There’s No Crying in a Tobacco Field

"Where I grew up, kids worked in tobacco. It was the rule, not the exception. If your parents were not farmers, you knew by April who you woulChildren helping their sharecropper father in Person County, North Carolina, July 1939, by Dorothea Lange, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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There’s No Crying in a Tobacco Field

by Pepper Capps Hill
Southern Cultures, Vol. 19, No. 4: Winter 2013

"That archaic system of child labor that often sent me home bleeding at thirteen or saw me faint from heat exhaustion at sixteen seems terribly oppressive and immoral to one who never lived it. Ask tobacco kids how they remember it, and they will paint a radically different picture."

I keep a real tobacco leaf in a prominent place in my office at the Cape Fear Museum in Wilmington, North Carolina, where I teach. My husband has a large tobacco leaf tattooed on his back. It’s the reason why anything we do now is easy. When the museum exhibited historic photographs of North Carolina tobacco barns, I was the only staff person that knew what it felt like to stand in those barns. Realizing the fascination others had with our experience, I knew that the story must be collected now. We are the last generation of tobacco kids.