Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Owensboro, Kentucky: Harry Young

We spent a few days in Kentucky visiting a friend of Trav's named Ana who is spending a season at Mammoth Cave National Park. We hiked and looked for ginseng and toured a cave that is part of the 400 miles of the underground cave system in the park. It was awesome.

Just before we left Kentucky for Illinois we stopped in Owensboro to meet 83 year old soybean and tobacco farmer Harry Young. Mr. Young's story is vastly different from any other farmers we had met; he has a twisted tale of loss and racism, and his story seems unbelievable and definitely tragic. The story starts with the town he grew up in, which he describes as a place riddled with race discrimination and power struggles. There was the story about the white drunk driver who hit and killed a black child and got off with 30 days in jail, compared to the young black man who hit and destroyed a telephone pole and got 3 years in jail.

Harry said he has been a farmer since he was 4 and farming is in his blood. He had accumulated 289 acres that he farmed soybeans on until 2005 when everything changed. The government called in a loan that Harry said he already paid off and even had the receipt for, which he showed us. He has a copy of it blown up and posted on signboard in his front yard to advertise his unfair treatment at the hands of the government. The government insisted that Harry had an outstanding bill due and foreclosed on his property and assets.

Harry's brother was able to buy him a house, so he has at least something to his name, but all the farm equipment was confiscated and, according to Harry, undersold to friends of the local police and politicians. The legal battle to prove that he had paid his bill has been an ongoing nightmare for Harry, and his loss has been extreme. Signs decrying the local government adorn his front yard and inside his house the table tops and bookshelves are totally buried under stacks of papers, all legal documents. His wife left because "this has been trying," yet Harry continues to fight to get his farm back. Last year he spent 3 days sleeping on the floor of the local jail for making "terroristic threats" to a government official, and even though he was cleared for those charges at his trial he says he is still treated like a criminal. When we asked Harry if he ever thinks about leaving the area he looked at us incredulously and said "where would I go?"

There is an steadfast optimism to Harry despite the mess he has been through. He signs every letter (and he writes many letters to congressmen, senators, NAACP, the Obamas, etc, daily) with the phrase "God is forever good" and he recognizes that at least God and nature aren't prejudiced- his neighbor needs rain just as bad as he does.

There is another positive note to the story; while Harry does not have land of his own to farm anymore, he does farm his brothers 75 acres close to town. When asked what he would like to have happen in this situation Harry sighed and said that he would of course like to have his land back, but until then he would like people to tell his story so that maybe one day someone who can do something about the injustices will be listening, and be able to help. May it be so.


Monica Davis said...

Harry Young died today, January 28, 2011. Monica Davis, author, Land, Legacy and Lynching: Building the Future for Black America.
Articles and books with Harry's story:
82-year-old Black farmer arrested, charged with making terrorist ...
May 17, 2009 ... by Monica Davis. Harry Young holds a lock he had placed on the gate to his land. It was cut by trespassers with a KKK mentality if not ... - Cached
Black farmer files lawsuit to regain farm with $750000000 in coal ...
by Monica Davis. Harry Young is an 83 year old farmer in western Kentucky. He has been waging a five year legal fight to regain his land after the ...,000,000_in_coal_and_oil_deposits.html - Cached
Land, Legacy and Lynching: Building the Future in Black America - Google Books Result
Monica Davis - 2007 - History - 247 pages
Attendees honored Mr. Harry Young from Owensboro, KY for his activism, and commiserated with him over the loss of his farm. ...

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