Ruth Payne Franklin came with her parents to Chandler back in 1941. The Paynes moved from a cotton camp near the river in Eloy. As a child, right up to adolescence she picked and chopped cotton along with her other siblings. At that time most people who came to Chandler came to pick cotton. They came to explore their dream. Cotton was a vital part of that dream. That dream was to have a better life. Picking cotton would afford them a better life. “My father said that is where he wanted to be and so we came.” Picking cotton was hard, backbreaking work. Most people lived in tents without hot or cold running water. It was dirt for a floor and dirt floor for a bed.
Franklin has overcome the cotton. Franklin is not bitter. Franklin has drawn positives from her experiences and from her cotton bouquet. She keeps her very own bouquet for fear that no more cotton will be left in Chandler. “We have come a long way, we have overcome the hardships of picking and chopping cotton,” says Franklin. “Picking cotton was a way of life. Cotton provided for our livelihood. Cotton picking families helped to make Chandler the city it is today. I am proud of that.”
Franklin uses this bouquet to teach and tell her stories of past life in Chandler. She remembers her hands being bruised, damaged and dry. “You had to plaster your hands with Vaseline every night” says Ruth. Picking cotton did not rob her of her dignity. The family was together. The siblings picked cotton together. Her parents instilled good family values. To Ruth, picking cotton was an honest living. There were other indignities that Ruth suffered. Ruth was not allowed to attend Chandler High School. Blacks were not welcomed there. Ruth and other Black children had to travel the long arduous journey to Carver High School in downtown Phoenix everyday. Chandler High is the only sore spot for Ruth. Today, whenever she passes the school it brings back those horrible memories.
After graduating, Ruth Payne taught school. Teacher and Grandma are two of the attributes Ruth Payne Franklin takes to heart. She especially loves the children and takes pride in the fact that her teaching experience in Chandler has been wonderful. She has twenty-nine grandchildren. Ruth tells them and all her students about her cotton history. It is meaningful to her to be here to tell it and to relate to it. “I want young people to know and understand what cotton meant to Black people.”
© Lyda Y. Harris