There seems to be an actual basis for the oft repeated statement that the rural South is now the great incubator for replenishing the population of the United States. Those who travel to the great centers of automobile production, to the coal and iron mines, to the steel mills, and even to the camps of migratory laborers on western and far western ranches, return with the statement that they hear mostly Southern voices, songs and tales in these labor centers. Naturally most of these persons come from the portion of our population whose income is so low and living conditions so meager that they must find work in other sections.
If then, the rural South is pouring out its citizenship to other sections, the Nation and the South are concerned at what is happening to the group of people producing this excess population. We have heard that human erosion is going on along with soil erosion. As the soil wears out, the human population sinks to lower levels of living and then the surplus which goes to other sections is not so good. In fact, the residue which remains is not so good. What then shall we do about it? We must face the facts and see if the lot of the small farmer, the tenant farmer and the farm laborer cannot be improved. If these are the people who will populate our land, then we may be proud of them. That then is a task of the South today.
We may as well use our common sense and face the problem. I get as mad as anyone when I read stories and see pictures reputed to be representative of the South, yet showing extreme poverty and such decadence that one cannot believe them to be true. I know that one can find the same and even worse conditions in the North. I have seen more human misery along one street in a Northern city than I ever saw on the farms of the South, taking everything into consideration. Yet, those families on that Northern street were not turning out a surplus population to repopulate the country. Most of them looked as if they would not live out the year. Our folk from the farms of the South are from white families that have some of the best blood of this section flowing in their veins. They have simply reached the limit of endurance and are doing something about it.
Therefore, I think there is a great field in this section for the Farm Security Administration. Aside from helping tenants to own land of their own, aside from rehabilitating families ruined by adversity, aside from exercising management over farm families on relief, they have lately begun another service that I think is excellent. I believe they call this “loans for simple services.” This is one of the most important rehabilitation ideas. It means simply that if several of us in a community grow wheat, but do not have a reaper, that one of us can get a loan to buy the needed reaper, and pay for it by charging the others in the community a fair price for handling their wheat. Or—A number of us in a community may have brood mares, net none is able to buy a jack or stallion from which to raise colts. The Farm Security Administration will make one of us a loan with which to buy the animal, if the others will agree to use the service at a given price so that the loan may be repaid.
As a matter of fact, the loan can be secured by the entire group but it is better to have a master borrower, as he is called, so that much of the red tape in getting the money is eliminated. Where the whole community can use an implement that no one person would need alone, it would seem wise to let this one person buy the implement, keep it in good shape, be responsible for it, and allow the others to use it by the payment of a small fee. In one county, the Farm Security Administration found that 82 out of 84 clients were producing small grain. Only 22 men out of 82 had grain drills. Two others borrowed money to buy a drill, making 24 in all. No one knows what the other 58 growers did. If this group could have set up one or two master borrowers and secured drills for the others to use, perhaps the whole thing would have worked out right. Certainly it was useless for each one to buy a drill when perhaps he seeded only a few acres.
I understand in one county in Virginia, the farm women of a community got together and secured enough money to erect a small laundry. They paid a rate for their work that enabled them to pay off the loan and now they own a co-operative laundry. In this case they all borrowed the money together instead of having a master borrower to whom the laundry would have belonged when the debt was paid. I do not suspect that the Farm Security Administration is the only place where people in the community can get money for these simple services, but since the Administration does have such money available, we in the South should avail ourselves of the opportunity to have these things that make farm life more profitable, more interesting and more livable. This is one way to rehabilitate living, that our human erosion may be stopped and we can really begin to live on our farms.