"The Black Dispatch" - Neil Henry - Washington Post
"The Long, Hot Wait for Pickin' Work"
"For five hot and dusty weeks this summer I'd waited at SOME House to hear those words."I arrived there at dawn each morning, eager to explore a mysterious phenomenon known in the slums of Washington as 'the Bus,' a motley assortment of vans that show up at public parks, unemployment offices, sherlters and soup kitchens a dozen times or more from July to November to load up with men desperate for work. "Some have given the Bus a more ominous name -- the Black Dispatch . . ."
"Slim Pickin': Taken for a Ride, Sold 'Like Cattle'"
"Snug behind the steering wheel, a toothpick sticking out of the corner of his mouth, Billy Bongo was in a great mood. He had done very well for himself in the streets of Washington, picking up nine men willing to work as migrants in the fields of North Carolina."I and the eight others were perched on rusty metal benches anchored to the walls of Billy Bongo's van and, as it belched and rattled its way out of the city on I-95 heading south, an almost palpable feeling of tension and mystery filled the bus . . ."
"Half a Day Nets $1.50 and 'Supper'"
"Clarence Dozier Jr.'s migrant labor camp was equipped with five ramshackle outhouses, four wooden bungalows, three moldy shower stalls, two large outdoor sinks, a soda machine and a jukebox. It was littered with cigarette butts, catfish skeletons, chicken bones, pig knuckles, dead cockroaches and waterbugs, and empty 'Three Peaches' wine bottles . . . "
"A Wretched Reality of Life in the Fields"
"Three days away from Washington, my values changed. The most important items I owned were now a red plastic bucket to collect tomatoes, a Syrofoam cup to drink camp wter that tasted of rust and a plastic fork to consume an evening allotment of okra, grits, pig ears, tails or knuckles."My skin was raw from sunburn and I began to reek of sweat. I had no change of clothes and the only shirt I owned had been stolen, leaving me with one pair of tennis shoes, a pair of socks, blue jeans and a V-neck T-shirt, all of which were turning the reddish-brown color of North Carolina soil . . ."
"Homeward Bound: Trading Buckets for Bus Tickets: The Northbound Highway Home"
"Five days after Billy Bongo drove us to North Carolina to work as migrants, seven out of an original gang of nine from Washington, myself included, remained."The other six were divided evenly into two camps of opinion: Those who hated the mosquito-infested living quarters and the $1-an-hour work, but felt minimum-wage jobs might come their way if they stayed, and those who believed they had been conned and that their best bet was to head home to the city where they once again could hustle for better work and money . . . "
"Looking for Answers About Workers and Wages"
"A month after I left the fields of North Carolina, I returned to tie up loose ends. I wanted to find Billy Bongo and ask him why he failed to provide the work he promised me and eight other D.C. men, and why he sold us to a crew leader for $150 before disappearing without a trace."I wanted to ask migrant crew leader Elijah Hudson why he paid Billy Bongo to drive us all the way from Washington and why, after allowing us to sleep in a bunkhouse teeming with worms and insects, he refused to give us food or jobs. I wanted to ask crew leader Clarence Dozier Jr. why he sold his men wine and cigarettes at exorbitant prices and why, with few exceptions, he paid me and others far less than the federally mandated minimum wage . . ."