The Black Syracuse Project

Alice Dismuke

In Oral History Interviews on May 20, 2011 at 1:19 pm

Alice Dismuke was born in Perry, Georgia in 1934, the eleventh out of twelve children.  Her family moved to Lowell, Florida when she was just four or five years old.   Here she is being interviewed by her niece, Tasneem Grace Tewogbola, on July 19th, 2010.

My dad was, would take us out of school and we would go to Bean City, Florida. While the other children were in school, we were picking beans for our livelihood.

Weren’t you the youngest, one of the younger ones?

Yes, I was the baby and he was taking me. I wasn’t the baby, but my brother was, my brother and I. But he took me and finally my mother said, you aren’t going, she wasn’t going to let him take me anymore. And because of that, my older siblings who were there, our grades got, their grades that they were supposed to be in, they weren’t in the correct grades because we only did so much schooling. Most of the time we were migrant laborers in Florida.

How many months out of the year were you working, picking beans?

It was about three.

Wow. So say from May to?

No, September, October, November.

Was spent picking beans.

Picking beans.

And it would be your dad and then you and your brother?  So just the three of you?

No. It would be my dad, my sister Doris, my brother Aaron, my niece Bertha, and me.  My baby brother would stay home.

Now where would you sleep while you were going from farm to farm?

We had a one room house and we would pick beans from sun up to sun down. And we had to eat beans, too, that was our breakfast and our dinner.

What kind of beans?

String beans.

And how old were you?

I was five.

Five years old!  Ok, take me back to what doing that work was like. Were you on your hands and knees?

Yes, you had to crawl. You would have a dress on with some pants up under then because you had to crawl down in the field to pick the string beans.

All day.

All day. And my cousin had a sandwich wagon, they would call. And she would, you could smell the fish and the sausage and the cold drinks. But we never got to eat any of that. My dad had my older sister cook neck-bones and string beans and we would take it to the field and that would, we would eat all day out there and then when we came home, we had the same meal.

Do you eat string beans now?

No. Or neck-bones.

You will never eat those again in life?

No, no!

So at the age of five, this may be a hard question to answer, how would you describe it?  Would you say that was back breaking work or was it all you knew?

That was all my dad knew. And so he would take the money. We wouldn’t know one day from the next; never knew when a Sunday came. And then we would come back home. We wouldn’t really have that much when you come back home.

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