Nancy Scheper-Hughes

Southern Rural Research Project, 1967-68, Alabama
Prof. Nancy Scheper-Hughes
Department of Anthropology
232 Kroeber Hall
University of California
Berkeley, California 94720
Phone: 510-642-3392

I was a field staff member of the Southern Rural Research Project (SRRP) in Selma, Alabama and in five rural counties of Southwest Alabama during 1967 and 1968. The project, affiliated with SNCC, SCLC, was led by a civil rights lawyer, Donald Jellinek. The field staff members made contact with dispersed farm families, tenant farmers and sharecroppers, conducted interviews and collected data on access — mostly none — of Black tenant farmers to federal programs, cotton allotment grants, FHA, seed and agricultural loans, as well as to food commodities and food stamps which had just then been implemented.

I analyzed the results from 500+ interviews with farm families and wrote two reports that were published by SRRP and used in a class action suit, "Peoples v. the Department of Agriculture" that tried to sue the USDA for allowing local federal agents to deny access to free food commodities and/or to food stamps. Although the law suit did not succeed it was brought to a federal district court in Washington, D.C. and was argued in the presence of more than 100 tenant farmers who gave testimony to their plight before TV cameras, resulting in a CBS documentary, "Hunger in America" and many other political and congressional debates and hearings.

I co-authored an article (with two other field staff workers, Linda and Gary Hunt), "Nixon's Guaranteed Annual Poverty: Hunger in the Welfare State" that was published in Ramparts magazine in 1969 and republished in a book entitled, Divided We Stand, a year later.

I lived for several months in Gees Bend, Alabama during 1967-1968 where I wrote up the SRRP reports (and statistical findings) on the "Extinction of the Black Farm Family" and "Hunger and Malnutrition Among Black Farm Families in Southwest Alabama". While in Gees Bend I became involved in trying to promote and distribute the now famous quilts and quilt makers of Gees Bend. I wrote an article "Anatomy of a Quit" that was published in 2004 (I think) in Anthropology Today (UK) and a year later in Southern Cultures (a journal published at UNC, Chapel Hill).

I am today a professor of Medical Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. Although my research has taken me mainly to Latin America, I revisited friends in the movement in Selma and in Wilcox Country in the late 1970s and stayed in touch with some members of our project who lived in the Bay Area (Donald Jelinek and "UZ" Nunly) and with Linda Hunt (in Philadelphia) and Kathy Veit (in rural New Mexico). I hope to return to Gees Bend in the next year.


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