act of passion
I found him
walking around Belle
Glade, located on the fertile muckland apron on Lake Okeechobee, where
grew the nation's winter vegetables and tons of sugar cane. It was my
beat, and he was a character who looked like a story.
As a young reporter, I
many pictures for myself and for the
newspaper. Several of them were of this man, who went to Fort
Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary for shooting a fellow cadet at West
perhaps around 1920.
It was over a woman, I
He would sit in a chair
the street from the small newspaper
bureau office. Here was a man who might have become one of the
famous generals of World War II, a colleague of Eisenhower, perhaps,
planning great strategies in the western front.
For a single act of
his career was ended. I called the prison, and they looked him up. "Is
he still around?" came the
I do not remember where
came from, but it seems he was a son of the
A child's love
The lady was known as "Mrs. Tiny."
Many people in places such as South Bay or Bean City lived on the bare
necessities. Those who became residents
the year around often had to seek help from the government. As a
reporter, I wrote a lot about the misery of their lives, and got flack
from a lot of people tired of hearing about it.
Housing was often in disrepair, and one essential was a good screen
to keep the insects out. Many residents did not have full employment in
all seasons, and relied on the
welfare system. There was no unemployment compensation for them.
Welfare meant going to a dispensary where
you could get peanut butter, rice, flour, and other limited staples.
Material goods were nice to have, but the basis for anything
worthwhile is found in the intrinsics of human relationships, and this
was as true for the son or daughter of the land-rich grower as it was
for the children of those who had learned to live with much less.
the city jail
I was told these kids were in city jail until
the police could find their parents. They had been accused of stealing
gumballs or a similar activity involving a vending machine. I thought
that there must be a better place to keep children accused of crime.
One can only guess at the psychological effects of putting children in
jail, and how this experience might have played out over time.
I was able to talk to them through this window.
Belle Glade wasn't the most progressive city in law enforcement, and
one wonders how much money was actually spent to upgrade facilities,
given the torn screen here. Once there was a commotion at the
jail as someone tossed a wildcat through the door as a joke. The cities
in Florida had their own municipal courts at that time.
Labor was recruited from the jail and may have been used on city
projects. I don't know if prisoners were made to work on private farms,
but it wouldn't have surprised me.
Seated at one of the chairs in the barbershop in Pahokee was a
middle - aged gentleman who was getting some kind of a chemical or dye
treatment on a receding hairline.There was an implicit trust here.
As I have grown to be someone who is going to lose most of his hair, I
am aware that sometimes the ritual of a barbershop serves many
wrote "there is more
unselfconscious affirmation to be found there on a Saturday than you
can find in a Negro college in a month."
This was not only a way to make some of the gray hair disappear. The
customer was getting his hair "blued." Now this was nothing like modern
times where young people think nothing of dying their hair "blue." What
this treatment did, apparently, was give a natural glow to his
No one should underestimate the importance of the barbershop to
black history, and its continuing importance in black society.
An itinerant mechanic, he lived
in a junked car with his dogs. He had been jailed in Moore Haven and
his tools were stolen. I wrote about him. He called me "Mike Hammer."
He knew cars, and had fixed up an automatic Chevy so that the
transmission could be switched with a stick. On a holiday, he wrapped a
pipe in ribbons and could play a tune on it. He learned how to do this
growing up in the mountains of Appalachia. He was a veteran and he was
hurting a lot. The Rural Legal Services lawyers were trying to help
One Christmas eve, we decided to drive to Miami to the big
Veterans' Hospital to get him some help for his back. He needed
hospitalization. I thought Christmas was a time when
people are more charitable. But when we got down there they told
us there was not one bed available in the hospital. From that point on,
I had a jaundiced view of the VA. They did give
him a huge jar of aspirin and sent us on our way. I don't know if
Sherman ever got what he needed in the way of medical care. What I do
know is that when I left Belle Glade after a
year, I left a good friend there.
Off the Migrant
Migrant labor depended upon the bus. Crew were
picked in the early mornings before light in Belle Glade,
with people warming their hands over fires in steel barrels. It
was cold. Crews also were bused in from other cities or states, and
housed on rows of farm shacks. Migrant housing was notorious. At work,
pesticides in the fields caused illness.
Children of migrants did not
stay at one school, and programs were instituted to track them. Crew
leaders competed to bring these men, women and
children to the fields. While some crew leaders who were
concerned about the welfare of those they carried, the abuses were
Buses were often unsafe. An entire busload of migrants went off
the road once on narrow State Road 80 drowning all. It was not unknown
for the crewleader
to stop the bus at the liquor store. If there is a synonym for
powerlessness, it is in the words 'migrant worker.' Elisha Baines, a
businessman in Pahokee, would compare them to little birds who come in
without food or a place to stay. Good people, black and white, tried to
solve some of the problems. Today's migrant stream is Mexican and
in Belle Glade
Some of the streets in black neighborhoods
seemed to be directly out of the third world. Could you live here?
Would you like to grow up here? Is this the United States? Let us hope
that in 40 years, this sort of housing has been torn down and people no
longer have to live in it. There were many people of conscience
in Belle Glade, but progress was a long time coming. Some in the white
community would tell me "that's just the way n** like to live, they
tear up everything."
Perhaps, as one country editor told me, "you have a lot to
learn." What I did learn was that newspapers were not going to
change the world, when people who run communities don't want to
change. You can take a worm's eyeview of your community, or you
can see it from a higher precipice and seek change for humanity's sake.
There had been some kind of racial incident
in South Bay. I drove over to the small town on U.S. 27. There
were lots of deputies and I was ordered out of the area by police, but
was able, at some point, to take pictures of the owner or manager of a
small package store in the middle of town.
I think it's probable that he wasn't feeling good about whatever was
going on. Making a living in these towns was not easy for people,
black or white. Some of them originally came in association with
agriculture, mostly from the Southern states. South Bay was a
place that most truckers knew about, as it was a place to refuel before
the long trek to Miami down dangerous U.S. 27.
This was written on the wall of a school in Pahokee where there had
been racial tensions. I was not allowed, as a reporter, to go on the
grounds and speak to people, but I was able to take this picture.
The battle for civil rights often resulted in violence during the 60s
and 70s. The War in Vietnam split the country at the same time. It was
a time of great tumult. The Glades areas faced true racial integration
in schools for the first time.
Race hatred was at an all-time high. Even in the year 2008, it
simmers beneath the surface of modern society. The Southern
Poverty Law Center keeps track of much of the more vociferous racist
In and Out
of the Boxes
As a reporter, I was
always on the lookout for good pictures, that being one of the
conventions of journalism in the 1970s.
Newspapers at that time would send photographers out for a day or two
just to collect what was called "wild art."
As bureau chief in a small town, I had to
take pictures and ship the negatives by Greyhound bus to West Palm
Beach. I used an old Yashica twin lens reflex model "D."
Everything was grist for the journalistic mill.
a large box to play in was one of the joys of childhood for me, and
when I saw these kids and the boxes, I knew they were having a blast.
You can not only hide in a box, but you can roll around in a box and a
box can become a fortress strong. Imagination is the key.
I'm not sure how many other toys these kids had, but that didn't
prevent them from having some fun.
These children must be middle - aged by now, and I wonder where
and what they are doing.
in the fields
The wear and tear of repetitive motion was
once a part of the life of everyone who farmed. For workers in the
field, it can be back-breaking work if done all day. The sheer wealth
of vegetables and fruit we see at the grocery stores belies the amount
of hard labor that goes into the planting, fertilization and harvesting
of it. Much of the work is done by individuals who are members of
society's underclass and for whom life doesn't offer many
opportunities. Migrant workers and other field workers have only just
begun to acquire the kinds of benefits we take for granted -
unemployment insurance, medical care, decent housing, and wages that
reflect the importance of what they do for all of us.
the sugar cane
They used machetes and had to wear protective armored clothing to
prevent accidents. They came to cut after the fields were burned. The
sickly-sweet smell of the burning sugar cane fields was nauseating as
it spread over Palm Beach County, but residents got used to it, as it
was their bread and butter. The Jamaicans were housed in dorms by the
sugar companies. These were off - limit to reporters. It was said that
local labor didn't want to work the cane fields, so the sugar operators
got permission from the federal government to import these foreign
workers. Now, it is all done by machine.
When people weren't working and there was not
enough food to tide them over for the next harvest, something was
terribly wrong. This happened in Okeechobee, a city at the north end of
the lake. In a land of plenty, how did something like this happen? When
workers live hand to mouth, there isn't much room to negotiate.
Emergency supplies were finally brought into Okeechobee County to help
alleviate what threatened to be a crisis that one hears about in third
There was so much irony in that hunger can exist in the richest country
on earth, and those who harvest our food were unable, themselves, to
have enough food for their tables.
It was easy in the 1970s to blame the victims themselves. "They just
don't want to work" or "they're too lazy to get a job." This is
the sort of refrain one heard over and over in western Palm Beach and
nearby counties. Social conscience had to be imported to these
communities who failed to take care of their own.
Tell me who
Who are you?
Do you live in America?
Do you have a dream?
the sugar house
In what was a tragedy for all, the father of these children was killed
sugar factory by a sheriff's deputy after it was reported that he
started shouting verses from the Bible and swinging his shovel at
The question of how and why one person might have acted this way
remained a mystery.
The story, itself, appeared in the newspaper along with at least one of
I have wondered how I would have covered this story differently had I
the time - and knowledge of human behavior that accumulates with
I am certain that I did get some quotes from the sheriff's department,
but I am wondering if there wasn't a further story about the difficult
decision to fire a gun, and more information from fellow workers at the
At times like these, people just don't want to talk, or are afraid of
the press. No one who has ever tried to be a newspaper reporter is
unaware that he or she is not welcome at all times, and information is
not always forthcoming. People are afraid of losing their jobs on
all sides of issues.
It is very rare that a reporter will ever be able to talk directly to
law enforcment officers who make the decision to shoot. The articles
reflect the best we can do under the strain of deadline.
The tragedy lives with everyone involved.
Man with a whip
This is the expression of a man cracking a
whip. Once a mule driver for the U.S. Sugar Corporation, he was
showing his craft.
Sugar is a dominant industry in the counties around Lake Okeechobee.
The large companies used to bring in Jamaican sugar cane cutters and
put them up in dormitories for the season, where they could earn up to
Downtwn Belle Glade in the evenings had a strange combination of
Arab-owned shops selling watches, cameras, luggage and other items and
Industry always had excuses not to hire residents for the onerous cane
cutting chores. Among them were that the jobs were too difficult and
The use of Jamaican cane cutters has ended as industry figured out how
to replace them with machines which cost $165,000 each.
Somehow this picture seems to draw up the
image of a lifetime of hard work and some needed relaxation, boots off.
The old electric wringer washing machine on the front porch was once a
symbol of status and represents the fruits of labor. Those grimy
overalls testify that here's someone who isn't reluctant to put all he
can into a job.
This picture was taken almost 40 years ago, and represents a generation
of workers who were essential to the success of the 'winter vegetable
capital of America.'
A few organizations existed to try to help
the migrants. Here Rudy Juarez, associated with national Hispanic
migrant movement, addresses a group of such people. In the far back is
a representative of COBY or "Cry of Black Youth." This organization
knew how to provoke the Belle Glade city commission. When it complained
of unequal justice, one commissioner replied that the best way to
resolve that was to "stay out of the pokey." Mr. Baines of Pahokee, an
outspoken advocate, is at the left. These organizations had
limited funding, but their boards were made up of people who wanted to
find some way of helping.
the 'Jew' rent man
The day the rent man came to collect was an
important demarcation in the lives of people in the Glades. The rent
man might drive up in a fancy car. He might be white or black, but his
investment in 'property' was not much of an exercise in human
relationships. He came for the money. For the first time in my life I
met up with what I thought was black anti-semitism, for, the lady told
me, she was waiting for her "Jew" rent man.
Knowing that there were very few Jews in the Belle Glade area, it
was confusing to me to hear her say that. Most of the Jews who lived
there had jobs related to retail stores or to agriculture, and my
future father-in-law was a medical technologist at the hospital.
Few Jews, if any, actually settled in the farming communities, although
I knew of one New York taxi driver who had established a celery empire,
sold out or crashed, and spent his days driving around aimlessly in
Palm Beach County.
So all of this was a puzzle to me. The relationship between blacks and
Jews has never been as good as it could be. I was asked by a fellow
reporter for a competing newspaper "What's a nice Jewish boy like you
doing out here?" He called himself a "Hebe" and wrote for the staid
evening newspaper. Two Jews with very different outlooks on the
A different kind of
place, a different time
Coming from a middle-class upbringing in Miami, it
was difficult for me to understand why there was so much poverty and so
much prejudice in the world. I was told that I had to understand that
"the n** are different than you and me."
When one looked at the conditions of life, it seemed to me that there
was an unequal start from the beginning, and to dig one's way out of
the poverty would take a superhuman effort. The media, ever since
"Harvest of Shame" on CBS with Edward R. Murrow, were looked upon as
the enemy by most of the people who lived in Belle Glade, Pahokee or
In fact, powerful lobbying and farm groups in Florida as well as the
state's agricultural commissioner would denounce the media whenever it
exposed this situation to public light. When Huntley and Brinkley and
NBC came down to do their own investigation, the atmosphere became
poisonous. A popular song among some residents was "Welfare Cadillac"
by Johnny Paycheck. I did, actually, find a Cadillac driven to the
government food agency, and its driver, a man named Zion Hargraves, was
actually sitting on springs popping through the upholstery.
As a white reporter,
I was not trusted . . .
Stokely Carmichael, 1941-1998, Black Panther originator, chairman of
SNCC (Student non-violent Coordinating Committee), advocate of black
power and originator of of the phrase as a rallying cry, had a great
influence on young black men in Belle Glade, though he probably never
came to the area. Some imitated the militant dress of the Black
Panthers who wore black berets. As a white
reporter, I was considered persona-non-grata by them, just as the white
community considered reporters from my newspaper to be communist. There
was little trust for the press, anywhere, in those days. Carmichael, a
national figure, spoke at a rally in Gainesville,
Florida. I had an old camera and did not have a flash
attachment, so the picture loses fidelity, but gains in action. White
reporters were not welcome. Carmichael,
born in Trinidad, later left the United States for Guinea, and changed
his name to Kwame Ture, in honor of two of his heroes. While in the US
as a young man he was under surveillance and was arrested more than 30
times. Even in his new country, he was arrested on suspicion of being a