What is: Tobacco Farm Barns near Simsbury, CT

What was: In June 1944, trains carrying 185 students from Morehouse College in Atlanta arrived in a northern Connecticut town of Simsbury.  The students had arrived to work in the tobacco fields and harvest shade tobacco, then one of Connecticut’s biggest cash crops. These fields and barns are where Martin Luther King spent time working as a 15-year-old.  He would spend 2 summers working in the fields around Simsbury.

More than just a job, this was his first exposure to the Northeast and to a society that was not formally segregated.  He attended Simsbury churches, sang with the choir, enjoyed drugstore milkshakes and attended movies at Eno Hall. He made weekend visits to the “big city” of Hartford. In a letter to his mother in June 1944 he remarked that he had eaten in “one of the finest restaurants in Hartford” and that he had “never thought” that people of different races “could eat anywhere” together.

He wrote a week earlier of going to the same church in Simsbury as white people. His new calling as a religious leader was emerging, too.  “I have to speak on some text every Sunday to 107 boys. We really have good meetings,” he wrote.  MLK later credited that time with helping him decide to enter the clergy, which, in turn, led him to join the civil rights movement. Sources: and  Dr King in Simsbury






What is: Silos in the field, near Victoriaville, VA

What was: America was built on agriculture, from the colonists’ adoption of Native American methods to the early plantations exporting tobacco to the westward settlements across the land. Economic expansion and growth was rooted in farming.

“In 1862 Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act which granted Americans 160-acre plots of public land in the Western territory. Noted as being one of the most important pieces of American legislation to pass, this new act invited families to settle in the Great Plains and grow what we now call the breadbasket. By 1870, 50% of all Americans worked as agricultural laborers” (Source:

The United States began as a largely rural nation, with most people living on farms or in small towns and villages. While the rural population continued to grow in the late 1800s, the urban population was growing more rapidly. Still, a majority of Americans lived in rural areas in 1900.

When the Great Depression hit over a million farmers moved to the cities to find work. This was followed by droughts and the dustbowl, declining exports and prices further causing hardships for family farms.

Today, the United States is the world’s largest exporter of agricultural products. Over two million farms are found across our nation and 98% of them operated by families – individuals, family partnerships or family corporations according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. The more than 2 million farms in the U.S. vary greatly in size and characteristics. For example, annual gross revenue can range from as little as $1,000 to more than $5 million. Family farms provide 88% of production. Most farms are small family farms, and they operate almost half of U.S. farm land, while generating 21% of production (Source USDA). Technology, consumer needs, and agricultural productivity has resulted in family farms growing larger and producing more than ever before.

What is: an abandoned cotton gin between Clarksdale and Friars Point, MS.

What was: Founded in the 1830s and continuing to operate into the 20th century, the King and Anderson Plantation was an enormous spread of seventeen thousand acres just northwest of Clarksdale and reputed to be the largest family plantation in Mississippi. Originally, large plantations had their own private cotton gins. Over time, the increasing number of smaller farms, the emergence of sharecropping after the civil war and new technologies led to the rise of public gins.

By the early twentieth century, large, public facilities that not only ginned cotton but also sold seeds to cottonseed oil firms, populated nearly every town and county in the state’s cotton belt. In addition to the economic function, public gins served a social function. “Trips to the gin provided farmers living in the far reaches of Mississippi’s counties with breaks in the tedium and solitude of toiling on small, isolated farms. The same gins served black and white farmers, and gin operators made no efforts to serve whites before blacks. While waiting in line to gin their cotton, farmers of both races came together to discuss pests, weather patterns, and prices. As shared public spaces, therefore, gins offered brief respites from the stifling confines of Mississippi’s racial caste system.” Source: