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NRCS History Articles - Eroding the Color Line

The Soil Conservation Service and the Civil Rights Act of 1964

by Douglas Helms

Reprinted from Agricultural History 65(Spring 1991): 35-53.

As a young graduate in agriculture from North Carolina A&T University in the depression year of 1938, John Maynard Jones had difficulty finding a job in his discipline. Teaching agriculture in high school was one possibility. Working for the state extension service was another possibility, since most of the extension services in the South hired black county agents on a segregated basis to work with black farmers. Indeed Jones knew these jobs existed because the county agent had occasionally visited the family farm near Bahama, North Carolina. As with many of the white farm children who went off to the land-grant college and earned a degree in agriculture, their first choice was not necessarily returning to the family farm. Upon finishing college Jones' first job was as the principal of a three-teacher school. During World War II, he worked at a hospital at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, North Carolina. The hospital paid better than high school teaching. An announcement posted on the bulletin board prompted him to take the civil service exam for jobs in agriculture in the U. S. Department of Agriculture.

The Soil Conservation Service offices in Washington, D. C. and the regional office at Spartanburg, South Carolina, offered interviews. Preferring to stay in North Carolina, Jones took the initiative and contacted the state office of SCS in Raleigh. After an interview with Earl Garrett, the state conservationist in North Carolina, Jones began his career at the SCS office in Wadesboro, Anson County, North Carolina.1

Jones thus became the first black professional "soil conservationist" in North Carolina. He was one of a very small corps of black employees of the Soil Conservation Service in the South who worked with black farmers. This paper describes the first Blacks working in the Soil Conservation Service and examines the efforts in response to the Civil Right Act of 1964 to expand equal opportunities for employment as well as equal access of minority farmers to government programs.

The organization that John Jones joined, like many another in the burgeoning Department of Agriculture, had its birth in the Depression. Hugh Hammond Bennett, who grew up near Wadesboro, North Carolina, where John Jones was first employed, had completed nearly three decades as a soil scientist in USDA when his crusade against soil erosion culminated in receiving some of the emergency employment funds, with which he planned to employ people to demonstrate the value of soil conservation. The passage of the Soil Conservation Act of April 27, 1935 gave some assurance that the agency would continue even after the Depression emergency had passed. Beginning in 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Department of Agriculture began encouraging local groups to form conservation districts and elect local supervisors who could then sign cooperative agreements with USDA. Through the 50 years since that time, the main support given to the nearly 3,000 conservation districts has been placing trained soil conservationists throughout the countryside to work directly with farmers and other landowners. It was this corps that John Jones joined.

The Soil Conservation Service, like its other New Deal-born brethren, the Farm Security Administration and the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, dealt directly with farmers from the Washington office through regional offices. It encountered some Washington conflict with the state extension services, a cooperative venture between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the states, especially the land-grant universities. State extension services were fairly autonomous with few nationally directed mandates. Nonetheless, most of the extension services in the southern states made some attempt to hire trained black agriculturalists to work with black farmers.2

Before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Soil Conservation Service seems not to have had a consistent policy either in working with Blacks or in hiring graduates of the 1890 universities to work on a segregated basis with black farmers. The first black college graduates working with SCS seem themselves to have taken the initiative in applying for jobs. Undoubtedly there was resistance in sections of the South to hiring Blacks, and the existence of the few testifies to the lack of a policy for building a large black field force.

Texas seems to have progressed the farthest toward developing a separate and segregated service to work with black farmers in East Texas. Again the origins seem to have been based not so much on design, but partially upon chance. Richard Moody was the person selected to work with these farmers, but again the SCS did not seem to go out looking for an individual. The individual came to them. Moody was born near Giddings in Lee County, Texas, where his father owned a small farm. The Depression interrupted his education at Prairie View A&M, and he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Along with the Forest Service and the National Park Service, SCS supervised the technical aspects of the work projects that the young CCC enrollees undertook. During the life of the CCC, SCS supervised the work of more than 800 of the 4,500 camps. Black youths made up more than 100 of those CCC companies, many of which worked on private land.3  Numerous CCC supervisors and enrollees came to work for the Soil Conservation Service, especially after the Soil Conservation Act of 1935 opened thousands of new jobs. However, there were few such opportunities for employment of the black enrollees. Richard Moody was the exception. The enrollees of Moody's company learned to lay out and build terraces, to seed and fertilize pastures, to run contour lines for stripcropping and contour rows, as well as other vegetative, mechanical, and engineering measures. It was here that Moody says he both acquired an interest in and knowledge about soil conservation: "Having experiences with various duties like that led me to believe that there still was a lot of help that was needed for farmers, and particularly black farmers. I found that black farmers are very easy to work with."4

Moody returned to Prairie View, received his degree, and then started teaching at Hempstead, Texas. While there he took the Civil Service entrance exam and recalls that he refused to indicate race on the form, believing he would have little chance for job interviews if he listed his race. Shortly afterwards he was contacted by the Soil Conservation Service about a job in Tyler, Texas. Dubious of the sincerity of the job offer, he requested a 60-day leave of absence from the school board so that he could return to his teaching job if the new employment was unpleasant.

Moody went to work in the Soil Conservation Service office in the Federal building in Tyler, Texas, in 1942. The CCC experience served him in good stead in building terraces and putting in other conservation measures. After accompanying SCS technicians for a while, he started conducting meetings and speaking to other SCS work units in an effort designed to test the acceptance and the possibility of opening up black units to work predominantly with black farmers. After working out of the SCS office in Tyler and proving his abilities and knowledge of conservation matters, Moody opened an office about a block away. While continuing to work with the black farmers in the area, he took in black trainees. The trainees learned the technical aspects of soil conservation while working with black farmers of Smith County. Some of the black farmers of the area already had been acquainted with the Soil Conservation Service. One of the early demonstration projects, Duck Creek, in Smith County, had included some black-owned farms. In fact the first cooperators to sign an agreement with the Soil Erosion Service had been Bragg and Julia Ann Morris, black farmers of the area. Louis Merrill, who had directed the Duck Creek project, was now the regional director for the SCS region covering Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.5

Moody and the trainees worked on the same things that had been emphasized in the project, such as terraces and stripcropping, and tried to convince more farmers to use cover crops, especially legumes, that would prevent erosion while adding fertility to the soil. In an effort to increase income and to shift some land from row crops, they emphasized improving pastures by utilizing fertilizer. Not infrequently, Moody and his trainees had to do their best to overcome superstitions that hindered adoption of new ideas. Some of Moody's trainees began moving to new locations where there were sufficient black farm owners for a new office. One trainee, Floyd Sanders, opened an office in Jefferson, Texas in 1944. Other trainees went to other locations in Texas. Unfortunately, several of the trainees, as well as Moody, became victims of a retrenchment after World War II when preference was given to returning servicemen.6

Evidently SCS did not contemplate hiring Blacks as soil conservationists in the early days. At the Log Cabin Center in Hancock County, Georgia, in 1946 Hugh Hammond Bennett told the assembled black farmers: "In those earlier days of the program, we hardly foresaw either, that in a few years we were going to have a corps of colored technicians--capable, trained soil conservationists to go out into the fields and work understandingly with the farmers in developing and applying complete farm conservation plans."7

At that time, according to Bennett, the SCS southeastern region had 50 black technicians, of whom 11 were in Georgia. In 1950 Thomas S. Buie, director of the SCS southeastern regional office at Spartanburg, South Carolina, said that in nine states in his region--excluding Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma--there were eight full-time technicians and five full-time aides working exclusively with black farmers. There were an additional 276 part-time aides and laborers on the SCS payroll.8

As Bennett saw more of the work of the employees, he seemed inclined to increase hiring to reach the South's black farmers. As he prepared for the annual meeting of the regional directors in 1950, he wrote to them: "I have been doing some thinking recently about the opportunities for trained Negro agricultural workers in the Soil Conservation Service. I have run into a few of them in my travels across the country--and they seem to be doing good work--and the thought occurs to me that we might use to advantage a number of additional technicians over and above those already employed."9

Bennett asked the regional directors to give some thought to the best means of increasing the work-force. He added that the student trainee program could be used, and that SCS could give some advice to the educators in the region as to the college courses required to qualify as a soil conservationist. These two methods of increasing enrollment were, of course, those used after the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Bennett also proposed granting leave without pay to black employees who might want to improve their education. Bennett further asked the regional directors to come up with some ideas for the summer meeting.10

Claude A. Barnett, director of the Associated Negro Press, prodded Bennett to increase employment of Blacks.11  According to Barnett, the two had "talked about this problem for several years." Barnett employed the statistics on black farm ownership in the South in making his case, and promoted the Extension Service and Farm Bureau in North Carolina as examples of using trained black agriculturalists to work with farmers.12

Again Bennett planned to discuss the matter with the regional directors. "I agree with Barnett that we should try to have some negro technicians, and this is a matter that must be taken up with the Regional Directors during the summer meeting."13 Barnett's arguments about the amount of land controlled by Blacks would have appealed to Bennett, who had elements of simplemindedness endemic to crusaders. The effect of land concentration on SCS program delivery was becoming obvious to the SCS people and raised the question of objectives. Was it the number of farmers assisted that was important, or was it the amount of land covered by conservation measures? The emphasis in the popular press and the newspapers in the last few decades on the loss of small farms has disguised to a certain extent the degree of concentration of farm land that existed in earlier decades. The concern was not strictly related to black farmers, but it certainly applied to them. In 1951, 43.5 percent of the farms SCS assisted were less than 100 acres, while only 7.6 percent were over 500 acres. Yet the conservation farm plans on the former group totalled 50 million acres, while the land in the latter group was 90 million acres. Bennett also planned to discuss this matter at the meeting.14

Bennett would soon be out as chief of SCS when he reached the mandatory retirement age. The reorganization of SCS in 1953 abolished the regional offices and placed administrative matters, including hiring, at the state office level. However, reviews of the starting dates of black employees in the SCS reveal that quite a number started in the early 1950s, so Bennett's interest in the very early 1950s probably had some limited effect.15  In Louisiana, A. G. Fasen had been working out of an office at Grambling College. When Fasen decided to take another job, SCS located Leon Blankenship, who was teaching agriculture at a nearby high school. Blankenship grew up near Saline, Louisiana, where his parents owned a 600-acre farm. Both parents were public school teachers. All six of the children attended college; only Leon chose agriculture as a career. He attended Tuskegee University before being drafted into the Army. After the war he returned to Tuskegee for his degree in agriculture. He was in his second year of teaching vocational agriculture at Bernice, Louisiana, when the district supervisor of vocational agriculture approached him to replace Fasen as the work unit conservationist at Grambling College.

When Blankenship took the job in January 1951, he had two technicians and a clerk to assist him in working a six-parish area around Grambling. Unlike many of the white conservationists, Blankenship received no structured training at other SCS field offices before starting work. He received most of his training from the SCS technicians who travelled out from the area and regional offices to assist local field staff with aspects of engineering, agronomy, forestry and other matters. He recalled that engineer Robert Wilder was particularly helpful in training him in laying out terracing, ponds, and writing conservation plans for the farm. There was also a considerable amount of woodland improvement and pasture improvement to be done as fields in row crops were being converted to pasture and woodland. In addition to assisting farmers with the technical aspects of conservation, Blankenship helped them apply for cost-sharing money. Many farmers had difficulties acquiring money to apply practices. Often minorities would not seek financial assistance due to fear, lack of knowledge, or a history of poor service. Blankenship would take them to the local Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service office to apply for cost-sharing. When Blankenship went to work, many minorities in the areas had not heard of the Soil Conservation Service. He began holding night meetings to acquaint farmers with SCS. Blankenship's impression of the status of SCS's work with Blacks was that assistance was provided to the more aggressive, and progressive, black farmers who would ask for assistance. Since the white work unit conservationists had plenty of work, they were not making the effort needed to recruit, persuade, and encourage. Later in Blankenship's career, he was in the state office in Alexandria, Louisiana, and was responsible for increasing minority participation in programs. He stressed that actively seeking out minorities had to be a part of the job requirement of the district conservationist if progress were to be made.16

In response to the Civil Rights Act and reports of the U. S. Commission on Civil Rights in the mid-1960s, SCS closed its segregated offices and Leon Blankenship had to close his office at Grambling College and move to the Soil Conservation Service office at Ruston. Unlike most Blacks working for the Soil Conservation Service, Blankenship had been a work unit conservationist under the general direction of the area conservationist. Now he was on the staff of a work unit conservationist, but he generally continued working with Blacks and continued to have his staff under his direction. In the new arrangement he worked with soil conservationist Don Spencer, whom he had known since childhood. Spencer had worked with Blankenship's father, who was a cooperator with the Soil Conservation Service. Evidently Spencer was one of the white work unit conservationists who attempted to involve all people in SCS programs. As Blankenship described it "He did what he could to make sure minorities got services."17  Spencer had worked with vocational agriculture teachers in the black schools to get conservation into the curriculum. When Spencer decided to retire, he recommended that Blankenship succeed him as the district conservationist to head the office since he knew the area and the farmers. But he was not selected for the job. It was not until 1974 that Blankenship moved from working primarily with Blacks. He moved to Shreveport to work with the Trailblazer and Twin Valleys Resource Conservation and Development project. For the first time he had whites working for him primarily doing work vegetating school grounds, city parks, roadsides, and drainage ditches. From that job, he went on to the state office of the Soil Conservation Service in Alexandria. It was his job to increase participation of minorities in SCS programs.18

At Ruston Blankenship had worked in the hill area of Louisiana where most of the black farmers were congregated. Evidently the state authorities decided that farmers in the delta near Tallulah should receive similar assistance. The Resettlement Administration had purchased lands in the 1930s for projects to provide farms to black farmers near Mounds. Most of the land needed drainage to be productive cropland. But it seems this crucial need had not been taken care of in the 1930s. The need remained in the 1950s if farmers were to have a chance to succeed.19

One day Blankenship received a call from Don Richardson, the area conservationist, inquiring whether he knew someone who might work with farmers near Tallulah, Louisiana. He recommended Obie Masingale, whom he had met at Southern University. Masingale was born in Texas and grew up on a farm in Marion County about fifteen miles southwest of Jefferson, Texas. Like Blankenship, Masingale had known of the work of the Soil Conservation Service. His father had been a cooperator with SCS. Floyd Sanders had been a vocational agricultural teacher in the county before going to work with SCS in Jefferson.

Masingale trained under Blankenship until the fall of 1953 when he went to work near Tallulah as a work unit conservationist with an office in Thomastown High School. Masingale believed that drainage was crucial to success on the former Resettlement Administration projects. Few of the black farmers had good, well-drained soils. Because of the slight relief and high water tables, Masingale believed that the average farm would produce a crop only one out of three years. Thus, there was the need for drainage if the land were to be used for row crops. As in the case of Blankenship, Masingale had to go out and recruit farmers. Since drainage was the main work needed, money was more of a constraint here than in some other conservation work. Most farmers needed financial assistance. Some assistance was available in the form of cost-sharing from the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service. A few farmers knew about the aid. Masingale recalled,

It was an educational process to most of the black farmers. In the first place, a lot of them didn't know what was available through the ASCS (Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service) office in cost-sharing. You had to explain that to them. Many of them were willing to carry out the projects and do the drainage, but they didn't have the money, or were too much in debt to get it.20

At least Masingale believed the reason for hiring black soil conservationists in Louisiana, few as they were, was to try to reach people who were being ignored, He believed that:

...the SCS people in the country would work with those people who could do the drainage, or get the terraces made, or plant the pastures--the elite black farmers who understood and they had money or could get it. So they worked with them. They wouldn't lose time with the fellow that you had to court and explain to him, really explain to him. Because he did not know about ASCS. Many of them didn't. We've had to take them in. They were scared to go in the office. We've had to take them in and apply. Let them see that you could apply and then get it.21

He continued his work in Louisiana until 1961 when he was asked to transfer to the SCS state office at Nashville, Tennessee. There he was to replace James Hughes, who had moved to the national SCS office in Washington, D. C.22

Hughes had been selected to work on a program to increase black employment in the agency in the early 1960s. He probably came to the attention of the national office of SCS because of his work on the Johnson Creek Watershed, where the cooperation of black farmers was needed in order for the project to succeed. This watershed, one of the many projects SCS worked on under the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act of 1954, was one of the first to be studied for its effects on the incomes of the residents. Conservation education leader Martha Munzer had high-lighted the act in her book, Pockets of Hope. After his work on the watershed, Hughes moved to the SCS state office in Nashville, where he worked on programs to improve service to minorities in the state. There, the state conservationist in Tennessee, J. Ralph Sasser, was the most active of the state conservationists in the South in promoting more services to black farmers. Hughes moved to Washington to help in the effort to provide equal opportunity in hiring and programs.

President John F. Kennedy placed Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson in charge of the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity (PCEEO).23  Johnson insisted that in contracting and employment, the federal government should not merely follow a negative nondiscriminatory policy. Rather, they should take affirmative action to ensure participation by minorities. The committee commenced collecting statistics on minority employment in the government. Former Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman recalled a telephone call late one night in early 1961:

The telephone rang and it was then Vice President, Lyndon Johnson, and he said to me very sternly that looking over the records he was not at all satisfied with the minority representation in the Department of Agriculture and that it was about time that I got busy and did something about it.24

But USDA continued to have the reputation of being the slowest of the cabinet departments to hire blacks. Of the people in the department in a position to have an impact, the Administrative Assistant, Secretary Joseph M. Robertson, weighed in on the side of activism. Robertson believed the department would make little progress as long as routine procedures were followed. He advised the Secretary:

The inertia in this area is unbelievable until you see it at first hand. We continue to live in a pattern of culture that has been developed over the last century, and to get us out of this is going to take, in my opinion, direct involvement by the Secretary of Agriculture and by his agency heads and that this program must be given a different order of priority from sugar, or rural areas, or any other commodity. If not, we will make about the same rate of progress that we have made in the past two years.25

In his role as in-house advocate, Robertson also sent Freeman Martin Luther King's famous and eloquent letter of April 16, 1963, written from the Birmingham, Alabama city jail. King was responding to clergymen who had referred to King's action in the civil rights movement as "unwise and untimely."

The Secretary was becoming more involved and authorized Joe Robertson to require monthly reports.26  Administrator Donald A. Williams of the Soil Conservation Service reported to Freeman that he held a meeting of the state conservationists on June 18, 1963, and "all but two (of the state conservationists) had made special effort during the past year to employ Negroes in various vacancies." Several states were focusing on working with the 1890 schools on their curriculum. But the state conservationists of the southern states obviously did not want to be alone in efforts and "voiced the opinion that it was highly important that positive moves to employ Negroes not be limited to one agency alone."27

At the urging of the new president, Lyndon Johnson, Congress passed a major Civil Rights Act in 1964. In addition to placing greater emphasis on equal employment in hiring, the act also focused on the equality of participation in government services, by stating that: "No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance."28  Among government departments, elimination of discrimination had required special emphasis in the Department of Agriculture. Through the years the transfer of scientific and technical information, the administration of price-support, acreage controls, voluntary soil conservation activities, and other programs, and even the use of regulatory type activities had relied on cooperation and acquiescence at the state and local level. State and local committees composed of appointed or selected volunteers often helped administer USDA programs.29  Overall it was a system that made for effective delivery of programs to the countryside. But it was not designed to respond immediately to national laws and priorities, still less to deliver a rapid response to the spirit of the Civil Rights Act, which went against the grain of local mores, such as segregation.

The United States Commission on Civil Rights reviewed farm programs in 1964 and issued their report in 1965: Equal Opportunity in Farm Programs: An Appraisal of Services Rendered by Agencies of the United States Department of Agriculture. In the 16 southern states there were 6,100 Soil Conservation Service employees in July 1964. There were only 40 Blacks in that work force. Half of the 40 were in jobs classified as professional. The survey of SCS operations covered 67 counties where there were large numbers of black farmers. Sixty-six of the counties had one conservation farm plan for every four white farm owners. Twenty-six of the counties reported one plan for every four black farm owners. The study also revealed that hiring black soil conservationists to seek out black farmers had increased participation in those counties. The study included one anomaly: Madison County, Mississippi, where the white soil conservationist had prepared conservation plans for 54 percent of the white-owned land and 77 percent of the black-owned land.30  While accumulating the information, SCS found that of the Blacks who had conservation plans "a satisfactory number were applying conservation practices." The agency believed it an indication that greater efforts to reach Blacks would result in increased conservation farming in the South.31  Despite the inequities, the commission found that SCS had been making efforts to recruit more black professionals and had been working toward eliminating segregated offices. The larger task remained, to provide equal opportunity in employment as well as ensuring that "the quantity and quality of service available to Negro landowners [was not] dependent upon the number of Negro staff in a given area."32

Soon after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, agencies were being required to make reports on progress. The Inspector General of USDA studied SCS operations in the South. SCS could quickly end the segregation in offices. They undertook a study to determine whether Blacks were being promoted as rapidly as whites. Such actions only involved internal decisions. Others actions involved the good will of the agency's clientele--the farmers. Black soil conservationists were no longer to be restricted to working with black farmers. Black landowners were not to be restricted to receiving help only from blacks. The service was to try to make sure that the black SCS employees participated in meetings of conservation districts as did their white counterparts. While there had been exceptions to all these cases before the Civil Rights Act, Administrator Donald A. Williams conceded the situation needed to be corrected. He was soon asking state conservationists in the South to report on progress. Williams also reminded the field that the attitude of the white staff in SCS field offices in the rural counties was crucial to accomplishing integration in work assignment and work with districts by smoothing the way.33

The other major thrust of the Civil Rights movement was, of course, to increase employment of Blacks in SCS. With Carl Lindstrom and Jim Hughes of the personnel section of SCS taking the lead, the agency had a short-term and long-term goal. Short-term goals involved quickly increasing the number of black employees through recruitment and working with the 1890 land-grant schools to suggest easily achieved curriculum changes that would quickly increase the number of qualified applicants for jobs in SCS. The longer-term goal in Lindstrom's strategy was to work with the 1890 universities on curriculum changes involving major realignment in course content, to the end that graduates would be well qualified for professional positions.34 The curriculum work was crucial because most of the jobs with promotion potential in SCS required college credits in the agricultural and natural sciences. The heads of field offices, the soil conservationists, had college training in agriculture. Through tradition, many of the jobs in personnel, budget, finance, and other administrative support were filled by people with degrees in agriculture and who had worked at the field level as soil conservationists.

In addition to the people at the SCS state office, Carl Lindstrom and James Hughes travelled to the 1890 schools advising them on the changes needed in curriculum and recruiting students for the student-trainee program. Some of the small number of Blacks who already worked for the SCS in the South also recruited, while themselves serving as role models for those who wanted to pursue a career in agriculture. The program had a marked effect on the colleges of agriculture and SCS. Grant Seals, who went to Florida A&M University as Dean for Agriculture and Home Economics in 1969, recalled the impact:

Upon my arrival, I found the summer SCS program already operative...The first few participants from FAMU had been agricultural education or agronomy majors. Upon the advice of SCS, FAMU had employed a soil scientist to teach soil survey and any other needed courses to constitute qualifying agronomy graduates. Students were recruited in high school and were hired out each summer thereafter as trainees learning about soils. They were also earning moneys for their tuition. As our recruiting program got stronger for the School (of Agriculture) as a whole as well as for soil science, the number of SCS enrollees increased. At its peak, we must have had nearly fifty students in all four years of training. We were graduating an average of 8-10, half of whom were then recruited by the Forest Service which hadn't invested anything in the program. But we still placed at least half to two thirds in SCS.35

The increase in hiring is also reflected in developments at Southern University. As early as 1965, the university added a course in soil science. Some agricultural majors had taken summer jobs with SCS. Hezekiah Jackson, Dean of the College of Agriculture at Southern University, wrote to SCS'S administrator Donald Williams on October 20, 1965, "You might also be interested in knowing that our recent relations with the Soil Conservation Service have contributed to increasing our agricultural enrollment 500% over the last year."36  Working with 1890 universities to ensure that their graduates had the necessary courses to place them in position to pursue a career was laudable in many respects for it served both the interests of the students and the agency. But the changes in enrollment starkly revealed the sad state of affairs that preceded the Civil Rights Act. That a single agency in USDA could, by offering job opportunities, cause these dramatic increases in student enrollment demonstrated the impediment that lack of job opportunities had been to the development of the agricultural curricula at the 1890 schools.

From a very low base, the number of black employees grew. There were 83 Blacks on the rolls in 1962, 94 in 1963, 146 in 1964 and 368 in 1965. As of September 30, 1990, there were 12,821 permanent full-time employees of the Soil Conservation Service. Black employees numbered 926 of whom 627 were male. Of greater importance, 409 of the black males were in "professional" job series, where there is a greater chance for advancement in the organization. Another 132 Black males are in the "technical" jobs where there is a chance for advancement if some education goals are met. The numbers for females are 43 professional, 63 administrative, 54 technical, and 117 clerical. Thus the number of black females is significantly lower than the percentage of black females in the labor force. Like most other government agencies, the Soil Conservation Service has an equal employment program to try to address problems such as the overconcentration of black females in clerical jobs. The increase in black employment, from the days where there were only 40 black employees in the South out of over 6,000, has not eliminated all concerns about discrimination. There are sufficient formal complaints filed (under the procedures of the Civil Rights Acts) throughout the agency to attest to the fact that individuals believe they are being discriminated against because of race.

The degree to which Blacks have been able to move into the top jobs is also a concern. Whatever the makeup of the top administrative jobs should be, it is clear that some individuals have advanced in the administration. With the exception of the two top jobs in SCS--the Chief and the associate chief--blacks have served in most other job categories throughout the organization. A black employee has now served as a state conservationist in Arizona, California, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Nevada, and Wisconsin. A University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff graduate, Pearlie Reed, was the Deputy State Conservationist in Arkansas before moving on to the state conservationist's position, first in Maryland and currently in California. At the national office, Sherman Lewis and Platter Campbell have been division directors. Lewis is currently an assistant chief. Jacqueline Sutton was the deputy associate chief for administration.

In summary, the few Blacks who worked for the Soil Conservation Service in the 1940s and 1950s served their clientele well by focusing on those who were not being reached. To take one example, John Jones recalled that when he went to work in Anson County, North Carolina there were a few Blacks, those with fairly large farms, who were cooperators with SCS. But some of the black farmers in the northwest corner of the county around Burnsville and other communities did not have conservation plans. By the time Jones left the county, all the black farmers of the county were cooperators with SCS.37 Jones and his contemporaries were role models for the generation of recruits who joined SCS after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The response to the Civil Rights Act involved some innovative approaches in working with the 1890 schools to gain recruits. Some of the recruits of the mid-1960s have progressed through the administrative levels of the agencies. Yet, it remains obvious that continued vigilance is needed to ensure that those who do the public's business serve all the public and provide equal employment opportunities for those interested in soil and water conservation.


1 Interview with John Maynard Jones, Bahama, North Carolina, September 29, 1990. During the course of the interview, the interviewer discovered that his great-uncle Luther Ross had worked with John Jones at Wadesboro laying out soil conservation practices.

2 Allen W. Jones, "The South's First Black Farm Agents," Agricultural History 50 (October 1976): 636-44; and "Thomas W. Campbell: Black Agricultural Leader of the New South," Agricultural History 53 (January 19?9): 42-59; Wayne D. Rasmussen, Taking The University to the People: Seventy-five Years of Cooperative Extension (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1989), 7, 52, 68, 72, and 103.

3 Douglas Helms, "The Civilian Conservation Corps: Demonstrating the Value of Soil Conservation." Journal of Soil and Water Conservation 40 (March-April 1985): 187.

4 Interview with Richard A. Moody, Tyler, Texas, May 17, 1990.

5 Louis P. Merrill, Soil and Water Conservation in the Western Gulf Region: Part II, The U. S. Soil Erosion Service, Project No. 20, Duck Creek, Smith County, Texas (Temple, Texas: Soil Conservation, 1982), 72.

6 Interview with Richard A. Moody, Tyler, Texas, May 17, 1990.

7 Hugh Hammond Bennett, "Conservation Farming for Better Living," Address prepared for delivery by Dr. Hugh H. Bennett at the annual soil conservation jamboree at Log Cabin Center, Hancock County, Georgia, August 13, 1946, p. 5 (Hugh Hammond Bennett Papers, Department of Special Collections, Iowa State University Library, Ames, Iowa, hereafter HHB Papers.)

8 The seeming decline in black technicians may be due to increased hiring during World War II and then the loss of jobs to returning servicemen. "Negro Soil Conservationists," Notes prepared for use by Dr. T.S. Buie in panel discussion on "The Changing Status of the Negro in Southern Agriculture," Rural Life Conference, Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee, Alabama, June 18-20, 1950, T.S. Buie Speeches. Soil and Water Conservation Society, Ankeny, Iowa.

9 Hugh Hammond Bennett to All Regional Directors, August 22, 1950, HHB Papers, Folder 22/3.

10 Ibid.

11 My former boss at the National Archives, Harold T. Pinkett tells me that he met Barnett's widow at an Association for Afro-American History meeting. She told him that Barnett was one of the "dollar-a-year" advisors to the three successive secretaries of agriculture, Henry A. Wallace, Claude Wickard, and Ezra Taft Benson.

12 Claude A. Barnett to Hugh Hammond Bennett, May 5, 1951, HHB Papers, Folder 22/3.

13 Hugh H. Bennett, Memorandum for discussion at Regional Director's Meeting, June 7, 1951, HHB Papers.

14 Ibid.

15 Study of Blacks in SCS in 1964, Records relating to civil rights, History Office, Soil Conservation Service, Washington, D.C.

16 Interview with Leon Blankenship, Alexandria, Louisiana, May 15, 1990.

17 Ibid.

18 Ibid.

19 Donald Holley, Uncle Sam's Farmers: The New Deal Communities in the Lower Mississippi Valley (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1975), 112-13.

20 Interview with Obie Masingale, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, May 12, 1990.

21 Ibid.

22 Study of Blacks in SCS in 1964, Records relating to civil rights, History Office, Soil Conservation Service, Washington, D.C.

23 Hugh Davis Graham, The Civil Rights Era: Origin and Development of National Policy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 38-40.

24 Orville Freeman, Oral History, February 14, 1969, p. 2, Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, Austin, Texas.

25 Joseph M. Robertson to Orville Freeman, June 6, 1963, Folder "Civil Rights," General Correspondence, Record Group 16, Records of the office of Secretary of Agriculture, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C. Hereinafter the abbreviations GC, RG, and NARA will be used.

26 Orville Freeman to Don Williams, July 11, 1963, Folder "Civil Rights," GC, RG 16, NARA.

27 Donald A. Williams to Orville L. Freeman, June 24, 1963, Folder "Civil Rights," GC, RG 16, NARA.

28 Secretary's Memorandum No. 1560., Implementation of Civil Rights Act of 1964, July 10, 1964, Folder "Civil Rights," GC, RG 16, NARA.

29 For a recent and important interpretation of USDA working relationships, see David E. Hamilton, "Building the Associative State: The Department of Agriculture and American State Building," Agricultural History 64 (Spring 1990): 207-18.

30 Equal Opportunity in Farm Programs: An Appraisal of Services Rendered by Agencies of the United States Department of Agriculture: A Report of the United States Commission on Civil Rights (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1965), 85-89.

31 Ibid., 89.

32 Ibid., 89.

33 Donald A. Williams to State Conservationists, Advisory LEG-10, March 17, 1965, Civil Rights Records, History Office, Soil Conservation Service, Washington, D.C.

34 Carl A. Lindstrom, Memorandum, Equal Employment in SCS, July 15, 1965, Civil Rights Records, History Office, Soil Conservation Service, Washington, D.C.

35 Grant Seals to the author, September 12, 1990.

36 Hezekiah Jackson, Dean of the College of Agriculture, to Donald A. Williams, October 20, 1965. Civil Rights Files, History Office, Soil Conservation Service.

37 Interview with John Maynard Jones, September 29, 1990.

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