Wednesday, March 7, 2007


BOLL WEEVIL by Leadbelly.

This particular recording of the Boll Weevil song is from one of my favorite albums from recent times, "Lead Belly Sings For Children." Leadbelly's playful, light touch on it is so winning. The Boll Weevil song is a good example. Most people have at least heard of the boll weevil epidemic, especially in the South where people are still traumatized. This history of Henry County, Georgia (from the Henry County Libertarian Party!?!) summarizes very well what happened in the 20s all over the South:

In the spring of 1920, with prosperity in the air, many Henry County farmers notified local lumberyards to of plans to build new houses as soon as the crop was laid by and instructed the yards to have the materials on hand. The progress and prosperity which our people had fought and worked five long generations to attain was not to last. Those who remember recall the cotton crop of 1920 as a near total loss to the cotton boll weevil. It is hard to imagine that the great Cotton Boom of 1919 could become the Boll Weevil Crash of 1920. This leads to our fourth era “The Boll Weevil Depression” which lasted from 1920 to 1940. If we read the national history books we read about the “Roaring 20’s” and usually find little or no mention of the Boll Weevil Depression.

The population of Henry County topped out at over 20,000 in 1920 and by 1940 had declined by 25% to about 15,000. Most of the banks closed, thousands lost their homes, farms and businesses because they couldn’t pay their creditors. Mr. Am Mitchell, a farmer on Chambers Mill Road in the Sixth District of Henry County, used to say “times were so hard in the 20’s that a dime seemed as big as a wagon wheel”. Not only was the crop devastated, the price was minimal. Then in 1925 the County experienced the worst drought in our history. For two decades everything in Henry County was in decline. Many present day residents recall this period with stories of getting by, of cars on blocks in the barn because they couldn’t afford a gallon of gas and of general hard times. The economy of Henry County did not turn up again until World War II.
So by the time 1945 rolled around, when this set was recorded, Leadbelly could afford to cast the black humor of his Boll Weevil song as a droll singalong for kids. You'd never know from this recording that the silly little boll weevil brought a decade of hardship to countless families, killed King Cotton, and changed the South forever.


Photo: Thompson Street.


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