WEDNESDAY, JULY 7, 2021
But who was being disparaged?: According to a front-page report in the New York Times, Stacie Marshall is trying to determine what she should do with her 300-acre farm.
The farm is located in Gore, Georgia, a tiny unincorporated community in the northwest part of the state. Marshall is trying to determine what she can do with the farm to serve the interests of justice.
A person could say that she's overthinking the situation a bit, perhaps with the help of the Times. That said, we can think of much worse manifestations than that.
The farm, you see, is a family farm, and it was once worked by people who were enslaved. Marshall has apparently known this fact since she was a child.
Today, though, she's 41, and Marshall's father is passing the farm down to her. She's trying to determine what she can do to serve basic issues of justice.
Her search produced one of the the least likely passages in the Times' front-page report. As the lengthy profile begins, Marshall is describing her situation to a group of farmers at a seminar in 2019. After the seminar ends, some farmers offer ideas:
SEVERSON (7/5/21): Hers is the national soul-searching writ small: Should the descendants of people who kept others enslaved be held responsible for that wrong? What can they do to make things right? And what will it cost?
After the seminar, the farmers offered some ideas: She could set up an internship for young Black farmers, letting them work her land and keep the profit. Maybe her Black neighbors wanted preservation work done on their church cemetery.
Or maybe—and this is where the discussion gets complicated—she should give some land or money from the sale of it to descendants of the Black people who had helped her family build wealth, either as enslaved people in the 1800s or, later, as sharecroppers who lived in two small shacks on her land.
“She is deep in Confederate country trying to do this work,” [organic farmer Matthew] Raiford said when he went to visit her farm this spring. If she can figure it out, he said, Chattooga County could be a template for small communities all over the South.
Of one thing we can feel reasonably certain. Whatever Marshall decides to do, it almost surely won't turn her county into "a template for small communities all over the South."
Almost surely, other people won't rush to follow her lead. Almost surely, very few people will ever hear about her decisions.
According to the passage posted above, Marshall is trying to decide what to do with the "wealth" her family has built—with the wealth she will now be inheriting. One weakness in the Times report is this:
It isn't clear how much actual wealth is involved in this detailed drama. It isn't clear if there's any significant "wealth" involved here at all.
Marshall's farm covers 300 acres, but the Times report doesn't explain if that's a lot or a little. It doesn't say if the farm yields any real income. As we noted yesterday, the Times report does say this:
SEVERSON: The rolling farmland in this northwest corner of Georgia has never lent itself to the plantation agriculture that once dominated other parts of the South. Today, about 300 small farms raise cattle and broiler chickens, and grow soybeans and hay.
Few make much money. The poverty rate has edged close to double the nation’s. Ms. Marshall, who is on the board of the local homeless shelter, sees people in need all around her. “It’s really hard for people in Chattooga County to understand white privilege because they’re like, ‘We’re barely getting by,’” she said.
Over the years, her father and grandfather drove trucks or took shifts at the cotton mill to keep the farm running. At 68, her father, Steve Scoggins, still works 3 p.m. to midnight as a hospital maintenance man.
Does Marshall's 300-acre farm produce any income at all? If so, how much? The Times report doesn't say.
At one point, the report refers to the farm's "fading commercial cattle operation and its overgrown fields." As of that seminar in 2019, Marshall was hoping to "sell enough grass-fed beef and handmade products like goat’s milk soap to help support her husband and their three daughters."
She hoped to make enough money from the farm to help support her family! Meanwhile, how many acres is 300 acres? We're not sure, but we were intrigued, and provisionally pleased, by this part of the report:
SEVERSON: For decades, [Melvin Mosley] taught in public schools and prisons. At 67, he is a preacher, and lives with his wife, Betty, on 50 acres near Ms. Marshall’s farm.
On a summer day in 2019, Ms. Marshall sat in their yard and told them she wanted to start sharing the whole, hard story of [her family's farm], and make some kind of amends. She asked if she was on the right path.
Mr. Mosley always considered her a bright girl who should go to college—as he told her after sending her to detention for kissing a boy in the school mechanic shop. His advice now was simple.
“Let’s say that’s the water under the bridge,” he said. “You didn’t do anything wrong.” All she needed to do was to pour as much love on their valley as she could.
The Mosleys live near Marshall's farm on their own 50 acres. When he was a high school teacher, Melvin Mosley once disciplined Marshall for an act of unauthorized kissing.
According to the Times report, Mosley is also the lifelong best friend of Marshall's father. Today, Mosley is someone Stacie Marshall still turns to for advice.
That said, the Mosleys live on their own 50 acres—and the Mosleys are black! When he was a kid, Melvin Mosley lived in one of the "shacks" on Marshall's family farm. Today, he owns 50 acres himself, and he's the best friend of Marshall's father.
So is 300 acres in Gore, Ga. a lot of land or a little? To our ear, that fifty acres sounds like a lot! How much wealth can be derived from 300 acres in Marshall's part of this very large world?
For our money, passages like the one we've just posted formed the most interesting parts of this lengthy profile. We'll also throw this passage in:
SEVERSON: [Marshall's] father, who lives down the road, is as proud of his farm daughter as a man could be. He unabashedly supports her work against racism, but at the Dirt Town Deli, he sometimes stays quiet when an offensive comment passes among his friends. All in all, he’d rather discuss his tractor collection and the fried-egg sandwiches his daughter makes him every morning for breakfast.
He also supports Mr. Trump, and doesn’t understand why in the world she started voting for Democrats.
In some ways, Ms. Marshall doesn’t either.
Marshall's father is a Trump supporter. He doesn't understand why his daughter votes for Democrats.
Also, he supports his daughter's antiracism work, and his lifelong best friend—his best friend from childhood—is black.
It seemed to us that an interesting story might be floating around in there, a story of possible complexity and possible human progress. For better or worse, this story was disregarded as the Times chose to take the road more traveled by.
We were handed a convoluted story in which a principled woman of undisclosed "wealth" was trying to decide what to do with her wealth. We were told that her decision might light the way to all places in the Deep South.
It sounded to us like Marshall's slice of northwest Georgia might already be on the road away from perdition! At the Times, these minor points were offered only as passing ironies as Marshall looked for ways to "chip away at racism in the Deep South."
The Times was handing subscribers a somewhat exotic travelogue to the land of God's Little Acre. How will these Dirt Town people settle their deeply horrible past? We Yankees, in our northern redoubts, were invited to wonder and ask.
Perhaps we shouldn't have had this slightly jaundiced reaction to this lengthy profile. But even as we read this essay, another lengthy report, on page one of the Sports Monday section, was creating much more interest than this trip to the South ever will.
This second Monday morning report took us inside the world of ESPN. It took us to a land of massively privileged, cable TV celebrity multimillionaires.
You can read that second report right here; in certain basic ways, we think it's very poor work. Even as the New York Times was helping us see Dirt Town Valley in action, we found ourselves wondering when the Times is planning to heal itself.
Is it possible that the rubes in Dogpatch have come a bit further than the swells in Gotham have? We've even found ourselves wondering that as we've pondered Monday's second report—this second manifestation of Our Town's newly-discovered, ubiquitous interest in vast racial justice.
For our money, the gigantic Sports Monday report involved some dispiriting journalism. In some ways, today's follow-up report is worse.
Inevitably, that second lengthy Monday report has churned all sorts of division and turmoil. In these ways, we continue to pay the price for the conduct of our nation's benighted ancestors.
In our judgment, it would still too depressing to write about Monday's second report. For today, we'll merely offer the obvious name for the alleged "scandal" to which the report refers:
We'll call it Disparagingcommentgate. The possibly slightly slippery Kevin Draper was nominally in charge.
How disparaging were the comments at the heart of Disparagingcommentgate? Plainly, ESPN was being disparaged, possibly for good reason. (Or not!)
That said, was anyone else being disparaged as this exciting new "scandal" exploded? If Our Town is willing to be sane just for once, was anyone else being disparaged in this latest manifestation of Our Town's vast love for vast racial justice?
Was anyone else being disparaged in the relevant comments at all?
Tomorrow: "A Disparaging Video Prompts Explosive Fallout"