On September 18, 1895, Dr. Booker T. Washington delivered a speech at the Cotton States and International Exposition that would resonate with every facet of American life during that time. The speech was entitled the Atlanta Compromise.
The Atlanta Compromise resonated differently for various communities in America. To the Black community, it meant fully utilizing community assets, with emphasis on creating products and services for Black upliftment. The speech also instructed Black communities to stop fighting segregation and to learn from it, because we didn’t need integration to be successful just the will, desire and cooperation to work together.
The Atlanta Compromise inspired Black communities in Wilmington, North Carolina, Tulsa, Oklahoma, Ocoee, Florida, and countless others to support themselves.
In Freetown, Virginia in Orange County Virginia, my great-great-grandparents, Jefferon and Catherine Shirley were inspired by this statement as well. In 1910, they amassed $722 to purchase a 150-acre property. Six generations later, my uncles, my cousins, my parents, my wife, I and my children steward the land.
Similarly, across Orange county, Black families like the Terrell, Carters, Shirley, Lewis, and Greene, families cast down their buckets where they were and purchased land for their families. By 1940, the Carter, Shirley and Terrell families over 500 acres of land in Orange County, in the shadow of Montpelier and the battles of the Confederacy.
Our grandparents showed that just when someone or a society kicks dirt on you, you show them that you are made from regenerative resilient African seeds.
Our ancestors carried seeds in the hair during the Transatlantic Slave Trade to ensure that they would have food to nourish them during uncertain times. We stand on their shoulders and we continue their legacy by sowing (planting) and saving seeds, as they did.
In April 2020, we find ourselves needing to utilize our collective assets again. This is a time now to pull together, first by galvanizing yourself in your own home. Growing food and creating your own food security is tantamount to survival. This pandemic will continue to affect our national food supply, and as the pandemic continues the food system will continue to weaken.
In the spirit of George Washington Carver, we can start growing the dynamic Sweet Potato. Sweet Potatoes originated in West Africa and once one of the seeds that our ancestors carried over.
How to grow a Sweet Potato?
Get a sweet potato and place it in a share or container, ideally a salad/lettuce/spinach container. Cover the potato, or potatoes (you can do more than one) ½ to ¾ with water. Place on your counter, in or by a window or outside on a deck. (If you place it outside, bring it in at sundown or if there is a chance for temperatures below 50 degrees.
The potato will start to sprout and grow leaves, and a vine. The leaves on this vine our edible. They can be cooked like spinach, and highly nutritious. These plants of renown also have the magnificent ability of regeneration. Which means you can cut off or break off part or all of the vine, and start a new plant with that vine in water or in soil. If you keep it in soil, in a buck, your lawn or a good-sized container you will get sweet potatoes in 100-120 days. Watering regularly once a day, keeps the vines growing.
After 60-90 days watering should be minimal, as overwatering after 90 days may cause the sweet potatoes to crack. This can be done in a bed bedroom, kitchen, balcony, back porch or lawn.
Let’s all heed the words of Dr. Booker T. Washington and cast down our buckets where we are.
Resources for growing Sweet Potatoes: