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Ep. 4: Rufus and Demalda Newsome and Newsome Community Farms, Greenville, MS

Ep. 4: Rufus and Demalda Newsome and Newsome Community Farms, Greenville, MS

 

In this fourth episode, we talk with Chris’s parents Rufus and Demalda Newsome of Newsome Community Farms in Greenville, Mississippi at Christmas. While Rufus pulls seeds from cotton he talks about growing up at ten years old working in the cotton fields as a weed chopper, a hoe filer, and a water boy. While Demalda chops vegetables for the Christmas meal, she describes growing up harvesting fruits from neighborhood trees and beans from an overturned bean truck, and getting watermelons from the watermelon man. While she and Chris make tamales, we talk about how they’d always eat them with hot donuts in the Delta at Christmas, which brings us to talking about segregation and desegregation. She describes her advocacy and food sovereignty work with Newsome Community Farms, Community Food Security Coalition, and Food First. There’s a hidden track at the very end where Rufus opens his very first moringa pods (see the videos here) and the grandkids get to taste the seeds and the way they transform water, and we discuss seed maturity and storage, and the importance of eating good bacteria.

 

SEED AND FOOD STORIES TOLD IN THIS EPISODE:

  • Cotton
  • Mustard and Turnip Greens
  • Tamales
  • Moringa 

 

MORE INFO FROM THIS EPISODE:

 

ABOUT:

Seeds And Their People is a radio show where we feature seed stories told by the people who truly love them. Hosted by Owen Taylor of Truelove Seeds and Chris Bolden-Newsome of Sankofa Community Farm at Bartram’s Garden.

trueloveseeds.com/blogs/satpradio

 

FIND OWEN HERE:

Truelove Seeds

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FIND CHRIS HERE:

Sankofa Community Farm at Bartram’s Garden

 

THANKS TO:

  • Rufus Newsome and Demalda Bolden Newsome
  • Aunt Veronica
  • Jala, Jacob, Amareion
  • Sara Taylor

 

PARTIAL TRANSCRIPT:

Rufus Newsome

Rufus Newsome:

Years ago as a boy. Um, the field wasn't very far away from where we live. We lived in Mississippi, Greenville Mississippi. We lived on white people's land. They were called the Dominic's. They were pretty decent folks also. But we went to other people fields to pick and chop cotton. I can remember as a small child smelling that fresh cotton smell and I crave the smell now. But this cotton doesn't smell the same way it did 50 years ago. It's different. Doesn't have a smell at all. But, progress goes on.

Owen Taylor:

Do you remember the first times you smelled cotton and what was that like and where were you? What were you doing?

Rufus Newsome:

I was in the fields when I was about 10 years old. At that time I was chopping because I think people had stopped picking cotton. That was combines picking cotton then, but we still needed to chop the weeds between the rows and there weren't a lot of herbicides used on that time. So we had to chop the weeds and I can remember seeing maybe 60 or 70 people chopping cotton. It seemed like those rows were a hundred feet long, hot. And so we're chopping and the aroma of the cotton, the smell just rises from the cotton and the smell is all around. Every so often you stop and pull some cotton and just sniff it up your nostrils and then you'd go back to work.

Owen Taylor:

What does it smell like? Can you describe it to someone who's never smelled it before?

Rufus Newsome:

It was fresh smell. I mean it was fresh. Uh, it smell like fresh air. Beside that, I can't describe it though. It's just really fresh. Like after a new rain when the sun comes out and clears up, everything smells so fresh. Remind me of the wash. My mom used to wash outside and hang the clothes up on the line and once the sheets, the white sheets dried that aroma and it would just, I mean it would just suffocate you.

Owen Taylor:

So what are you doing right now?

Rufus Newsome:

Right now I'm removing the seeds from, uh, some cotton that I picked from a field about two weeks ago on my way home from work. Uh, this is left over cotton in the field. So I went out and picked some, I'm sure the owner doesn't mind. And so what I'm doing now, I'm removing the seeds from the cotton itself. This is what our ancestors did. Everything was done by hand. They removed the seeds from the cotton. It was done by hand. And this is what I'm doing and I'm reminiscing of my ancestors, my great, great grandparents. As they sat there on the plantation, probably after noon, they've done all that picking. Now it's time to remove the seeds and so they're sitting there removing the seeds, talking and having a good time. It was very important that they remove the seeds because of course you know those seeds were planted the next year.

Owen Taylor:

Have you ever grown cotton at your house?

Rufus Newsome:

Oh yes we have. We, we grew cotton in Oklahoma. It was so beautiful. People would stop by older people, and say, you know what? That reminds me when I was a boy, when I used to pick cotton, I hadn't seen cotton in 50 years. And so we had planted a couple rows out in front of the house on the main street there, one of the main streets there in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was, it was a beautiful sight to see. That was about four feet tall. This is white and beautiful. That's why so many people stopped - they had never seen cotton up close before, just on television.

Rufus Newsome:

Well, you know, cotton been around for thousands of years. They Egyptians grew cotton and cotton is what kept the South alive. Major crop. Major crop cotton.

Owen Taylor:

Do you have a question? If so, get close to the mic?

Jala Newsome:

Did you ever have a brother or sister that died during slavery?

Rufus Newsome:

Well Jala, you know, I wasn't in slavery, but I'm sure we had relatives that died in slavery that we, we've never met.

Owen Taylor:

How old were you when you worked in the, in the fields chopping cotton?

Rufus Newsome:

I started in the field when I was about 10 years old. I started, uh, I think first I did do a little picking and then as I said, the combine, it was already developed, but I guess he was a poor farmer. He hadn't had it yet, but he got it later. And so we just basically chopped. I started off as a chopper chopping grass between the rows and then I was promoted to the water boy. That was a great promotion. All you did would carry water back and forth, uh, to, uh, the workers. And I did that so well I was promoted to a hoe filer. I filed hoes. Kept the hoes sharp and all. That's what we cut the weeds with. And I did that all the way up to high school. I earned most of all the money during the summer, uh, by working in the field cause Mama was working a job, she wasn't making that much. But I, I worked the field all summer and I made $13 a day for almost a month and a half. Imagine how much that was. So that helped bought my clothes along, my sisters and my brothers and food for the house also, I never regretted working so hard and rushing home and I couldn't wait to get home and get my money to my mother. You were paid in cash of course? Actually we made $15 an hour, but the driver took three.

Demalda Newsome:

$15 a day.

Rufus Newsome:

$15 a day. I'm sorry. Actually, we made $15 a day and the driver took three of it I guess for transportation and all. And I recall Mama, I would get up early in the morning about two, three o'clock because the truck left about five and mom would fix me my breakfast and fix me lunch also. She would make me baloney sandwiches and um, I think even she would put some, uh, teacakes in the bag/container. Teacakes were like homemade cookies and all. I mean they were just wonderful. They were like just a flat cookie, just delicious. We call them teacakes.

Owen Taylor:

Was it like the sugar cookies that Jala made the other day?

Rufus Newsome:

They weren't sugar, they didn't have sugar on it outside, but they were sweet though just from the inside.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

It's basically a sugar cookie recipe. Just thicker.

Rufus Newsome:

It's thicker. Yeah, it was a thicker, it was a thicker cookie. It was. It was a flat cake.

Owen Taylor:

So did, did other people in your family work in the same field? Did your brothers and sisters do the same work?

Rufus Newsome:

I remember my brothers, well my brothers had left already, but I do remember my sister, they tried it. Uh, the oldest sister. Um, of course you understand it was hot during that time, really hot. And I do recall my sisters going a few times, but they, they couldn't maintain. And then my baby sister Emma, she tried and she couldn't maintain because it was just so hot. Well there were several people that just couldn't do it. They couldn't work in the field. But for me, I worked, I had to work, I needed to work for my family's sake.

Jala Newsome:

Did you ever get tired of picking cotton for them?

Rufus Newsome:

I didn't pick cotton a whole long time. I didn't do it a long period of time because the cotton machine... Someone developed the cotton machine. The combine. Yeah.

Jala Newsome:

I thought they didn't care?

Rufus Newsome:

You thought who didn't care?

Jala Newsome:

The people that you had to pick cotton for.

Rufus Newsome:

Yes they cared, they want their crop in and they want things done cheap, they want things done as cheap as possible.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

That's why people use machines. Even though the machines hurt the earth.

Rufus Newsome:

One machine can do the work of 100 men or more.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

They wouldn't have pay to have paid 100 men or boys $13 a day.

Rufus Newsome:

For example, when I was watching the BBC, the history channel on BBC was talking about talking about a certain whale can eat up to like 200 pounds of a certain fish a day, but now the fishery can collect four to 5,000 tons of it in a day. And so they just, I mean what they're doing, they're taking more fish. They just taking too much.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

Pretty soon won't be none left.

Rufus Newsome:

There won't be any because they're taking too much. They're taking too much.

Jala Newsome:

Like in this article I read about penguins. Penguins are dying off because their parents are leaving them for food and then they're searching for fish and fishermen get too many fish and the adult penguins have to go farther and farther away from their children to get fish.

Rufus Newsome:

They're dying because when they leave predators come by and snatch their babies or if they don't return, they die from starvation unless they're adopted by another mother penguin.

Owen Taylor:

Can I ask you another question about when you were growing up? Um, how was your, what was your day to day life like? Like how did it compare to the life that your grandchildren live now? Like at home and in the community?

Rufus Newsome:

Because we had hardly, we only had enough to sustain ourselves. Um, of course we had a television, but of course we didn't have what the kids have now. And I can't compare because - I can't compare and say, well we didn't have games and they have the computer games now. Um, everything we did - basically we was outside a lot. We stayed outside a lot and we did a lot outside activities and all. Uh, we played outside a lot. We, we produced our own toys if we didn't have any - picking up a stick or something going around dragging on the ground, rolling a tire down the road, the gravel street there. That's the type of fun that we had. Uh, going fishing, not staying in the house all the time, watching video games or playing video games or etc. or things like that. We were, we were more active than kids are. Sure. I was more active than what my grandkids are now, even though my oldest grandson plays football, I was way more active then than the way he is right now because they have video games and he's on that a lot. And of course he's also preparing himself for when he go to college by watching other football players, by playing video games. And I'm not saying that it's not helpful. I think it is helpful, but we didn't have that. We learned, we basically, we learned by trial and error. We were out there, we learned to play sports just by doing it. We learned from my parents by watching what they were doing and they had us participate in it. It wasn't like, well I don't want to do it, you did because you had to do it. You had to do it.

Owen Taylor:

Um, what did, did you all have a, um, a kitchen garden at the house or a farm at the house. And what were the things that were the most important crops that you would grow at home?

Rufus Newsome:

Oh yeah, we did. We lived in the country. Matter of fact, the whole family lived in proximity of each other no more than 20-25 feet away. There's my grandmother in the middle, my uncle on the left, and my mother and I, we're on the right side. Grandmother lived in a shotgun house. If you're not familiar with a shotgun house, just what it says, one door in the front, one door in the back. So you go straight out. That's why they call them shotgun homes and all - just a little box with a front door and a back door. So my grandmother lived there and we lived in a regular house with two bedrooms. My mother, well, let me rephrase that: two rooms. We had a front room - that's where mother slept. There was a back room where all the kids slept. There was two beds in the back. Everybody slept together, boys and girls. We had a wash, a metal wash tub that we bathed probably I think maybe once a week, maybe once a week on the weekend. Um, girls, they washed first and then we will come in second. We didn't change the water, used the same water, bathed in it, then once it was finished we threw it out. And we didn't have an indoor toilet. We had what we call a slop pot. It was about pot about three feet tall, usually white and that's what we use for the indoor toilet. Once that thing is filled, you can't use it, so you have to go outside at one, two in the morning and all to down the outhouse, what we call it. And an outhouse was just a building, a small building with a hole dug about four - five foot deep. And the house was set over the hole and that's what we…that was our, our toilet, our outside toilet. And once that toilet was filled, we moved the house. The dirt that we recovered from that we, we use that and cover that back up and dig another hole and put the house over that hole. And so the process continued on: here, here, here, here.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

One of the ways they kept their soil fertile.

Rufus Newsome:

Yeah.

Jala Newsome:

I have question: Did any children, um, little babies in your house? I mean, little sisters or brothers that was babies - did they sleep in little drawers where you put clothes at?

Rufus Newsome:

Your uncle - Uncle Chris slept in a baby drawer, in a dresser drawer. He slept there as he was a baby. We didn't have dressers. We were too poor. We didn't have nothing like that. When we lived in the country, everything would just stored where ever in boxes and all. We didn't have a dresser with four or five drawers where you can store stuff. We didn't have that. We were too poor. And so we just managed the way we did. That was then.

Owen Taylor:

And so, and so what, what would be in the kitchen garden? What kinds of things would be grown outside?

Rufus Newsome:

Oh, the garden? Yeah, we got away from that. Yeah, we usually, okay, in the garden there'll be corn, okra, squash, mustard greens of course mustard greens. Turnips, huge turnip bottoms. Um, peas, beans, watermelons, sweet potatoes. And of course around the house you would have a mess of mustard greens right there, right available for you, right beside the house, the front door. And we'd just go out and pick them. When you needed some.

Owen Taylor:

Just like you had an Oklahoma. That's how you grew up. Always having a big patch of mustard greens.

Rufus Newsome:

Oh yeah, we always had a patch of mustard greens. Mustard green was a favorite green. Um, of course we ate other greens also, but it was the favorite green, but every black that I knew during that time, everybody loved mustard greens.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

Still do!

Rufus Newsome:

Oh yeah, still do.

Owen Taylor:

Where we live, people, people think of collard greens as the Southern greens. What do you have to say about that?

Rufus Newsome:

Oh, that's fine too. We've eaten collards also but I think I prefer the mustard myself though.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

We don't in Mississippi, we don't favor the collard in this part of the country. People don't favor the collard. I was in conversation with a woman in Kroger today. She said, I've never eaten any. She didn't know how to cook it. This is a grown woman older than me. And so I gave her a recipe how to cook it and she was afraid because we don't eat them. You go to the grocery store here, you go to the grocery in Mississippi, first top shelves are turnip greens and mustard greens and then collard greens on the bottom because it's the least picked. She didn't know how to pick it. It was too tough. But I also, I believe that there was a reason we ate turnip and mustard greens. The main ailment of enslaved Africans and then our descendants, their, their descendants. Um, has always been stomach ailments. It's always been infections to the stomach oftentimes, but just infections, you know, and particularly gut health has always been real important. You eat mustard greens, you know what I'm saying? Because traditionally black people got, even in daddy's lifetime, they got the worst of the food. They got the worst of the food, they got, they got, after white folks was finished and then had thrown it away. That's what you got to eat. When you used to get in a second rate food, spoiled over, molded... and I ain't talking about during slavery and time in the 60s, you know, you would get used to getting second rate food. Which is how many black people still live today. Many poor people all over the country still live today.

Rufus Newsome:

I remember the place that we live on the.. the Dominic place. We would shell peas for him. And once we completed that, he would send all his leftover fruit to us, like grapes, apples, pears, cherries. Of course, they had been picked over by everybody. And so they would send us a box full of boxes full of grapes that were all cracked open and juice running out. But hey, we saw that boy, Oh my goodness, that was a treasure, but they didn't know there was a treasure for us. They just getting rid of that mess. But it was a treasure for us because we didn't really get fresh fruits like that. We had no fruit trees around, no fruit trees at all, none. And we went out to pick blackberries. There weren't any blackberry bushes around where we live, so we had to go elsewhere and picked the blackberry. But that box of fruit was, was a treasure to us. We enjoyed it.

Owen Taylor:

What else would you pick in the neighborhood or in the wild?

Rufus Newsome:

All I can recall is we picked blackberries, but once we moved to the city, there were pears, there was peaches. The neighbor had several pear trees and during the summer all the families got together and harvested pears and made preserves and all.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

If you plant a fruit tree, a fruit tree, implies permanence. Really ownership. So you say y'all didn't have any fruit trees. That makes sense. You don't own your land, you didn't own your land, you did not put up fruit trees. Fruit trees was a sign that I live here now and I'm going to be here for a while.

Rufus Newsome:

Of course, we didn't stay there either long. I mean when I became of age we left. We left all that behind. Sure did. But uh, yeah, but during the fall of the year, we'd harvest our sweet potatoes and all, and we had a good huge crop. Of course, we all, we'd already harvested our corn and stuff like that. And I can't recall putting up any corn, but Mama did can peas and beans and I know my grandmother loved, uh, what is it Rumal that goes in the ground? Purple...beets, your grandmother, your great grandmother loved beets. Planted them all the time. Yeah. All the time.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

Great grandma? Ari?

Rufus Newsome:

Mm hm. She loved beats and she had this one collard plant for years and it just grew and grew and she'd just take the leaves off and one day I was, I was cutting the grass and I accidentally cut it down. It didn't come back. It didn't come back. It didn't come back. Sure didn't. And this is the reason why we lost our fingerprints also. Picking cotton and removing the seeds if you continue to do that.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

You don't have no fingerprints Daddy?

Rufus Newsome:

I have fingerprints. I'm saying our ancestors endured so much they had lost fingerprints they didn't have fingerprints because especially during that season there. But of course, when you stop, they were, they did return the prints they returned back to you. Yeah.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

Didn't know that. There's something, there's something kind of really deep and powerful about the idea that you lose your fingerprints picking through cotton, because, um, it's kind of also what happened in a real way. In this culture and in this century, fingerprints are used to identify people. So to say you lost your fingerprints, you know, also sounds like you've lost your identity.

Rufus Newsome:

I didn't think of it like that but yes you did. That's, that's what it was - during that period of time, we lost our identity. Yeah. Sure did.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

That's something powerful. We lost our fingerprints. I know that people will use, um, I asked you about that and now that the kids aren't in the room that people would use during slavery times. I know that our grandmothers would use cotton as an abortifacient in order to abort their pregnancies. You know, abort their babies. Yeah. And that if things got real....that was the last resort. Things were terrible, terrible, terrible. This was knowledge that women kept amongst themselves and never let out. So very rarely used, but for people who were tired of getting... Women who were tired of being constantly impregnated by force, especially by their white masters...course, you have to worry about the white men and black men if you were an enslaved woman. But you really had to worry about the white man who had absolute indiscriminate power over you. Did you know that? You never heard of cotton being associated with abortion?

Rufus Newsome:

Never. First time.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

Well, I'm very glad to, you know, to have my father in my life and I'm very proud to be able to do the work, um, that he did and that his father and his mothers did and their fathers and mothers did. Even if they did it. Um, you know, by force, you know, I'm really proud to be able to...that we did not like so many other black people in this country abandon the knowledge and the skills just because it came with some pain, you know? So I, I credit my being a Christian, being able to be able to understand that.

Rufus Newsome:

I told you about what Ms. Walker said. Mr. Walker's wife: "I'll never go back to the farm. I thought that was so rude of her to say.

Chris Bolden Newsom:

She said the farm, or to the South.

Rufus Newsome:

No, the farm. I'll never go back because they made me do all that. They made me do that. They made me do it.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

You have a lot of people for whom that was their only experience that they could never see it as something that they...

Rufus Newsome:

But it sustained them though. And they didn't see it like that. That tells me that that was some secret, or some hatred, some type of hatred that they have for the farm or the family - didn't want to work on it. "They made me do it". How else were you to survive if they didn't make you do it or force you, because apparently you didn't want to do it.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

You're talking about, at this point, family making, making the kids work.

Rufus Newsome:

Yeah. But everybody has to work. How was you going to eat if you didn't work?

Chris Bolden Newsome:

I think there's so much. It's we, we, we just as a people have lost so much of that work ethic. You know, that sense of ownership and then they can, people can blame the experience with the land, you know, as being the reason they don't want to do, you know, don't want to work, don't want to do anything outside especially, but you know, at the end of the day I don't, I don't, yeah, I don't understand why we don't have that.

Rufus Newsome:

I've come to the conclusion they just don't want to do anything. Why would they have to make you do it, why can't they just tell you "go ahead and get this done". You saw them do it. Why was so hard for you to do it? Because you didn't want to do it.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

What you said: "You got too much."

Rufus Newsome:

We had too much. Yeah. Too much.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

When you have too much, you start getting a sense of entitlement. e, but do you remember.

Demalda Newsome:

Demalda Newsome:

I think it had to be in the early or mid sixties when I was a little girl. There was a food truck, you know we had trucks coming through neighborhood all the time. The one bad thing was that in our neighborhoods they all had ditches. The streets were not like regular streets in other neighborhoods. So what ended up happening is one day a bean truck came down through the neighborhood and I guess it may have taken a wrong turn off of highway number one, but the next thing we knew, this huge truck had tipped over in the ditch. It was a huge truck. The truck was full of beans, green beans. Oh back then that was like a treat to have like fresh green beans. So they had been freshly picked. That word went all through the neighborhood. People sent their little babies and children. Everybody with a pillow case, like...we would fill them up, and get those beans. It was a white driver driving the truck and he was just screaming and then he just gave up cause it was so many people there just grabbing those beans off the ground even though they were grabbing sometimes dirt. It was just like a rush. And what I remember during that time it was like, it just seemed like everything was really dark and dingy and, and people were in a state of hunger at that time. Why I felt that way, I don't know. But I remember feeling like that was something from God that was so miraculous that this truck tipped over in our neighborhood and people had so many green beans to eat and back then, you know, we had to snap them and do all that. But nobody cared because you had food then. It was like you had fresh green beans. Guy couldn't call the police, he could call anybody because there were no cell phones back then. He just sat on the curb and just watched his whole truck get demolished. I mean just everything was taken off of those, I mean no green beans left. Not one. (Laughter).

Owen Taylor:

So did you grow up also shelling peas?

Demalda Newsome:

Yeah, I mean it was just a regular thing to do. Like if you wanted to eat, it was a way of keeping your food for the winter. It was so much work and it was so hot in Mississippi, there were no air conditions for a long time. People only had box fans. And the way I got cool was I would, I would go and hide in the closet and lay on the cold floor, cause it was just I, it was as if I wasn't even from Mississippi itself. Like I just could not take the heat. I would lay there for hours on that floor trying to cool off. And then air conditioners came along, you know before then everybody had screen doors and screen windows and they were up all night, all day. And you put the box fan in there. But it was just blowing hot air. So we were just blessed that when air conditioners did come out, we were one of the families that was able to get an air conditioner. But it was a lifesaver for me because I just knew I was not gonna make it.

Owen Taylor:

So your memory of shelling peas is just heat.

Demalda Newsome:

It was just so much heat. And it was, it was like you had to get it done, you had to get it done, you would get a big bowl and then you think, “Oh well I'm done”. You were never done. It was never ending. It just seemed like it went on and on and on, you know, but we were thankful for it in the winter time when mom would come out and, you know, take it out the freezer and, and, and make these peas that we had put up for the summer that we had shelled. It was me and my three sisters. We all shelled peas.

Owen Taylor:

Where'd the peas come from?

Demalda Newsome:

You know, it used to be people that come out, come, you know, down the street in cars...well, old fashioned trucks. They would come in these trucks and, and they, they'd scream, you know, watermelon, watermelon man. Or then they'd have peas and fresh greens and they would holler out in a song of sorts to let you know what they had that day and people would rush to the truck and purchase it. That was the way that they did it.

Owen Taylor:

Do you remember at all any of the songs they might sing?

Demalda Newsome:

I just remember the one, the watermelon man, but I can't sing so I don't wanna embarrass myself, but he would say, "watermelon, watermelon man whoa, watermelon, watermelon man." You know, every kid in the neighborhood loved watermelon. So we'd all be begging our mom to "please mom get us watermelon, get us a watermelon." But they would also, like I said, they'd sell peas and things, but always, there was a neighbor that grew a lot of things like that and they would share with the next door neighbors. You know, some of their bounty that they would, that they would get, but I don't know. It had become to some people a source of shame to get garden-raised food. They didn't want people to know because it made it seem like they were very poor, if they were having to grow a garden to eat, which I as a child never understood that and I'm thinking "ah you know, these vegetables look great", but some people felt it was, you know, shameful do to grow a garden or to eat from a garden. But that was a lifesaver for most people. I remember too in the summers, the way I would eat, it would be a group of girls and we, you know, we were on our own little posse so we, we gathered together in the morning in one, you know, special location and then we'd wait to the - to whomever house that we were gonna go to - that they had gone to work. And so, we knew where every peach, plum tree, pear tree, we knew where every one of them were in our neighborhood. And we'd wait till they go to work and raid the trees. I remember just sitting, you know, somewhere in the empty vacant lot and laying on the ground and just eating peaches or plums and you know, the juice dripping all over our faces and arms, you know. I just remember that. And then a rumor went out and I don't know if it was ever true but it became really bad cause a lot of people when they got home their branches would be broken down. And that wasn't our group of people. Apparently, you know, some other group had done that, but we would tried to be (FRONT DOOR) really careful when we would go in to get the peaches and plums and things. But, um, a rumor had gone out that this woman (FRONT DOOR) had sprayed her tree and some child had gone while the people were gone and eaten the fruit and died and that, that kind of put an end to what we were doing. Cause after that our parents said, you all are probably going around eating. You know, cause we never brought our loot of fruit home. We just ate it in you know, an empty lot or something that was in the neighborhood. Like I said, that was the end of it.

I just remember relocating back here to Mississippi and the first thing I wanted to find was where are those neighborhood trees that were in the front yards and, and backyards? And they were all gone and I couldn't understand it. I remember going to a, um, farm service agent, an NRCS person too and asking them like what happened to all the fruit trees. This place was abundant with fruit trees, you know, pomegranates, big, huge pomegranates and all those things that when I was in Oklahoma you paid a lot of money for, and these were just on trees here, but the, the trees were all gone. And what I was told that that some, some um, some kind of virus had hit back in the 90s that took out a lot of the fruit trees and they just never, people never put them back cause the people that would have owned it would've been great grandparents. And so I, I guess the, the ones that were still here didn't find that, you know, as valuable. Or they didn't think that people would eat off those, still eat off the trees. I don't know, but I know, I was very disappointed. And one of the things I'd like to do is to kind of maybe perhaps look into some sorts of funding to bring back those neighborhood fruit trees and teach children that they're edible. You can eat directly from the tree. (PHONE DING) We didn't wash them off or anything. Now I'm not saying don't wash your stuff off, but I'm saying as a kid we did not wash our stuff off. We were so happy to get those plums and pears and none of us got sick.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

I think that's why you all didn't get sick, because you ate foods with all the microbes and all the good bacteria on it. Now they understand, white man's science proves, there are more probiotics for your gut health contained in the core of an apple than eating yogurt. So when you eat apple, the skin and the core and that sort of thing, you get all of that good bacteria in a way that you just would never get it.

Demalda Newsome:

Now we would, you know, back then, we weren't scared of worms. We'd like eat around and try to pull the worm out with our finger or something and just eat the part where the worm wasn't. You know, we, we didn't freak out about seeing a worm in something, you know, you just ate around it and you know, just kept eating. And I remember eating figs, figs have so many ants in it and we didn't care about eating the ant back then. You know, it just cause the, the fig is so good. We were just like, Oh my God, it's so sweet. Cause back then parents didn't let you have a lot of sweet stuff. You know, it was something, this new disease that it was only talked about in whispers and they thought for sure that that's what caused people to have this disease. And they called it "sugar diabetes" or no they would say "sugar". That person has sugar. But it was said in a whisper like: "Oh yeah they got sugar. Shh don't talk about it". And they looked at it as a cancer almost and that's the way they talked about it. And then back then we actually got worms, you know, like real ones, you know, you'd go to the bathroom when you found a worm coming out of you. And I mean, you know, as a kid you're freaking out because something has come out your body that wasn't like the regular stuff that comes out your body. Now that freaked us out. We didn't care about eating worms and stuff but you didn't want one coming out of you. Sorry, but that's, you know, that's just one of those stories that people don't know about that back then. Now I never hear of any kids having worms, you know? So apparently maybe the immunizations or something else. I don't know what they're doing.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

Kid's don't get worms now?

Demalda Newsome:

They don't get worms anymore. Most young parents have never heard of what I'm telling you today that you could actually go to the restroom with a stomachache and then you, then you give birth to a worm. The longest damn worm you've ever seen.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

Mommy they had worms when I was a kid! We had worms!

Demalda Newsome:

I know you all were the last generation to have worms and it was, it was, it was sort of an anomaly that you all had them.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

No.

Demalda Newsome:

Yes, it was the doctor...they have not really been treating a lot of children for worms.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

But you see, this is why we kept mustard greens in our garden mustard and turnip greens in our gardens. They were fumigants. They were fumigants. Most of our ailments were stomach ailments. I didn't know people didn't get worms anymore. I had no idea.

Demalda Newsome:

But the worms you all had got were pinworms that come down at night. These were not the worms that you, you sat on the toilet and just gave birth to. I mean that was different. And I mean now thank God nobody has to birth a worm anymore.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

Well I don't know about that cause I think that probably not, I don't know if I would thank God for it because not worms means that there's something not in the environment. It's good. I mean I don't want to have worms again ever, but what does it mean that we in such a sterile environment and then we also don't have near as many birds. You know what I mean?

Demalda Newsome:

Though when you're a little kid and you're there screaming, somebody got to pull that worm out. Yeah. That's not cool.

Owen Taylor:

So switching gears a little bit. (Laughter) We really went down a wormhole.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

I think it's important to talk about those old ailments though, baby. Particularly for people especially like in the North and stuff where there's just so little like connection to...people didn't take care of...like, I don't even know, did you go to the doctor if you had worms?

Demalda Newsome:

No, everything got taken care of at home. Back then, you didn't go to a doctor they gave you, um, what, what was that one? Turpentine. Turpentine either killed you or healed you. I mean that's what it was. You had a little bit of it.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

But there's other stuff we took for worms, I have it written down on that list of Mississippi cures.

Demalda Newsome (15:55):

I just remember if you had to get turpentine, you were dealing with something real serious, it was like the mother of getting rid of anything that was serious. Like if turpentine couldn't do it then you are going to die anyway.

Owen Taylor:

Do you remember other home remedies?

Demalda Newsome:

Now see my grandma was the kind of person that she didn't do a whole lot of, you know, old fashioned remedies. Well she did things like when I had a baby, you know, um, and I was having real bad cramps. And then, um, I went to take my shower and when I got back and I laid down in the bed and I didn't have any more severe cramps and, and she asked me, "are you still cramping?" I said, "no". And what I found out she had done was she had put a sharp axe between the mattress and the um, you know, what do you call it? The board. And it cut off the, the sharp cramps that I was having. You know, unbeknown to me, I didn't know why they just stopped. It was miraculous. Thank you God. I was just so glad they stopped cause they were, you know, real extreme and I guess that's a uterus, you know, contracted and everything trying to get back into shape. But I know things like that. She didn't really do a whole lot of things like um, my husband's mom where she would use fat back and put it on open wounds and things like that. I found that really shocking. That was different than I had grown up with. I think mine was mostly... We got medication, my grandma would buy Castoria if you needed it or you know, um, whatever, constipation, whatever, things like that. Or we had Creomulsion and it had the things in it. It had those old kinds of medicines in it. Um, and we never took Father John because it had castor oil in it. We took Castoria, which would taste better. But my husband, they were taking Father John and they were taking a big dose of Cod liver oil.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

But you all took castor oil too, you gotta remember, especially like nowadays castor oil is considered a home remedy. And it wasn't medicine.

Demalda Newsome:

Well we didn't do caster oil. Mama didn't do it.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

Why'd you all give us castor oil? You didn't take castor oil?

Demalda Newsome:

I only remember taking it like one time and I don't know why mom did it that one time. It was not a continuum.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

Why did y'all give it to us?

Demalda Newsome:

Um, because your dad had used it. So I was like, okay, well you know, he grew up with that and he felt like that was something you wanted to do. He said it really helps the kids get through the flu, the cold season, all of that. And you've got that during cold and flu season. You got that big dose of warm castor oil with a little bit of sugar in it. And then you just took the biggest spoonful you could. It was horrible tasting, but the kids, they really didn't get a lot of colds and things.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

I think it protects you for old age too.

Demalda Newsome:

Perhaps. So since you had it while you were young.

Owen Taylor:

So we're sitting here preparing for big Christmas meal. I'm wondering if you remember the like quintessential, like most important dishes from this area, from your grandparents' generation that have made maybe some that made it to the future, maybe something that didn't.

Demalda Newsome:

Well, one of the ones that didn't and I tried to bring it back and, and I did at Thanksgiving was Ambrosia. Ambrosia was one of the ones that, and I don't, I'm, I'm pretty sure every household didn't do it. Um, for I guess I grew up mostly what was black middle class. And so Ambrosia is this really delicious, um, concoction of fruit with coconuts, oranges in it. We use Mandarin oranges. Um, this year I use the seedless orange, but not the Halo oranges. It was another type of orange. I used that with the coconut and pineapples. And, um, and we had nuts and you put, um, I'm thinking that we put cranberry, we put cherries in it. And so you blend all of this together. But that's one of the ones that, um, if you go and you look at old Southern cookbooks is still there. And the giblet gravy, um, is something that's a must have at Christmas and Thanksgiving. But you usually do a goose - upper middle class again - you do a goose along with the turkey for, for Christmas and um, a duck and turkey or Thanksgiving. Yes. We always had like two different meats.

Owen Taylor:

Besides the meats. You know, I know that Southern peas are super important. Crowder peas, butter beans. What are like the vegetable dishes, whether they have meat in them or not. What are the most important vegetables of this region?

Demalda Newsome:

Of course, all of the greens, you know, this, uh, collard greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, and not the curly ones, you know, just a straight leaf, uh, mustard greens. My, my mom never really did collard greens that much. And Rufus, he didn't, he didn't do collard greens. He didn't like them. I don't know. So we've had a time trying to, you know, um, fix them in a way that, that he would eat them also. So what I've come up with now that people eat them is with, I blend them with cabbage, so I stir fried them with cabbage and all that. What has changed is I do more stir frying of greens than ours - they were just boiled with lots of meat and lots of um, you know, fat back and uh, salt pork and things like that. Um, and that's how the greens were made. We had sweet potatoes, you know, they were candied sweet potatoes is what we called it. And peas. Now these were not things that... peas were not really things that we ate at the holiday time. We did mostly greens and dressing and things like that.

Owen Taylor:

Hmm. So not the, not the butter beans either.

Demalda Newsome:

No, because remember they weren't in season. Those were things you, you kept in your freezer for hard times. You didn't, it wasn't brought out during celebratory times, it was just kind of brought out during hard times, getting through the winter.

Making Tamales

Chris Bolden Newsome:

Making tamales with my mama at Christmas. We eat tamales in the Mississippi Delta. They were introduced by Mexican immigrants in the 30s and 40s. They were brought up here to work and we adapted and adopted their food ways because we Africans, we liked spicy food anyway. It was a perfect mix.

Demalda Newsome:

Some things have changed. I'm finding more people uh, African-Americans that can't tolerate spicy foods and yeah, I found that real strange cause when I was growing up we, we enjoyed tamales and a little spice and Tabasco. Now people like "I don't want tabasco", you know.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

It goes hand in hand with deterioration of a lot of black culture. We can't eat our foods anymore.

Demalda Newsome:

I know like our trip to Africa, it was so surprising. I don't know why I found it surprising that the food was really spicy. You know, I didn't think of African food as being that spicy.

Aunt Veronica:

You go to Nigeria, your food be burning up.

Demalda Newsome:

I mean, yeah, but the, the African food here has been, I don't know, it's been kind of toned down for, for Americans, but in Africa you get the full African flavor and the spiciness, like it's really spicy,

Chris Bolden Newsome:

You grew up eating hot food. Black people, to my knowledge, I always ate hot food everywhere. There was one thing that distinguished us. One thing was common to us, no matter where I went, Negros in Omaha or in Oklahoma, well I don't know about Oklahoma, well, a that's a different breed of Black. They don't really eat hot food. Shoot, they don't really eat no hot food. I don't know what to say about that.

Demalda Newsome:

But I always thought, you know, coming up and especially being in my young twenties that, that, um, that was just something almost sacred to black people is that we, we, we could eat spicy foods, but now I'm finding more and more people like, "Oh, like this hot"

Chris Bolden Newsome:

Even white people in the South ate spicier food than white people in the North. I expected when I went to the North... Black people up there, you know, they can't take nothing. Black pepper to them is hot.

Demalda Newsome:

Yeah. I used just a tiny bit of cayenne when I, when I moved back here and people were like, my tongue is on fire and it's like, it's a very little bit in there. So when I have guests now I have to really know that they can tolerate any kinds of spice.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

I don't ask, child. I just make it and you're going to eat it. You're not gonna eat. And most times they like it and they've had to drink a lot of water, whatever. But I ain't, I ain't tolerating, these folk need to learn how to eat their traditional foods in they traditional way. I ain't making no concessions.

Demalda Newsome:

People here act like you need to call the fire department when they eat something like it's so hot, so, so hot. And it is, it is. It's like, this it's not fun.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

Maybe people are old and they stomach can't take anymore what they used to be, what they used to be able to take.

Demalda Newsome:

But you see, this something, you know, cause our grandchildren, they can eat hot chips and hot Cheetos and all kinds of hot spicy chips, but they cannot stand in spicy foods.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

These kids can't eat our food?

Demalda Newsome:

No. These, these do because, you know, it's forced upon them that if you're gonna, you know, they, they see the, the analogy between hot Cheetos and, um, and eating hot food, you know, so that's the difference. They, they, they see that it's, it's real.

Owen Taylor:

Can you tell us what you're doing here? Like what's the process?

Demalda Newsome:

Okay, so we, we, we started our, um, our steaming pots going. Um, we put the insets in there, the steaming basket part, and then we have the bamboo, um, steamers going. So we actually have like four pots on, but a total of six steamers. Or three pots. How many is that? It's about five steamers, maybe five steamers going, yeah, we've got them doubled up.

Owen Taylor:

Okay. So what's the next step?

Chris Bolden Newsome:

You make the masa. Take the masa and put the masa in the leaf. And we soak the leaf.

Demalda Newsome:

So we clean the leaves off. And so I was telling him, like, you really still have to look at them and clean them, make sure that they're clean. They look clean, but we gotta make sure that they're clean. Um, and so, um, and so after that they soaked for a little bit to make them, um, more moveable as we're putting the, um, we're doing vegetarian ones, so we're putting the beans and cheese and, and jalapenos and onions, garlic, putting all that together. So we, we pat the, we form the dough, we make the masa and mix it up and form the dough into little clumps. So we gather a little clump and we pat it into the husk and then start layering from that. Layer our beans and, and, um, peppers and cheese and rolled it up.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

Well, you know what, I saw mommy, when we was in Africa. This is not, I know why we adapted this so quickly. It's why, why is the Mexican workers, they brought it. Probably they was eating it for their lunch and share it with us cause I'm sure they had to live where we lived. And I know they didn't live where white people lived.

Demalda Newsome:

That's the story that I read on Southern Food Alliance is that the Mexicans were also working in the fields. Um, and this was during...I understand this was during the time of slavery.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

Slavery?

Demalda Newsome:

I'm pretty sure. Maybe I may have that messed up.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

There were no Mexicans working in the fields during slavery, mommy.

Demalda Newsome:

No, that's what they're saying, I don't know. Let me look it back up just to be sure. But it was either after that or after the civil war that they were here, but they were working side by side in the fields together.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

This is late. This is in the thirties this is like in the thirties. But see when we went to Africa we saw that they were all, when we got there they were, they... People were eating basically what were tamales. In Ghana, West Africa they call it Banku and Banku is fermented masa. All it is is Masa that's fermented, wrapped up in a corn leaf look just like this. It is flavored by its fermentation and you use that as a base and you eat, you eat stuff with it, you take it out, they heat it up and then they heat it up and they use it as a starch to each your meat with to eat your beans with. So it was basically the same thing. So you know, and I'm sure before corn made to Africa, we were already eating, we were eating something else. All a tamal is is a dumpling. Everybody eat dumplings. Every culture got their own dumpling.

Demalda Newsome:

Hmm.

Owen Taylor:

Can you describe what you're doing right this minute and the plate that's in front of you?

Chris Bolden Newsome:

Breaking up. Shit, messing this up. Damn.

Owen Taylor:

Can you use a little more imagery?

Chris Bolden Newsome:

I'm folding the tamal with the, with the masa and the filling in it, you know I'm tying it up with another string from that I made out of ripped up hoja of the the mais corn leaf.

Demalda Newsome:

I like that it tears right along the grain. I mean, it makes a straight tear. So, yeah, I like that. Makes it lot easier to put it together. So we're closing the top and the bottom. So when we steam them, it won't just, you know, seep out of the top. I'm thinking if we put them tightly together as tight as we can without, you know, putting any indention in it so deep that it doesn't look like a tamale, I think it'll be all right.

Owen Taylor:

Did you make these when you were in Oklahoma?

Demalda Newsome:

We did when, um, when Rumal would come home, um, during the holidays, him and I would, um, at the Christmas break make these tamales together. I would make the meat ones and he'd make the vegetarian and sweet dessert ones. Yeah. I didn't think about making them until he, um, you know, he kept reminding me of, of having them back in Mississippi and never really thought about making them and how it was.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

In Mississippi people don't make them, people buy them. I mean, it is always just one lady who make it in the neighborhood and everybody else buy it from her. It's getting like that in Mexico too, from my understanding. Traditionally this is Christmas food. This is like Holy day food. You make it, I don't know why Christmas. It’s a native American tradition, but people make it at Christmas time and it used to be, my understanding, in Mexico, everybody, people would make it. All ladies get together and you make an literally a tub, a big old tub and it was an all night affair and you did it Christmas Eve and you had them all and then you just had tamales upon tamales, upon tamales. And now people just wait for the person, for whoever the lady is who knows how to make it, to make it so, cause I'm vegetarian and in Mississippi you can get a lot of tamales in the Delta but you can't get none vegetarian nowhere.

Demalda Newsome:

Well now this one guy started selling some, but I don't think he makes it. Yeah, he doesn't make it in mass quantities. You may have to order them.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

But you know, Mexicans don't make a lot of vegetarian tamales. The only vegetarian tamales that I've had has been from Salvadorians or central Americans. They usually make it just straight corn.

Aunt Veronica:

(Hard to hear) Pepper tamales, vegetables, I've seen all that.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

Well, not in Mississippi. In Mississippi, they only want the pork and they want their tamal to be red and dripping with grease.

Demalda Newsome:

Oh yeah. Grease make it better.

 

Chris Bolden Newsome:

Eat it with Coca-Colas

 

Demalda Newsome:

Yeah. Coca-Cola's, crackers, or when we were younger, we had it with donuts, hot donuts. We eat the tamale, the sweet and salty together.

Owen Taylor:

Where would you get them?

Demalda Newsome:

We got it at Shipley donuts.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

Best donuts in creation.

Demalda Newsome:

That's what they say. The best donuts. So you get to see them being made and, and you get to get hot donuts.

Owen Taylor:

That's the doughnut place that's still downtown there?

Demalda Newsome:

Um, they have one store downtown, but it's one...

Chris Bolden Newsome:

Uh uh, we didn't go to the one downtown.

Demalda Newsome:

Well we did go to the one downtown because this other one wasn't here.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

No, that's downtown mommy? The one...

Aunt Veronica:

Over the railroad tracks.

Demalda Newsome:

That, right. That's the one we went to. Cause the other one wasn't here.

Demalda Newsome:

The one on number one, highway number one.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

Oh you are talking about when you was little.

Demalda Newsome:

When I was little. When you were little, it was there.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

When I was little that's the one we went to.

Demalda Newsome:

Right. But when we were little...

Chris Bolden Newsome:

But, that one was not open then why to they have pictures in there from segregation days.

Demalda Newsome:

Ok. They took some of the pictures from back then.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

I thought so, cause they got only them pictures of all them nice white ladies eating their donuts.

Demalda Newsome:

We never drove out that far. You know, it was kind of scary to drive into territory that you know, you knew was all white. Um, so we wouldn't have really come out this far.

Aunt Veronica:

Yes, we would have. We came that far with the mall being there.

Demalda Newsome:

No I'm talking about before that, before that.

Aunt Veronica:

We did if you were going down to South Bend the back way down Reed Road.

Demalda Newsome:

I don't remember going down Reed Road when I was younger, I remember that was coming this way. This was too far. Cause you didn't have cell phones. If you got in trouble with people. No cell phones.

Owen Taylor:

Did you hear stories of people getting in trouble out here?

Demalda Newsome:

Well getting in trouble, like if your car broke down, you're in an all white neighborhood. I mean you know that anything could have happened.

Aunt Veronica:

(Disagreeing).

Demalda Newsome:

I don't know why you didn't think they would do anything to you, but it was rumored. It was rumored.

Aunt Veronica:

It was rumored, but there was book. Greenville, Mississippi…(Disagreeing).

Demalda Newsome:

Yeah, but I lived in a lot of fear. I couldn't wait to get away from it. Having grown up in fear.

Aunt Veronica:

We didn't think about as much about prejudice as much as the other....

Demalda Newsome:

That's not true. I don't know where she grew up.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

Well you know mommy? That's true. No, what she's saying - Greenville - no she is true. The Delta.

Aunt Veronica:

Greenville didn't have that problem.

Demalda Newsome:

No, I'm not going to say that they didn't have the problem, but there was more black - this was the seat of black power. She's right. She right. There was more black-white cooperation here. You don't know, mommy. You grew up in Greenville, thank God. But honestly, the rest of Mississippi was hell for black people. The Delta. I, I, she right. I'm gonna tell you what - I have in Mississippi history textbook that states, and this textbook speaks with such vitriol and venom about the Delta, especially about Greenville. That's how I know that black people were successful. They talk about, they say, "Oh black..." They believed that black people were being put over white - over poor white farmers here. Because black people were successful. After reconstruction and stuff, black people here had got more clout and so the Delta has always been prosperous for black people, historically. You've got to think about this is this is the seat of Mt Bayou and Fannie Lou Hamer. Oh no, you was always scared cause white - I mean white folks still, you know, were rude and they still had a lot of wickedness in them. Especially people in power, you know? Yeah, absolutely. But I'm saying that it'd be better to be black here. You have more chance of being successful, which is why I would imagine per capita you have fewer black people leave the Delta historically until recently than you did other parts of Mississippi.

Aunt Veronica:

It is, it is a article that was written up. I don't know if it was the Dallas newspaper or what...

Demalda Newsome:

I don't care about no article. I'm telling you it was a scary time to grow up in Mississippi here. Maybe it wasn't a lot of things directly with the Klan activities and stuff, but just hearing about it - like we grew up hearing about Emmett Till. But just hearing about it, it was enough to put a lot of fear in you and hearing about hangings and things like that and that that could happen to you. I mean, to me that was, that was fearful.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

But here in the Delta was a place, mommy, that historically has always been more successful black people and more black people getting together. I mean, you, um, even it's even the stories you all tell about Sacred Heart and stuff, how, how, you know, you have white nuns and priests and stuff, even though they were foreigners, there was more cooperation. People who actually gave black people a chance and, and allowed, you know, I mean, it wasn't as suffocating as it was in other parts of the state or in other parts of the South even. We were more prosperous here because you think about the bad, the proof of it is at Greenwood in Tulsa was named Greenwood and I didn't know that. I learned that it was named Greenwood after Greenwood, Mississippi. Yes. It wasn't named Gulf Port. It wasn't named Spit Bucket or none of them other places. It was named Greenwood because black people were successful in the Delta and they wanted to remember, they want you to remember where they came from. So I'm not saying it wasn't bad, it was bad all over. I mean Malcolm X said all of America is Mississippi. You know, but um, but I think pound for pound, if you had - and I didn't live in the 60s or the 50s anything, but they say if you had to be black in Mississippi, you rather be black in the Delta than somewhere down South.

Aunt Veronica:

And even when we integrated schools for the first time in early ‘72 or whatever, and I was going to the seventh grade they said we didn't have no problem with riots, people fighting.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

Didn't have people clubbing and stuff like that.

Demalda Newsome:

No, it wasn't quite that easy because we went before it actually segregated. Connie and I went to Solomon before it was, yeah, before I was actually desegregated and it was, it was rough. We were, we were kicked. We were, we were hit from behind. All kinds of stuff. Yeah. Yeah. They kicked us in our butts when we got out of that classroom and then finally some of the girls felt bad because we were girls and they were watching us…

Chris Bolden Newsome:

White girls?

Demalda Newsome:

Um, yeah, few of them felt bad and said, "you know what, that's still a girl. Don't, don't do that to girls." And then we had some that actually stood up for us, but they were poor kids that did that, that stood up for us. But we had a really good principal, Mr. Dunaway and he, he, he was ready for integration. Yeah. When I went to public school and he's like, he, he had a conversation, I guess they, they had a conversation with the white kids and then he came in, you know, we had a meeting with all of the black students, so anytime we would have real problems, um, mr Dunaway, um, we didn't have to convince him of what had happened. He knew what was going on and what, what we said when we, you know, took anything to him that it was true. I mean just hit, kicked...cause the prints of their feet would be on the back of our clothes and things like that. They knew we weren't making it up. And they had to assign the seats on the bus cause the white students didn't want to, they wanted to sit in the front but they didn't allow them to sit in the front. They made us sit, all of the black students sat in the front two seats they were reserved for us. Oh yeah. They were angry about that.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

They would make up lies that we was being put over them when really folks were just trying to get equality or, or trying not to be in the back of the bus where any number of ungodly things could have happened to you in the back of the bus.

Demalda Newsome:

Some of the white students got off of the bus. Rather than ride with us sitting in the front. I'm telling you it was, it was, it was something. Now I remember all of that. They'd stick us with, you know, stick pins and all kinds of stuff and sometimes the black guys would stand up for us when the white boys would do stuff and then they would end up fighting and then a lot of them would jump on the black boys and you know, so it'd be an all out fight, its awful.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

But could you imagine, mommy, something like that could have turned into a dangerous situation in which death could have occurred in another part of Mississippi. That's all I'm saying.

Demalda Newsome:

Good thing nobody used knives back then, now probably people would use knives and guns.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

But you think about it, Emmet Till was killed for a lot less than that. Just in another part of the state. Could you imagine a black boy standing up for some black girl's honor? Um, you know, somewhere else. Them white folks wouldn't tolerate that.

Owen Taylor:

Can we ask you about your work with social justice through your farm Oklahoma, but also with your national work and your work in the South in general, supporting black farmers and poor farmers?

Demalda Newsome:

Well, one of the things was um, in Oklahoma, you know, we did, we opened up the first farmer's market on an actual farm since the history of statehood. So, I did a lot of work around um, getting farmer's markets and..well Chris and I did it together. Chris moved back home for almost a year and him and I worked on Oklahoma, not Mississippi, cause he considers his home to be here in Mississippi. We both were born here, but, um, so Chris and I worked on getting them the WIC, um, extension of the Women Infant Children program where they got fresh vegetables. And so we worked with the state. I think we were one of the only, um, non-governmental agencies to be invited into the conversation when they were starting out. We help with surveys and putting surveys together, um, for the program before it actually started. And so we did, uh, did that and we were able to successfully, you know, with the, with the state, get that put in place. And so with the WIC, uh, they're able to get fresh vegetables at farmer's markest. And then also through the snap they're able to get extra, uh, fruits and vegetables. Um, and so also with the senior WIC program, we were working with that also. Um, we were one of the first ones in Eastern Oklahoma to work with the, um, a native American tribe to get, um, with their WIC program and they, they, uh, we did their WIC and their senior farmer's market. Um, so we, we had farmers, uh, to come and sell their vegetables to them. Um, we also started the first school garden on the East side of Oklahoma as well. And that's, no, I'm talking about Newsome Community Farms. That's one of the things that we did along with, um, going out and promoting community gardens in the community and not just promoting them. We were getting seeds for them and for backyard gardeners along with, um, anyone who started a community garden. We did community garden trainings and school garden trainings. Those were some of the things that we put on, uh, in Oklahoma. But we also worked... Um, Chris and I worked to get the healthy corner store initiative going in, in Oklahoma. Our group, we did all of the research and you know, on it being developed in another area. At that time I was on the Community Food Security coalition board. And so they were working on the healthy corner store nationally. It was a national program. And so Philadelphia is where they did the first big training of it. And so we were in there. It was Chris and I and one other young lady and we all three went to different sessions and brought that information back to a young man that was running for state legislative and state representative. So when he, he did that, that was part of his platform was community food. Um, and so when he got elected, um, he proposed the legislation, um, to make the healthy corner store um, part of, um, you know, other state government's assistance to anyone that wanted to start a healthy corner store model. So they, they had, um, tax incentives along with a $300,000 loan that they could get, you know, government loan. So that was set up through that legislation. And of course after that, you know, it just kinda catapulted the, um, the food justice movement, you know, and really talking about food justice in a way where everybody gets to eat, you know, good food. Before it was just conversation about lack of, um, of, of good food and communities, but we were promoting that there are deeper reasons why people aren't able to get good food, you know, besides transportation is set up, it's kinda set up that way. So those were some of the things that, um, our organization talked and promoted.

Owen Taylor:

And you're still a part of, um, some national and regional efforts even since you've moved back to Mississippi. What, what are you still involved with?

Demalda Newsome:

I'm still on the board of Food First out of Oakland, California. And so it does not just national work but international work as well. Um, we also work with countries in Africa and some other places.

Owen Taylor:

What kind of work is that or what is, what is the role that you play in that as a board member?

Demalda Newsome:

Well as a board member, I was responsible for the national food day. I was the representative for, for Food First on that. And so my, my role is to keep the conversation and keep, um, information flowing on food justice, on food, um, sovereignty because it's very important that the food be food from the community making the choices on their food and not outside forces or, or people that are not part of those communities making choices for those communities so that, um, that it remains, the sovereignty of all of it remains in that community. Most communities are intelligent enough to choose healthy options that are part of their culture. So that's, that's what we promote.

Owen Taylor:

What, what do you hope for the Mississippi Delta in the future around food, food sovereignty and food justice and what do you hope for your time now that you're back here?

Demalda Newsome:

Well, I hope to be able to impact this community in a way that is sustainable. Like hoping to do some changes or letting people know that you know, planting a seed and you own your own food source. You, you own your own food and not just stuff you buy from the store. It's like it's yours, you know, from the seed to the table. It's your food. Like own it and not let any sources own it for you. It's just to tell people that and tell them and show them that you can do this. Anybody can do it. You can do it in tubs… Learning to compost, learning to go back to nature, eating from fruit trees, eating, you know, planting a tree. And it may not come from the older people, you may have to start, you know, with the youngest of them that are willing and open to learning. So that's kind of what I want to do while I'm here.

Owen Taylor:

That's beautiful. Maybe as the last piece, could you describe, you mentioned that the farmer's market at your, at your farm in Oklahoma was the first in the state - on farm. Um, but could you paint a picture of what was on your farm? What else was on your farm and also what you hope for your farm, your land here?

Demalda Newsome:

Well, our farm also was a teaching farm. So if you came there, you didn't just pick up vegetables. You actually got to go in the field and see them growing. And also we had a setup where you could plant something right there at the table. We had another table where you could sit and plant. We also went out with them to pick and harvest, you know, if they didn't want what was at the table, we took them out to the field. We had some of the, the um, a small plot in front of the actual market that had some of the things that were represented on the tables. And so we took, we'd take people there and some of them would want to go in the big field cause they couldn't believe that we grew all of that stuff. So we'd take them in the back field. And then we had Architects Without Borders come out and they built a, um, a composting toilet, you know. So we had that as part of the farm experience with everything if anyone need to go to the restroom. Cause you know, when you bring little children, they always say "I need a restroom!" But we had that set up too. So it was a fun day. You know, it was like a, a day of, of, of going back in time. We had chickens running around kittens, you know, running around. It was just really nice.

We had a mini miniature fruit orchard. So we showed people that they could do what they saw us doing. They could do that too. So that was the purpose of the small plot to show them that, you know, it was doable in their yard. And then the larger one, if you had more land, here's a way to do like miniature fruit trees that don't have to be really really tall, but you know, so we did a little permaculture, um, showing them some different techniques, uh, for pest control, natural pest control. So everything was done organically, you know, not just planted organically, but just kinda in tune with the way nature is. That's, that was our thing. And I'm hoping to replicate a little bit of that here on this farm, you know, as, as we progress along.

Owen Taylor:

Starting with the bees?

Demalda Newsome:

Yeah. We're starting with the bees here. Um, there's a lot of spraying in the Mississippi Delta and so we were just blessed to find property that had a forest. So we're having to rethink how we traditionally farmed in Oklahoma. So we're going to use the forest as a canopy though, hopefully, I don't know, curtail some of the, uh, the drift of the pesticides from the fields. Hopefully it'll, it'll catch it before it gets to the produce. But we're doing different types of stuff - not, you know, not the same traditional produce. But we do have a sign from the state, that shows them that we have bees and they're not supposed to spray anywhere near when they see those, those signs up.

Owen Taylor:

Because you're surrounded by, by fields of commodity crops.

Demalda Newsome:

Yes. Lots of soybeans and cotton and ethanol, corn, a lot of that.

Owen Taylor:

Well, do any of you all want to end on any particular note? Anything else you want people to know? Signing off here. Do you want to ask any final questions? Say anything before we close.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

I hope all people can hold onto their culture, you know, I mean, you know, for us, you know, as African people in America, sons and daughters of the diaspora, the most important thing is, you know, is our deep belief in God and our deep belief, that God is always with us. And so that's how we live. It's how we survive. And, you know, and once we have that, we feel like we have, we have God and we have each other. Um, you know, there's really nothing we can do because we survived when we weren't supposed to survive. Um, we weren't supposed to survive, you know, Mississippi. So just like, you know, the broom is sacred to black people and you know, the broom is sacred because, uh, you know, I've heard them say that the, all the different bristles, the many hundreds of bristles represent all of us. You know, and the stick, which holds all those bristles together represents God, you know, which is keeping us together. So, you know, I think that that's anything I want people to know. We're hearing this and knowing that in Mississippi, you know, we don't have a whole lot. It is the poorest state in the union, but it's also the most hospitable state and warmest state in the union. Uh, you know, and I think that a lot of that is due to our deep belief in our creator and in each other. You know, I mean that's who we are and we are at our best. So yeah, I hope that's what people know about Mississippi.

Demalda Newsome:

Yeah. And I, I think people forget that we're, we're always in the survival mode. I think now more than ever with all the climate changes and things that are going on, um, you better know how to, how to take care of yourself, you know, food wise. Cause I really believe because of everything that's going on with pesticides and people using all types of, um, genetic modified things, we're, we're in trouble. We've got to start growing our own food so that we can be healthy. Cause you don't know the consequences of what all is going on.

Princess:

Woof.

Owen Taylor:

Thanks princess. Thank you so much Mama Dee.

Demalda Newsome:

Thank you so much.

Owen Taylor:

Thanks for sharing so much about your food culture and history.

  

“Hidden Track”: Moringa

Owen Taylor:

Should we, um, do you feel up to looking inside the moringa pods?

Rufus Newsome:

Why not? Why don't we do it? I look inside the moringa pods. We have two moringa trees that we grow here on the farm. And of course, uh, the weather is so that we have to keep them inside the greenhouse or the barn during the winter just for survival sake. Because it's an African plant. It's an African plant and really can't withstand a lot of cold weather, so what we do is keep it inside the barn for the year and that sustains it until the spring. So we have how many pods do we have here? One, two, three, four, five, six. We grew six pods on two trees.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

Seven. I was about to say, no, I knew it was seven.


Jacob Newsome:

Yeah seven!

Rufus Newsome:

Oh seven, very sacred number. Oh, praise God. Okay. Why don't we open it and see what's inside. As I said, this moringa is from Africa. Brother Jacob, a friend of ours in Ghana - we got those seeds from him when we visited Africa.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

His landlady, brother Jacob who last name I can't recall right now, Brother Jacob's landlady made him cut down all those trees probably about a month after we left.

Rufus Newsome:

Listen for the crackling.

Rufus Newsome:

The first seeds. Oh, how wonderful they are.

Rufus Newsome:

This pod contained about 25 seeds and we're going to determine if these seeds are viable or not.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

That one had meat in it!

Rufus Newsome:

This plant is used for almost everything. Every part of the plant is used. Every part, the leaves, the bark, the seeds, the oil, the roots.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

If you ever had the root that tastes like horseradish? Um, if you eat this, you're going to get a little surprise. You're not gonna like the taste of it, but this is like life. Sometimes you have to eat things that don't taste good in the beginning, but if you didn't eat them, you would not know the sweetness afterwards, so have a little bit so you can see what I'm talking about.

Rufus Newsome:

Let them have one - they can bite off of one.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

And now let me get you some water. Go ahead, swallow it. Remember, life is like this - some stuff is going to be hard. You already have hard stuff in your lives.

Jala Newsome:

I don’t see what’s nasty?

Rufus Newsome:

There's nothing nasty.

Jala Newsome:

It's good!

Rufus Newsome:

Give him some water.

Jala Newsome:

I don't see what's strong about it.

Rufus Newsome:

Just drink it. Drink the water.

Jala Newsome:

Oh! I got to the last part. It tastes weird.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

What does it taste like though? What does it taste? It was just regular water.

Jala Newsome:

Ugh! It's sweet.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

It's sweet, right? It's real sweet.

Jala Newsome:

Sweet water?

Chris Bolden Newsome:

The water is not sweet. I did nothing to the water - it's the moringa. Anything you drink after that will taste sweet if you eat a moringa.

Rufus Newsome:

How did it taste?

Jala Newsome:

That's magic.

Rufus Newsome:

That's right. So we're not going to eat many more of our seeds and all.

Jala Newsome:

So one little seed can change the whole water.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

It can change the whole gallon of water. You keep drinking, keep drinking it and it will get sweeter and sweeter.

Jala Newsome:

So it's no sugar it it?

Chris Bolden Newsome:

No sugar. None. In fact. Well, we just learned, Daddy, what family do you think that that plant is in, Daddy?

Rufus Newsome:

Potato? Sweet potato?

Rufus Newsome:

Sweet potato? Where would you get sweet potato?

Jala Newsome:

Peas.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

It's interesting you would think peas - we thought peas too cause it looks like its a...

Demalda Nesome:

Cucumber?

Chris Bolden Newsome:

No. Where’d you get cucumber?

Jala Newsome:

Broccoli?

Chris Bolden Newsome:

Broccoli. It is related to broccoli and you can really taste it if you eat that root.

Rufus Newsome:

So we're going to keep every, we're going to keep this and there's a seed.

Jala Newsome:

Why we can't keep them in there?

Rufus Newsome:

They have to be planted. The baby can't stay in his mother's womb forever. He has to come out and these basically, these are babies and now they've completed the process of growth. So it's time to come out. So we're going to use cotton as a protective layer for our seeds.

Rufus Newsome:

Now these are smaller pods right here. I don't know what happened. They're a little smaller than the rest. We're going to crack these open. See how we crack those open. Like the press down on it. They're completely dry. They're dry (take the lid off). They're dry. And what we're going to do, as we said earlier, the moringa plant, every part of the plant is useful. Uh huh. (Cracking pods) Oh my goodness. Oh, that's beautiful.

Jacob Newsome:

Those look different.

Rufus Newsome:

In order to keep seeds viable, they have to dry out. And once they dry out, we store them up.

Jala Newsome:

So they can't be wet?

Rufus Newsome:

No. Uh, if they get wet, they could mildew and die. Hmm. Look at that now, these are different than the rest. What's the difference, Chris? Chris, come take a look at these.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

Oh, those look young.

Owen Taylor:

Maybe they're not fully mature.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

Yeah, those don't look like they ripened.

Rufus Newsome:

They taste richer. And I don't get that taste. Yeah, like a peanut, a little bit. So we'll let that stay - let these stay?

Owen Taylor:

(They’re) probably as ripe as they're going to get. They still ripen when their juices are flowing in the plant or in the pod....

Rufus Newsome:

You were talking about when there, when I was sharing information with you when they were growing, you said that to me: let them complete their stage...

Owen Taylor:

Basically, their pregnancy...

Rufus Newsome:

Their pregnancy.

Owen Taylor:

Because in the pod here that just like you were saying, they're basically like in the womb and they're pulling nutrients from the mother tree and so the longer it can stay on the tree, the more nutrients they'll get.

Rufus Newsome:

You know what nutrients are, you all know what nutrients are? The food from the ground comes up through the root system, goes up and feed the seeds, the pods, the babies. That's what they are.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

When your mom was pregnant with you, she had to eat her nutrients, she had to eat them through our mouth. She had to make sure she had to take prenatal vitamins. She had to make sure she ate healthy foods.

Jala Newsome:

Everything she ate was going straight to you.

Owen Taylor:

Exactly. So just like you want, you know, most births take nine months before birth in the womb you want the plant to have its entire, um, span in the pod.

Rufus Newsome:

Yeah. It has to complete the entire span.

Owen Taylor:

So if you pick a pod before it's dried out, it's, it still needed to get some more nutrients from the mother tree. So you wait until they're crispy on the tree.

Rufus Newsome:

And this is what we did because the started to crack open,

Owen Taylor:

Right. Yeah. Sometimes for one reason or another you have to harvest them a little early, whether it's about to rain on them and make them rot or a bird is trying to eat them.

Rufus Newsome:

And this is what we did. We went on and harvested those just because, because of that. We're going to place...

Jala Newsome:

Is the cotton supposed to make the, um, the, the um, what are they called again?

Rufus Newsome:

Cotton is basically the insulation. Insulation is what you have on - clothes - to keep your body, you're insulated to keep you warm. Uh, yeah. And so basically I put the cotton in there just to insulate, not to keep them warm because, um, the weather, the weather wouldn't be a problem even in cool weather wouldn't be a problem in that because now what they're doing - they're storing seeds in a refrigeration system where they are kept cool and they can't get too hot. Can they Owen? Can they get too...

Owen Taylor:

No, sir. Again, I don't know, because it's a tropical seed. With a lot of seeds. We grow, you want to keep them like 40 to 50 to 60 degrees cause it'll prolong their life. They're, they're alive and here they're breathing very slowly...

Rufus Newsome:

Do you understand what he's saying? Do you hear what he just said? Those seeds are alive. They're alive.

Owen Taylor:

That's why when you put this in the ground, it'll grow because it's living very slowly in here. So you just ate a living organism and that's what we do. That's how we survive.

Rufus Newsome:

That's good.

Jala Newsome:

Like germs?

Rufus Newsome:

No, no, no. Everything we eat was alive. And so this is just a plant. This is a seed from a plant and that's how we survive. But it's also, we save these aside for next year so we can plant and eat more next year.

Jala Newsome:

So for example, everything you can't eat, they, um, they can't, um, don't have waste or breathe or eat or use nutrients or anything like, uh, for instance, a tablecloth: it doesn't eat, drink, or have waste?

Rufus Newsome:

Well, it's not a living organism.

Jala Newsome:

That's what I'm saying.

Rufus Newsome:

These aren't this, this seed, this cotton seed is a living organism. The moringa seed. It's a living organism. The moringa leaves is not a living organism anymore. It's not alive, but it still has nutrients in here for us. But it's dead. We need to eat, live bacteria. But this is not live bacteria, but a lot bacteria is, for example, yogurt. That's live bacteria that you eat...

Chris Bolden Newsome:

But also apples...you eat the core...

Rufus Newsome:

That's good for your system, good for your body.

Owen Taylor:

These greens here are covered in really good bacteria.

Jala Newsome:

Some bacteria is not, um, good for you?

Chris Bolden Newsome:

You have to have bacteria. They have to have good bacteria. Yeah. You can't, can't live without it.

Jala Newsom:

They help you digest food.

Chris Bolden Newsome:

Exactly - and keep you from getting sick. They fight illness - do you know the whole world is surrounded by all kinds of diseases right now, but because of the good bacteria in your stomach, that you're able to fight it off and you don't ever notice it.

 


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2 comments

  • I love me some Newsomes and Bolden-Newsomes! The interactions are so wonderful. The spicy conversation was my fav part. Hmmm I can almost taste that Christmas loveliness. My grandmother and my mother never had salt and pepper at the table. My family always went with the idea that the cook knows what they are doing and you have to eat what they put before you. Never need to add anything. (unless its take out LOL)

    Dorina on
  • So insightful to hear these stories of the past through the wisdom and perspective of Demelda and Rufus. Also great to hear the realness and passion from the next generation through Chris’s knowledge and experience.

    James on

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