“My husband used to say, that if he didn’t have to sleep on cotton, he wouldn’t even buy it,” recalls Earlene Wilson. Wilson started working in the cotton fields at nine years old in Texas. In 1952 Earlene moved to Chandler not to pick cotton, but to take care of her grandmother. She came by train with three of her children. Wilson came to a thriving Black community of farmers and cotton pickers but when she stepped off that train if she had her fare she would have turned and gone right back to Texas. “Chandler was one dirt road and hot.”
Earlene went back to the cotton fields. Cotton was “King” and the cotton fields were the only place to make a decent wage. Chandler cotton growers paid more. “They grew silk cotton out here. It was six dollars a pound. I did not like it out here like I did in Texas. The cotton out here grew real tall and you couldn’t see me nowhere in there.”
The children accompanied her to the cotton fields. They were not old enough to go to school. “The lady on the chuck wagon that came to the field everyday helped me watch them while I picked cotton.”
Wilson does not have fond memories of a good experience in the fields. For her it was painful. Even today, she refuses to wear a purse over shoulders because it reminds her of pulling cotton sacks.
After cotton, Wilson did missionary work. She ministered in Eloy, Casa Grande and surrounding areas. This is the work that she is most proud of. Her other community involvement was organizing events for Martin Luther King, Jr. celebrations.
At age seventy-seven, Wilson has 52 great grandchildren. Her advice to them and other young people is to be respectful, get a good education and make something of themselves. “The young ones will have to take over and they should be able to do it. Put God first. They must all have the mind that they can reach higher.”
© Lyda Y. Harris
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