"The Forgotten People" - Dale Wright - New York World Telegram & Sun
A 30-page, slick paper booklet published earlier this year by the New York State Migrant Labor Committee boasts proudly that the state "marches forward" in long strides in its handling of itinerant farm workers. Photographs of smiling laborers and their children beam from its pages - at work, at play, in school and in church. The committee booklet spells out step-by-step the regulations under which more than 25,000 transient crop pickers who come into the state every year live and work.
Tuesday, October 10, 1961
Despite certain limited improvements -on paper - in the laws protecting the migrant farm worker, he continues to be America's forgotten man - forced to work long, tortured hours at every turn and compelled to live in filth and squalor and danger. I know this because for six months, on and off from April to October, I worked as a migrant laborer...
On a warm, humid morning last April, a rickety old bus jolted along at its top speed between rows of carefully manicured estates along route 1 from Miami south to Homestead, Fla. Although the vehicle had seats for 35 persons, it was crammed with 64 passengers. I was one of them. I was on my way to my first day of work as a migrant farm laborer in the lush tomato fields of southern Dade County. I had shaped up (reported for assignment) earlier that morning on a Miami street corner and was hired - with no questions asked - by a fat character known as a "labor contractor." In the South, labor contractors round up crews of workers for transport and assignment to farms where crops are harvested.
The transportation of migrant workers within a state such as Florida is a horror story. I was in Florida last spring riding with and working with the thousands of migrant laborers who follow the harvest of crops for their miserable livelihood. Travel, for a migrant and his family, is a nightmare anywhere. In Florida, and other states which don't regulate migrant transportation, it's worse.
When I found myself stranded in a miserable Florida migrant labor camp with no work for 10 days because the tomato crop was late, my first thoughts were charitable ones. Naively, I figured a mistake had been made, that I and the scores of other workers with me had been transported 300 miles in the good faith that that jobs were waiting for us. I've never been more wrong in my life! It wasn't the weather and the fact that the tomatoes had not ripened by the time we arrived. The simple truth was that the tomato grower and "the labor contractor" who hired us with his fat promises planned it exactly that way.
V-"Speed-Up Forces Migrants to Quit Job Before Payday" - Dale Wright - New York World Telegram and Sun
What's it like working in a potato harvest? It's monotonous, brutal, strength-sapping labor. Toiling and sweating in the long potato rows, filling 100-pound sacks under the blazing sun, tries any man's endurance. But working in a potato grading shed was even worse. In my travels as a migrant laborer, I found myself in the Florida town of Hastings. With 20 other workers, I had arrived there one morning last April in a bus. By early afternoon I was pushing a hand truck for Florida Planters, Inc.
Farm States Won't Help; Laborers are Gypped Everywhere They Go
The night I decided to leave Florida and move north with the migrant laborers for South Carolina was one of the worst nights in my life. I was asleep in a filthy room near Hastings when a baby's shriek pierced the night and woke me up. I pushed open the unlocked door of the room next to mine to investigate. There, lying on a burlap bag in an old packing case, was a baby, two or three months old, screaming in terror. A huge beetle had crawled into the baby's mouth. Its parents were not home. I picked up the baby, removed the beetle, and succeeded in quieting the frightened youngster. There was no more sleep for me that night so I stayed with the baby and waited for his folks to return. Beetles and roaches and cinches, they told me later, were the least of their problems. The Florida potato belt also breeds big rattlesnakes. They are likely to be found in or under any old building. Flies and mosquitoes were everywhere, buzzing around in the remnants of food and debris.
VII-"Farm Camp Slum, Exposed 8 Years Ago, Is Still Hell" - Dale Wright - New York World Telegram and Sun
The great dream of many migrant farm workers, born and reared in a shack in the South, is to go North to the land of plenty - to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. On his first trip "of the season," the migrant finds that dream quickly shattered. I, too, was a dreamer when I went into the fields in Delaware, New Jersey and eastern Long Island. I found that unlike that South, there were indeed a few laws aimed at protecting the rights of the itinerant harvester. But the truth is that these laws are so scant and so haphazardly enforced that they have little effect.
Lack of Schooling Makes Him Easy Mark of Cheat
A migrant farm worker expects exploitation as one of the grim facts of his miserable life. He knows he'll be cheated and he learns to live with it. He knows he'll be underpaid for his labor and overcharged for many of the things he has to buy for himself and his family. Beause many migrants never get to school - or have to leave during the early elementary school years to work in the fields, they are uneducated and illiterate. For this reason they are easy marks for sharp operators.
I saw it all - the misery and ugliness of the migrant's labor camp and the fields where he worked from Florida to Long Island. I labored in the same bean and tomato patches with these itinerant crop harvesters. I grubbed in the rich earth with them for potatoes and I chopped cabbage in the same fields. I shared wretched food with the "stoop" laborer and along with him I was cheated out of my meager wages for work honestly done. I found that despite legislative efforts and the work of social and religious agencies to improve the lot of the nomadic farm hand and his family, little has been done to better their way of life.