Southern Spaces | Catfish Dream

September 10, 2018





In this original essay for Southern Spaces, Julian Rankin writes about the making of his book Catfish Dream: Ed Scott’s Fight for His Family Farm and Racial Justice in the Mississippi Delta (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2018), a portrait of a prolific farmer (the first nonwhite owner of a catfish plant in the nation's history), his family, and the racial politics of agriculture in the Deep South.



A white plantation owner in Money, Mississippi, pointed a shotgun at his father's head and threatened to blow it off, Ed Scott Jr. told me in 2013. This happened in the 1920s, when Scott was a boy. Three decades before the murder of Emmett Till put Money on all the wrong maps. The death threat was because Scott's father—who had brought his wife and children to the Delta in 1919—dreamed of being a black landowner instead of a sharecropper.


Ed Scott Jr. and I sat together in the cool-dark A/C. I sat on a stool, he reclined in an electric wheelchair. It was my first visit with him. He recounted more to me, of his tours in World War II ducking Nazi sniper fire with General Patton. How his return home to racism in Mississippi was, as James Baldwin wrote, like "a certain hope had died."


"[The people back home] didn't care about us no way," Scott said, speaking of whites' reception of black veterans. "They didn't want to see you with that uniform on back then. I was proud of that uniform, but I wasn't proud of Mississippi. Wasn't proud of Mississippi at all."


On the plight of the black soldier, Baldwin writes that he was "almost always given the hardest, ugliest, most menial work to do." After the war, Ed Scott stayed on the farm to help his father, who had then amassed hundreds of acres of Delta farmland. Scott's dream was not that the work wouldn't be ugly, or hard, or even menial. But that it would be his own work. That he would be his own master.


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