Maryland's migratory workers


Material Information

Maryland's migratory workers hit hard by bad weather
Uniform Title:
Washington post, times herald
Physical Description:
1 v. (unpaged) : ill. ; 15 x 24 cm.
Stern, Laurence
Jamieson, Mitchell, 1915-1976
United States -- Bureau of Labor Standards
U.S. Dept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Standards :
For sale by the U.S. G.P.O.
Place of Publication:
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Migrant agricultural laborers -- Maryland   ( lcsh )
Migrant labor -- Maryland   ( lcsh )
federal government publication   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Statement of Responsibility:
by Laurence Stern.
General Note:
Cover title.
General Note:
"Reprinted with the permission of the Washington Post-Times Herald. It appeared as a series of three articles on August 16, 17, and 18, 1959. The sketches are by artist Mitchell Jamieson."

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
aleph - 004980588
oclc - 23290542
lcc - HD1527.M3 S7 1959
System ID:

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Full Text

Maryland's Migratory Workers

hit hard by bad weather

I,'" I A I -.


o ,es Heral h It s I August 16, 17, and 18, 1959.
are by artist Mitchell /


In a had season, there is the specter of empty stomachs for their families.

Maryland's Migrants Hit Hard by Bad Weather


TALLY MCNEIL lives in a dingy, one-room shack on the
Eastern Shore with his pregnant wife, five children and
his worries.
They share three cots, a two-burner stove and a gnawing
uncertainty over where the next dollar will come from.
"In the last 2 days I ain't picked more than $2 worth of
tomatoes," said Tally, head hunched between his husky
shoulders. "That don't buy us much."
When the harvest is good, a migrant picks until his knees
are sore and his back aches. In a bad season, there is the spec-
ter of empty stomachs for himself and his family.
Maryland's newly established Commission on Migratory
Labor is looking into the living and working conditions of
thousands of migrants like Tally who annually pour into the
Shore's great truck farming belt.

Drought, Rains Halve Crop
This summer the Shore has been hit by a devastating combina-
tion of drought and heavy rain. Because of the weather, there
has been only half the usual crop of tomatoes, cucumbers,
beans and peppers.
Nevertheless Tally McNeil, his parents, five brothers and
two sisters will be back from Pompano, Fla., next year to
gamble again with nature, just as they have for the last 11 years.
Last summer 5,455 migrants swarmed into Maryland to pick

the crops and haul them to canneries and other markets. Most
are Negroes from Florida. Others come from Mississippi,
Alabama and Louisiana.
The tri-State Eastern Shore lies along one of the three
broad corridors through which some one million American and
foreign migrants stream northward each year as crops ripen.
Another wave moves upward through the tier of Mid-
western States and a third conies up through California.
Waddell's Migratory Camp, where the McNeils live, was
built by the Federal Government to house Bahamians and
Jamacians brought there during the war years to relieve the
farm manpower shortage.
It was taken over by the Dorchester County Truck Growers
Association and is operated by the State Department of Em-
ployment Security.

Better Than Most Camps
Waddell's may be worse than some camps in a three-county
area surveyed by The Washington Post. But it is better than
There are 53 weathered frame shacks jammed into a large,
circular clearing. As many as 140 laborers, their wives and
children make their home there during the peak of the 4-
month harvesting season.
The camp yard is littered with empty half-pint bottles, beer

cans and other debris. A group of children plays around a
smoldering pile of leaves.
Inside a cabin you hear a woman singing and several pairs
of hands clap in rhythmic unison.
At each corner of the camp stands a row of outdoor privies,
doors yawning open.
Living accommodations at Waddell's and nearby Preston
camp come in two sizes.
Most of the migrants live in small shacks, 8- by 10-foot
cubicles equipped with cots, a small cook stove, and a light
bulb. Rent, $2 a week.

Larger Family Model

The model for larger families is almost double the floor area
and has a higher roof. Rent, $4.
This price distinction is not respected by the swarms of
mosquitoes and flies which infest the camps. Officials say
that all the cabins were once screened.
Sometimes screens are ripped out so that it is easier to
toss out garbage or dirty dishwater. Or else they just
"The migrants have become adjusted to this life," said the
Rev. Carlton W. Veazey, a 23-year-old Howard University
divinity student. As a member of the National Council of
Churches Migrant Ministry, Mr. Veazey has five migrant
camps under his supervision.
"I know deep in my heart that they want better things.
They are doing an important job in harvesting the crops. I
feel they are entitled to better facilities," he said.
With the help of the camp managers, the young minister
fixed up a room for religious services where half of the camp's
inhabitants come to worship each week.

Across Route 331 from Waddell's camp a group of pickers
combed a field for small "Italian tomatoes-the remnants
of this year's spoiled harvest.
A picker gets 15 cents a basket for small tomatoes and 10
cents for large ones. An additional 3 to 5 cents a basket goes
to his crew leader-the man who recruited him and brought
him North.

100 Baskets a Head

When the harvest is plentiful a hardworking crew will pick
from early morning to twilight, averaging as much as 100
baskets a "head."
"You crawl along on your knees," explained William
McNeil. "When they begin to hurt you stand up and pick.
When your back starts bothering you, down on your knees
Beulah Simmons, a graying, dignified woman in her mid-
forties, keeps count of the baskets. Other women and chil-
dren pick in the fields along with the men.
"We can't count children as workers," explained one camp
official. "But whether we count them or not, they'll be pick-
ing in the fields with their parents."
For infants and toddlers, makeshift nurseries are set up
in the trucks and buses which carry the migrant to the fields.
Geraldine Simmons is a bright, attractive 13-year-old. She
had to drop out of her sixth grade class in Apaka, Fla., 2
weeks early to come north with her parents.
Next month she will enroll at Hurlock School, some 3 miles
from the camp, until they leave for home in mid-October.
"Do you have much trouble catching up with your school
work when you get home?" she was asked.
"Naw," she replied. "Not too much."

Typical scene in a migratory camp on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.


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Typical camp scene-migrafory labor camp. Waddell.

Each spring, crew leader John Graham loads up his battered
school bus with workers and hauls them from Florida to
Maryland's Eastern Shore.
To the 55 pickers in his crew, Graham is a combination of
policeman, father, banker, and boss.
A grizzled, friendly man of 50, he has a reputation for deal-
ing fairly with his workers. Some crew leaders, on the other
hand, are known to exploit their crews ruthlessly.
Crew leaders like Graham form the elite of an army of
1 million migrant workers who harvest the Nation's crops.
The farmer depends on him for manpower and the picker
looks to him for a livelihood.
I talked to crew leaders and pickers alike in the three East-
ern Shore counties where Maryland's migratory population is
most heavily concentrated, Dorchester, Somerset, and Caroline.
One leader at Somerset Migratory Camp near Princess Anne
drives a shiny, new Oldsmobile and owns a fleet of six trucks.
Another was barely scraping along with a dilapidated moving

People Penned in Trucks
Most of the trucks in the migratory camps had neither seats
nor benches. As many as 40 men, women, and children are
penned into these vehicles for the 900-mile trip. If they are
lucky they may find a bean hamper to sit on.
In June 1957 a truck carrying 41 migrant workers crashed
in North Carolina. The death toll was 21.
Six months later the Interstate Commerce Commission
adopted a safety code for transportation of migrants. Among

other things, it requires
that a secure seat be
furnished for each pas-
Each winter Graham' '
and other crew leaders
sit down with Maryland
employment officials in
Florida and chart a work
schedule for the follow-
ing year. The labor pro-
curement agent is armed
with a list of work orders
from farmers back home. Crew Leader Graham,
A crew leader's earn- Preston Migratory Camp.
ings may run as high as
$10,000 in a season or as low as $800, depending on the qual-
ity of the harvest and the size of his work force.
The basic economic cards of the migratory labor system are
stacked heavily in his favor.

Gets Flat Commission
A crew leader is paid a flat commission for each basket of
tomatoes. This share varies from 3 to 5 cents a basket. The
picker gets 10 cents.
By the season's end the crew leader may earn more than 10
times as much as one of his laborers. In the field he oversees
the workers but does not do any picking himself.
Migrant workers first came to the Shore during World War

II when the pinch on agricultural manpower was at its worst.
They have been coming back ever since.
Until the farmer can harvest his tomato, bean, cucumber,
and pepper crops by machine they will always be a market
for the migrant.
He is the cement that holds the Shore's farming economy
together. The farmer is first to admit it.
"Without the migrant our canning industry would just
have to shut down," maintains Robert McWilliams, who runs
six farms sprawling over nearly 1,000 acres in upper
Dorchester County.

Cannery Is King

In the Eastern Shore's agricultural breadbasket, the cannery
is king.
Not everyone agrees that the migrant is either necessary or
desirable, least of all Charles Cornish who is lone Negro
member of the Cambridge City Council.
"The migrant undercuts our domestic labor," said Cornish.
"These people are being exploited by their own crew leaders.
If the farmer was willing to pay a decent wage, he would be
able to get plenty of local help."
Cornish owns a bus service. In the days before the migrants
arrived he carried local farm laborers to the fields.
"A good many of the local Negroes feel the way I do," said
Cornish. "The migrants have taken something away from


Migratory pickers near Hurlock, Eastern Shore.

Robert McWilliams bought an abandoned church camp at
Shiloh, Md., last year and converted it into housing for his
migrant labor crews.
The effect on the good villagers was electrifying.
They swooped down on the Dorchester County Commis-
sioners with complaints that the migrants would infect their
community with crime, filth, and disease.
Yet migrants have been working in the fields near Shiloh
since World War II when local farm manpower became
scarce. Several labor camps have operated for years just a
few miles away.
Most of the camps are hidden away along side roads on the
outskirts of town. Many migrants live right on the farm at
which they work.
It's easy for the average citizen to forget about the migrant's
existence-until he reads about a stabbing or sex attack in a
labor camp or finds an empty half-pint bottle on his property.

Well-Behaved and Educated
The farmer sometimes talks about the migrants with touching
"He's a human being, just as civilized, well-behaved, and
educated as our local workers," said McWilliams, who is
Dorchester County's biggest employer of migrants.
Nevertheless the farmer is first to howl against any effort
to guarantee minimum standards of decency to the migrant
in housing, health, or education.
This summer McWilliams bought 70 beds, 100 mattresses,
and paid $100-a-month electrical bills for his migrants. The
water they drink, he insists, is just as good as his own.

McWilliams cannot understand why anyone wants to force
him to observe minimum housing standards.
In 1957 the Maryland Department of Health made an ex-
haustive study of migrant living conditions. It found that 66
percent of the camps had unapproved water systems. Privies
in 72 percent of the camps were below minimum sanitary
Housing in general was found to be in an "unsound and
dilapidated state."
A survey of the three Eastern Shore counties, Dorchester,
Caroline, and Somerset, which depend most heavily on mi-
grant labor, did not refute these findings.

Health Officials Powerless
Yet health officials are powerless to act since labor camps are
not under their control. Without a vote, the migrant is
readily overlooked by the politician.
"I've never been in a migrant camp in my life," said Sen-
ator Frederick C. Malkus, who has represented Dorchester
County in the legislature for 13 years. Malkus thinks the
migrant is a local problem in which he, as a lawmaker, should
not meddle.
If a migrant is hurt on the job, there is no formal machinery
for getting him into a hospital. At best he gets medical atten-
tion through the back door, with the help of a minister.
Local citizens, who know the migrant cannot pay his hos-
pital bill, are resentful.
As a nonresident agricultural worker, he is exempt from
workmen's compensation, unemployment and minimum wage
safeguards. Organized labor sometimes looks sympathetically

-.1- --~-"---

Typical interior scene of the Waddell Camp for migratory workers.

at his plight, but has made no serious attempts to do anything
about it.
Maryland this year took its first step toward opening a
window into the forgotten world of the migrant. Last winter
the legislature and Gov. J. Millard Tawes created a Commis-
sion on Migratory Labor similar to agencies that exist in 23
other States.

Minimum Housing Code
This group 2 weeks ago proposed a minimum housing code,
such as Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York
have already adopted.
When it is unveiled at public hearings, it will probably be
denounced by the Eastern Shore's growers.
There have been a few exceptions to the general apathy
over the migrant's lot. Foremost is the National Council of
Churches which has attempted, through its "Migrant Minis-
try," to cultivate "a sense of personal worth, belonging, and
responsibility" in the migrant.
"Considering the amount of work the migrant does and the
money he brings into an area, State and county officials should
take more responsibility for his welfare," said the Rev. Carlton
W. Veazey, a 23-year-old Howard University divinity student
serving on the Migrant Ministry.
At Westover Camp near Princess Anne the Council runs a
model day care center for migrant children. Two more are
in operation at Hurlock, Md., and Staytonville, Del.

Center Is Immaculate
The Westover center is staffed all summer by two Somerset
County teachers. Each child has a desk and clean cot. The
center, once a ramshackle farm cabin, is kept in immaculate

to a shack
of Westover Camp.

condition. But most migrant children who are too young to
pick still wait for their parents in the bus or the truck which
carries them to the field, just as other children have for years.
At Preston in Caroline County, the State health department
has opened a clinic for expectant and new mothers. Migrants
are also being tested for venereal disease and tuberculosis.

"There are still many gaps left uncovered," said the Rev.
Samuel A. Snyder, Jr., the Migrant Ministry's southeast
regional director.
"The basic problem of the migrant is his nonresident
status," added Mr. Snyder. "Help comes to him only on an
emergency basis."


COYER PHOTO: When the harvest is good, migrants pick until
their knees are sore and then they work standing.

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