This image features four African American farmers straining sorghum syrup into a barrel in Orange County, North Carolina. These men specifically worked on Wess Cris’ tobacco farm, which was situated in a prosperous Black settlement. This type of segregated settlement was prevalent during the 1930s, as Roosevelt established numerous New Deal projects. In the early 1930s, the Federal Emergency Relief Act’s (FERA) rural rehabilitation program—which later became the Works Progress Administration—gave African Americans small plots of land in hopes of lifting them out of poverty and enabling them to live and work autonomously.
The intentional inclusion of African Americans in this image serves as contrast to photos in previous eras. While examining primary sources in earlier eras, the pattern of erasing African Americans and enslaved people—individuals who contributed as much as their white counterparts—emerged in writings and images. By countering this unjust erasure and featuring African American farmers, Marion Post Wolcott—the photographer—adds another dimension to the United States’ narrative. Wolcott’s image emphasizes that African Americans played an essential role in production of sorghum, and the men’s efficient work shown in the image demonstrates that—unlike white settlers proposed years earlier—African Americans are not inferior to white people. Wolcott’s image aided in shaping this new, progressive narrative in the United States.
Although this image reveals growth in Americans’ perspective on race, one must remember that Jim Crow laws still pervaded society in the 1930s. In fact, FERA and other resettlement projects “never challenged the Jim Crow system,” which indicates that the government would help African Americans gain a degree of autonomy, as long as they didn’t challenge the socially inequitable system already implemented.  This type of deception continues to exist, as people of color still experience systematic injustice.
Along with highlighting the racial dynamic in Orange County during this era, this image is crucial in wholly understanding the food story in Orange County, as sorghum continues increase in popularity for North Carolina farmers. In 2012, 50,000 acres of sorghum were planted in North Carolina—a ten-fold increase from 2011. Compared to corn, sorghum’s high drought resistance and low production costs make it the ideal crop to grow in North Carolina.
 Wolcott, Marion Post. “A portable cane mill for making sorghum syrup.” Digital Image. Library of Congress. 1939. Accessed November 5. 2018. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2017754531/
 Holley, Donald. “The Negro in the New Deal Resettlement Program.” Agricultural History 45, no. 3 (1971): 179-93. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3741977.
 “Grain Sorghum Fills a Niche in NC.,” North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, November 30, 2012, accessed November 06, 2018, http://www.ncagr.gov/agronomi/release/12-12sorghum.htm.
“Grain Sorghum Fills a Niche in NC.,” North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer
Services, November 30, 2012, accessed November 06, 2018,
Holley, Donald. “The Negro in the New Deal Resettlement Program.” Agricultural History 45,
no. 3 (1971): 179-93. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3741977.
Wolcott, Marion Post. “A portable cane mill for making sorghum syrup.” Digital Image. Library
of Congress. 1939. Accessed November 5. 2018.http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2017754531/.
Written by Morgan Parker