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American Life Histories:
Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940

"Tom Bird"

SOUTH CAROLINA WRITERS' PROJECT 
LIFE HISTORY 
TITLE: TOM BIRD 
Date of First Writing February 10, 1939 
Name of Person Interviewed Mr. George Tanner 
Fictitious Name Tom Bird 
Address Highway 175, Rural 
Place Marion County 
Occupation Tenant Farmer 
Name of Writer Annie Ruth Davis {Begin handwritten} C 10 - [31/4?] - S.C. {End 
handwritten} 



 
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Project #3613 
Annie Ruth Davis 
Marion , S.C. 
Feb. 10, 1939 TOM BIRD 
(White) MARION COUNTY 
(Rural) SOUTH CAROLINA 
In sight of the crossroads of Highway No. 175 and Highway No. 502,, three miles 
from the town of Marion , stands a four-room, unpainted, tenant house, which has 
been built in the midst of open fields. Tom Bird and his wife, Miranda, have 
lived on this fifteen-acre farm for the past seven years and have managed to 
make a fair living by sharecropping their money crop with the owner of the land. 

Seldom may one pass this little home during the winter months that they cannot 
glimpse a curl of smoke disappearing into the air from one of the chimneys. 
Miranda Bird is quite deaf and can count her yearly visits on her fingers, while 
her husband leaves home only to attend to some necessary business or to chat 
with some of his country friends or neighbors about the times. 
As one nears the little dwelling, it is impossible to overlook the fact that 
some careful hands have recently swept the yard about the house nicely. A few 
rose bushes grow at scattered places about the front yard, while a couple of 
large oak trees shade the tiny back porch. Bright pink frilled curtains adorn 
the windows of the two front rooms and within the house, everything is in 
perfect order. Two bedrooms, furnished with highly 



 
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polished furniture, stretch across the front of the house and behind these 
extend the kitchen and dining room. The house is lighted by kerosene oil lamps 
and a pump, standing on the end of the back porch, supplies all the water used 
in the home. Everything about the place gives the appearance of humble, yet 
thrifty living, showing that Tom Bird and his wife make the best of the little 
they have. 
After rapping several times at the front door of the house, the door was slowly 
opened and from behind it stood a little old woman with tiny gray eyes, which 
looked up anxiously from beneath an old time sunbonnet. Without hesitating a 
moment, Miranda Bird explained that she was hard of hearing and could not talk 
to me herself, but that I might step into the next room and talk to her husband, 
who was just back from the hospital. Tom Bird had been operated on a few weeks 
before for the removal of a stone from his kidney. Dressed in a heavy brown 
shirt, he was lying in bed mainly from weakness. He seemed anxious to have 
company and insisted that I sit by the bed and talk awhile. 
"No'm, I'm just suffering from weakness, that's all," said Tom Bird. "I'm glad 
you've come for I've been wishing somebody would drop in and sit with me a 
spell. It don't worry me none to talk and me and my wife have 'bout talked all 
we know. I suffered torture for seven years with a stone in my kidney till I 
went over to Florence 'bout three weeks ago and got operated on. That operation 
done me so much good, I'm 'bout to believe all doctors are good people now. 
Yes'm, I's 'bout to believe that we couldn't live without them. I got to where I 
was so poorly and no-count, I wasn't worth nothing, but I feel a lot 



 
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better now. It looks like doctor's prices runs high, but don't reckon we ought 
to grumble being they have such a lot of expense to carry on. I stayed in the 
hospital eleven days and it cost me $35.75. That looks high, but I wouldn't be 
back in my old shape for the same money and right smart of difference. 
"Yes'm, my father was a farmer and that's what I've always been. I was born and 
raised down on Big Pee Dee Swamp in Marion County . I've done a little other 
work catching jobs in short times, but I've stuck to farming mostly and that's 
good a life anybody wants, I think. Cose I'm sixty-seven years old now and 
getting so old and poorly that if I could find something easier to do, I might 
like it better. 
"I've sho' had to work hard for all what's come to me ever since I got big 
enough to handle a hoe. My mother died when I was a infant, and I lost my father 
when I was 'bout twelve-year old. At that time, wasn't but me one left, for my 
step-mother taken my half brother and went to Columbia to live. I was forced to 
get out and hunt my own way of getting along, so I stayed from house to house 
and worked like a dog for other people. You see, when I was coming up, children 
that lost their parents had to take it rough or tumble - worked for what I got 
to eat and a little something to wear. Cose the people I stayed with was good to 
me, but I had to do as they said do and make out on what they chose to give me. 
In those days, I didn't know nothing 'bout no money. I remember the first 
twenty-five cents I ever got; know how I come of it. Man come down in the river 
swamp to run some timber off and give me twenty-five cents to tend his stock 
while he was down there. Thought 



 
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I had some money with that quarter in my pocket, I'll tell you. 
"No, I don't remember of ever going to school a day since I've been born; didn't 
know nothing 'bout there was such as a school in my young days. But education's 
sho' a good thing and something everybody ought to have. I feel like I've missed 
half my share in life not knowing no learning. Ain't learned my A.B.C's yet and 
can't fig're no count coming up. For instance, a man that don't know a fig're, 
don't never know what to do or how he's done. If I hadn't been blessed with such 
a good mother wit, I don't know how I would've done, but I got my portion of 
that. My wife, she tends to my fig'ring mostly and after my three daughters got 
up, they helped me out till they all got married and left us. I sent my children 
to that big school in Marion , but all of them quit school and married while 
they wasn't no more than kids. I wish they'd gone on and finished, but people 
makes mistakes that they can't see till it's too late. Didn't none of them think 
they'd need a education, but there ain't nothing amiss getting one 'cause that's 
something can't nobody take away from you. My youngest daughter, her husband 
died last June and she sho' needs her learning to take cere of herself and her 
six-year-old youngun. Thought when she quit school and got married she was 
fixed, but she's got to get out and make them a living now and can't find 
nothing to do what ain't calling for a education. Cose some people have so 
little sense till if they gets a little learning, they think they know it all. 
"I worked around for other people till I got married and that's been 'bout forty 
years ago, being I'm sixty-seven years old now. The first year we was married, I 
sharecropped a little piece of 



 
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land down next Pee Dee, so as to get something to give me a start. You see, I 
was set out in the world with nowhere to lay my head and nothing to do with, but 
folks was good to help us along till we could get a little ourselves. The second 
year we was married, I rented twenty-five acres of land for $50.00 and rented a 
twenty-two acre farm the next year for a dollar and a quarter a acre. Both 
places been over next Pee Dee Swamp. We made pretty good them first two years, 
but lost 'bout everything that last one and had to start all over new. We was 
living down on the river's swamp and the fresh water come up in August and 
drowned everything we had. At that time, I was so down and out that I just 
worked around here and yonder for what I could get four or five years. But I 
couldn't make no headway in that line, so I moved over on Mr. Foxworth's place 
and sharecropped a couple of years to get me another start. After that, I moved 
up on Sheriff Blue's place, where we lived something like twelve years. I worked 
on Mr. Blue's plantation three years for fifty cents a day along with a little 
extra land to tend for my own - planted a garden, little potatoes, corn, and 
such as that. And when there wasn't much to do on the farm, I worked on the 
railroad shoveling for ninety cents a day. Then I worked in the timber woods 
sometimes a little along and along and drawed a dollar a day for that. Them odd 
jobs fitted in mighty well in short times, too, I'm here to tell you. We just 
rented clean out them last nine years we lived on Mr. Blue's place and spent our 
money like we pleased. We didn't make no money crop then but cotton, something 
like four or five bales a year, and it 


 
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never brought but five cents a pound. Still we got along pretty well to Sheriff 
Blue's place 'cause we made what rations we needed mostly. That's where my 
children got most of their raising. 
"After the old sheriff died and all my children married off, me and my wife 
thought we could do better trying a little sharecropping again. Well, we got 
word that a man wanted somebody to run his fifteen-acre farm over here on 
shares, so we made up with him to move on this place. The man what owns this 
place, he furnishes the land, the manure, the house we live in, and that big 
corn barn out there, while I puts in all the work and carries the crop on my one 
horse for half what money crop we make. It used to be I farmed the whole outfit 
for half the crop, even the potatoes, but that didn't noways make enough for us 
to get along on. Cose our corn land, that's always been ours. 
"I don't know exactly what I make on this land, but I've a pretty good idea of 
what it comes to. I made something like $500.00 money crop last year, including 
tobacco and cotton, but cose that had to be divided half with the other man. 
Then I know I raised 125 bushels of corn and I think that will be just bare 
enough to carry us through. Made 'bout fourteen bushels of potatoes in all, 
'bout enough to run us to spring, I reckon. Potatoes will sho' surprise you 
though - might think you've got a lot, but when they's measured up, seems like 
there ain't none hardly. We have 'bout twenty head of chickens and four hogs 
what I raises mostly for home use. Always try to have a little hogs, so as to 
eat a little hog and hominy as the old saying is. We sell a right smart of eggs 
along and along and have a nice gentle cow that furnishes us in 



 
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milk and butter. I wish we could raise turkeys and guineas, but we can't keep 
them here because of living so close to the highway. We can't watch them all the 
time and they will wander out on the road and get run over. Yes'm, we commonly 
uses what we makes a year on this place for what we're obliged to get. 
"Like all these farmers 'bout here, I don't plant such money crop these days 
because of all this government control. It looks like it ain't right to what 
we've been raised, planting what cotton and tobacco we pleased, but still it 
ain't near like it used to be. Yes'm, I'd rather have tobacco control myself for 
it gives us poor farmers a better chance, but it ain't all dealt right. I 
believes in some of this farmer business and if they'd treat everybody right, 
I'd rather have government contracts. But some gets more acres to plant than 
others and that just ain't fair. I think everybody ought to get so many acres to 
the horse. Said that time the racket of it started. 
"I'll tell you what's my opinion of this government 'lief work, too, if you want 
to hear it. In some sense of the way, it's hurting us; don't see where it's 
doing us much good. In fact, I know lots of people get help that don't need it 
and a heap of them that needs it ain't getting none. Take a big strapping Nigger 
man, he can draw forty cents a hour a fooling around on a government job doing 
nothing. That's how-come people can't get no labor hardly these days to make a 
crop on the farm. Yes'm, this government work, it's giving the black man more 
independence and making the white man more dependent every day that comes. Well, 
I just don't know what to make of 



 
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the times nohow - just can't see into this 'lief work. 
"My idea of voting's just like this, people vote to be a voting. Then again you 
mighty apt to have friends you want to vote for and while you voting, think 
mighty as well vote clean round. I used to vote pretty regular for a spell and 
then I'd hit up with bad luck and quit off for two or three years. It's like 
this, if a man votes, he'll have plenty friends, but he ain't counted much if he 
don't vote. I know I have as much right to vote as another fellow and if I don't 
do it, I'm throwing away part of my rights. Then I vote because I think the man 
running is a good man for the place. But you can't tell for true if he'll be a 
good one or a bad one for the place 'cause when a man's running for office these 
days, he's everybody's friend. After all, it's just a chance of hiting on the 
right one, I reckon. 
"We belong to the Baptist Church in Marion, but me and my wife don't go much 
now. Fig're we can live just as good staying home and behaving like we ought to 
on a Sunday, for things ain't like they was a time back. People used to go to 
church for the good they got out of it, but the church is more of a s'ciety now 
than anything else. A man joins the church these days and if you don't watch 
him; he's liable to do you dirty. People take the church for a kind of a blind 
nowadays - used to go to church to worship the Lord, but now the most of them 
goes for big looks. I've been noticing and watching around a heap and things 
sho' have changed up since I come along. When people got home from church in the 
old days, they'd eat dinner and set around and talk, but now they hurry home 
from church to get to some big-to-do. 



 
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That's what ails the world now; I think. Ain't no rest nowhere. I used to drive 
my horse and buggy to town to church every Sunday and if a notion struck me to 
go these days, like old style, I'd travel that way again. But we've both just 
got out of the habit of going mostly 'cause old people can't get along like 
young folks, you know. 
"I'll tell you, people just ain't healthy like they used to be and it's nothing 
but the rush they lives in and what they eats now that's causing it. Old people 
used home vittels altogether and they was heap healthier and lived longer than 
people of this day and time. And can't nobody stand this ripping and a tearing 
like most people goes these days. Like when tobacco time comes, I don't get no 
rest. Yes'm, all the objections I have to tobacco, it works you instead of you 
working it. Sometimes I have to work all night and all day in rushed tobacco 
time. Then right after it's over, cotton picking's a staring you in the face. 
Life on the farm sho' keeps you stirring, but I don't reckon nothing else would 
suit me, being that was my raising." 
    


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