'Him Doing Well Was Through His Children': Sharecropper's Son Makes Dad Proud When Percy White's father left the Virginia farm he worked to move north, the land owner said he wouldn't make it, and would come back. He didn't. That is, until he returned to say "I told you so."

'Him Doing Well Was Through His Children': Sharecropper's Son Makes Dad Proud

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It's time now for StoryCorps. And today, a bit of history from the StoryCorps mobile booth. During the early 1960s, Percy White lived on a farm in Dinwiddie County, Va., with his grandparents, parents and his two sisters. They lived in a house without electricity or running water. The farm was owned by Robert Marek, who people called Mr. Marks. And Percy's family worked the fields. He came to StoryCorps with his friend, Terry Wright, to share what life was like there.

PERCY WHITE: My parents were sharecroppers - working the land, working the tobacco, pulling the little bloom that comes off so there'll be more leaves. They would put the tobacco in a barn, hang it up. And they would have a low-burning flame in there. But there has to be somebody in there to maintain the flame so it doesn't go out.

TERRY WRIGHT: All through the night?

WHITE: All through the night. And my father would have to do that. But anyway, by the time they got to market, Mr. Marks would always come up with something. Well, you know, you broke that ax. So I've got to charge you for the ax. There was gas used for the tractor. I've got to charge you for the gas. So by the time he subtracted all of these many things from all of the work that my family had done, they would get literally just a couple of dollars while Mr. Marks and his family - a white man - they were doing pretty well.

My father got upset and told Mr. Marks, I'm taking my family, and we're moving up North. Mr. Marks told my father, well, you can go up there, but you're not going to get a job. You didn't finish high school. What are you going to do? You'll be back here in no time. My father did a very hard thing, in my opinion. He left his mother, went up to D.C. and got a job.

He worked with the Washington Star newspaper as a janitor and worked his way up to a supervisor. My father, he was getting older. And he asked me to drive him and my family down to Dinwiddie County to see Mr. Marks. Mr. Marks had long since died. But Mrs. Marks was there. My father got a great deal of joy out of telling Ms. Marks - Ms. Marks, you remember Angela? She's a manager for Metro. You remember Susan, my youngest daughter. She works for NASDAQ. You remember P.L., you know, the little, chubby, fat boy...

WRIGHT: (Laughter).

WHITE: ...He was born down here. This is P.L. He went to college. He went overseas and played basketball. He's currently a probation officer. There was a great deal of pride in my father's face to tell her that because he felt like he could say, see, I told you I was going to do well. And him doing well was through his children. It's hard to explain how powerfully that sticks with me.


MARTIN: That was Percy White talking with his friend Terry Wright at StoryCorps in Arlington, Va. Their conversation will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.


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