My father endearingly calls us “Cottonpicker.”


My father, age 83, born in a small town in northern Louisiana, has always called my siblings, cousins, and I “Cottonpicker.” My father is the grandson of “Old Man Bass”–as they referred to him, a slaveowner, and Grandma Meli, short of Amelia, an enslaved African-American woman who lived to see freedom. Grandma Meli had several children by Old Man Bass, one of which was my grandfather Elisha. Elisha was born years after slavery ended. Many of the African-American men or shall I say “colored” men in his era had no other choice but to be sharecroppers. But my grandfather and his wife Rosa, owned 80 acres in Louisiana where they primarily harvested cotton–one of slavery’s trademarks. My father was #11 of 14 children born to Elisha and Rosa. The family fled from Louisiana to Oklahoma for safety, after an altercation between my father’s older brothers and a white man who mistreated their mother, Rosa. My father, Dorris, was just months old when they left. A few years later, the family moved to central California, better known as Chowchilla, CA, in hopes of making a better living. One might think, they escaped cottonpicking. But as my father tells it, there was more cotton in California, than in Mississippi or Louisiana. My father woke early to tend to the farm animals. After school he’d pick cotton. And lots of it. He picked cotton from a young boy to the age of about 25. Even at that age, any money he earned, was handed all over to this mother. One day, he got tired of picking cotton. He up and moved to Pasadena, CA along with his wife and two children, who lived with him on this parents farm. He eventually landed a job working as a construction worker for the city of L.A. for over 30 years. He tells about how when a white man was hired, it was his duty to train him–and then a week or two later, that white man would become his boss. He is retired now. His voice still rings in my ears, while playing with cousins out at the family reunions, “Come here you little cottonpickers!” And we all ran to his lap. I had no idea until I was in my 20’s that he was calling me, what some might consider “a little slave.”


Tweets by Michele Norris