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Harvest Time

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My ears are caked with dust of oat-fields at harvest-time.
I am a deaf man who strains to hear the calls of other harvesters whose throats are also dry.

It would be good to hear their songs . . . reapers of the sweet-stalked cane, cutters of the corn . . . even though their throats cracked, and the strangeness of their voices deafened me.

I hunger. My throat is dry. Now that the sun has set and I am chilled.
I fear to call. (Eoho, my brothers!)

Jean Toomer, from “Harvest Song,” within Cane

The four harvest-themed photographs below are drawn from the collection of Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives. During the FSA years (1937-1942), the photographic documentation project focused, among other subjects, on the lives of sharecroppers in the South and migratory agricultural workers in the midwestern and western states. This topical emphasis is evident in Russell Lee’s two photographs — the 1938 Louisiana rice harvest (upper row, left) and the 1941 Washington wheat harvest (lower row, left) — and in Dorothea Lange’s 1939 photo of a migrant family’s arrival to hire-on for the Oregon potato harvest (upper row, right).

Transporting Rice from Field to Thresher. Note dusty roads. Near Crowley, Louisiana
Transporting Rice from Field to Thresher, near Crowley, Louisiana. Photograph by Russell Lee, Sept 1938.

Migratory family, come to Klamath Basin for potato harvest, moving into tent in the new mobile unit. (FSA - Farm Security Administration). Tents are provided. Merrill, Klamath County, Oregon
Migratory Family Arriving for Potato Harvest, Merrill, Klamath County, Oregon. Photograph by Dorothea Lange, Sept 1939.

Following the U.S. entry into World War II, the Office of War Information (1942-1944) succeeded the FSA as the visual documentation emphasis shifted to the war mobilization effort and bolstering the homefront citizenry. Ann Rosener’s September 1942 photograph illustrates this revamped aim as women took on work in factories and field, in this case picking asparagus in Illinois (below, right).

Harvesting Wheat with a Combine, Walla Walla County, Washington. Photograph by Russell Lee, July-Sept 1941.
Harvesting Wheat with a Combine, Walla Walla County, Washington. Photograph by Russell Lee, July-Sept 1941.

These women harvest hands in Rochelle, Illinois, are helping the national welfare by picking the summer asparagus crop
Women Agricultural Workers Picking Asparagus, Rochelle, Illinois. Photograph by Ann Rosener, Sept 1942.

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