advice was to keep a tight hold on that land.

The family keeps a copy of the original deed close at hand, now 98 years old.

That piece of land is still a producer of fine grass for cattle, and a source of pride, like good water, that will never run out.

The Loretta Jackson African-American Historical Society presents the 10th Annual Storytelling and Soul Food Evening on February 9, 2019 at the USAO Ballroom beginning at 6:30.

For more information or reservations, Loretta asks that you call (405) 224-5297.

The Storytelling event is part of The Oklahoma Dept. of Tourism and Recreation Soulful Stories Initiative.

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