Minturn, South Carolina
By Randall Hill
In a 60-acre field in rural Minturn, South Carolina, cotton farmer Roy Baxley, Jr. was on an important mission. His goal for this bright and sunny November morning was to get the last part of his 1,100 acres of cotton from the fields and to the ginning machines.
As he talked to his crew of 7 workers, the cotton pickers were adjusted and fine-tuned as the fluffy white plants hovered over the field like a large blanket. The morning light reflected low off the crops and gave them an even warmer hue.
Growing up in the South and living here most of my life, the lure of the fields in the fall and winter and the deep history the crop has on Southern culture, was too much for me to pass up. I had to find out more about the process and see it for myself.
The very thought of cotton brings to my mind images of slavery and the back-breaking chore the crop bestowed on the workers who cultivated it before the Civil War. Seeing the crop harvested today, with large machinery and sophisticated processes, gives this observer an even higher appreciation of their sacrifices. The work today is hard and difficult but one has to imagine how it was to those who harvested the crop in the past.
Farm worker James Grooms steered the large cotton picker through the fields with ease. I, on the other hand, held on with caution, positioned outside the cab and on a small platform, one hand on the machine’s railing in order to keep my balance. As the picker started the process of cutting and sucking the cotton from the plants, cotton dust and plant fragments filled the area like a cloud. The dust settled on my gear and after a while covered me like a layer of snow. After a few rows, I developed a system of cleaning my lenses before I took a photograph. It was not an ideal environment for photography.