In this interview, Floyd Alston and his mother, Ethel Thorpe Alston, remember their lives in Granville County, North Carolina. Floyd and Ethel trace their family lines, some of which lead to slaves, others to sharecroppers, some to brothers and sisters who died, still others to factory workers. This interview offers more information on the Alston and Thorpe families than it does about African Americans’ lives in the rural South generally, but it does offer some revealing insights into racial identity and the struggles of post-emancipation African Americans to find economic and social security.
After the end of slavery, many African Americans were drawn into sharecropping. Without land of their own, former slaves raised crops on land owned by whites in exchange for a share of the profits. Sharecroppers generally purchased all of their supplies on credit from the landowner and usually found themselves still in debt once the crops were sold. “As that deficit grew, he [the sharecropper] found it impossible to escape from his situation by legal means.” Sharecroppers often ate a poor diet, suffered ill health, and lacked the freedom to choose a new path for themselves. In the interview, Floyd Alston references his grandfather’s experiences with sharecropping. Somewhat unusually, Alston’s grandfather did not come to this practice after emancipation. Rather, he was born in New York and moved to the South later. He managed to leave sharecropping by getting work in a mill.
29 NOVEMBER 1995
JAMES EDDIE McCOY: The date is November the 29th, 1995. I’m visiting with Floyd Alston, Jr. His mother Mrs. Ethel Thorpe Alston. The address is 201 First Street. Mr. Floyd Alston's birthday is 6-15-1933. Age sixty two. Mrs. Ethel Thorpe Alston's birthday is April 29th, 1916. Mrs. Austin, what area that you growed up in?
ETA: Well, uh, we were raised up most around in the county.
EM: But when you was a kid, you came up in Tar River Station?
ETA: No, that's when.........????????? Uh, two years, or three years, you know people you used to farm one year and move to another farm.
EM: Were your parents sharecroppers?
EM: What was your daddy's name?
ETA: Ather Thorpe
ETA: Ather Thorpe.
EM: Ather Thorpe. Where did he come from?
ETA: He must have come back.........???????????????
EM: What about your mother's name, what was her name?
ETA: Pearl Thorpe
EM: What was her name before she was a Thorpe?