Martin L. King Jr. and Cotton Picking Years Connection

We commemorated the Martin L. King ‘s (MLK)  50th Anniversary March in August 2013 in which I attended and wrote the article/story for Splash Magazine, October 2013 Martin L. King’s March on Washington  and President John F. Kennedy’s assassination changed America forever 50 years ago” .  As we approach Dr. King’s ”85th" birthday on January 15, 2014 and Black History Month, I  want to remind others, and myself that we cannot and we shall not forget our American history. 


Martin L. King March on Washington, August 28, 1963 - Courtesy of Francis Miller


MLK's 50th Anniversary March (August 2013) with the young generation - Courtesy of John Nelson, Visual Artist



A month later after being so inspired by the March, I was invited to go on a journey to the South with Katrina Shannon, Executive Director of Life’s Big Pictures and Creator of Cottonistic:  A Historical Pictorial honoring the Cotton Pickers of America.  Her photographic exhibition, Cottonistic: The Beginning is featured at Better Family Life Cultural, Educational and Business Center in St. Louis, Missouri , October 2013 – February 19, 2014.



Katrina Shannon Executive Director of Life's Big Pictures and Creator of Cottonistic, Courtesy of Katrina Shannon

It was an amazing, spiritual journey traveling through Alabama, Tennessee and South Georgia actual seeing the cotton fields. We were even more excited after interviewing several individuals who actually picked cotton and others whose ancestors picked cotton. One of the most amazing stories was uncovered by Ms. Barbara Howard, a brilliant person who is the Deputy Director for Program Operations, and Health disparities for Research and Education, Tuskegee University, Alabama.


Ms. Howard's Website




Renee Sudderth, Barbara Howard, Katrina Shannon pointing Forward to Freedom; Cotton Compliments by Rombach Farms, Courtesy of Katrina Shannon



Photojournalist Renee Sudderth with the Alabama Archives and History Staff, Courtesy of Katrina Shannon


Ms. Howard obtained photos of cotton pickers from Jim Peppler (Southern Courier Photograph Collection), who was The Southern Courier Newspaper Photographer (1965-68). She went on a journey throughout her home County of Montgomery, AL asking about the unique photos, "Do you know this person?"  Amazingly, she had a photo of a cotton picker who lived to be 102 years old and died in 2002. She asked one lady who said, "THAT'S MY MOTHER"!  This was one of the highlights! We visited and interviewed the daughter of the cotton picker. 


A daughter holding her mother's photo as a cotton picker; photographer Jim Peppler of the Southern Courier Newspaper- Courtesy of Katrina Shannon


Stay tuned for the documentary in print or who knows maybe on the Oprah OWN Network by Ms. Katrina Shannon with Ms. Sudderth, Ms. Howard and Ms. Nikki Ervins by her side. This may take place after Author Ervins publish her book “Victorious Over Loneliness” in mid August 2014.


Nikki Ervins, Katrina Shannon, Renee Sudderth, and Barbara Howard stands at MLK's Church in Montgomery, Al wearing the 50th Anniversary MLK T-shirts created by John Nelson, Visual Artist - Courtesy of Renee Sudderth


The recent Golden Globe Award Winning “Best Drama” “Movie of the Year  “12 Years a Slave” by director Steve McQueen depicted many cotton field scenes.  Even though the main character was a freed slave who was abducted from the North to the South to pick cotton and perform other slave duties, the movie made you feel you were really on the cotton field plantations.


Actor, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup in "12 Years a Slave" Autobiography- Courtesy of

“Cotton Fields” a popular song written by blues musician Huddie Ledbetter “Leadbelly” made the first recording song about being in the Cotton Fields which is worth listening to.

Staying in touch with your history is an amazing and appreciative feeling. Prior to taking the route to Montgomery, Alabama, we stopped in Tuskegee, Alabama where we met the Seven Term-Mayor Johnny Ford’s  and was part of his press conference on The Affordable Health Care Act/The Obama Health Care Reform.  I was impressed by how much Mayor Ford does for his city and others. Former Mayor/Author Randy Murray who served 8 years in Toccoa, GA, was also in Tuskegee, attending a Mayor’s conference. Katrina and I both share a great interest in history and we were truly blessed to meet with Mayor Ford and Murray and learn about their extraordinary experiences over lunch.

American Marketing Institute Website



Former Mayor Randy Murray and Mayor Johnny Ford - Courtesy of Renee Sudderth

Amazingly, Mayor Ford’s classmate, Ms. Dyann Robinson, President of Tuskegee Repertory Theatre and Dance Studio toured us around her breath-taking studio that features plays, dance and many memorable historical items. She says she can still dance like she did in the Broadway musical hit play “Bubbling Brown Sugar”. I highly recommend you visit and be part of her studio.   Afterward, she escorted us around the Tuskegee campus.


Ms Dyann Robinson, President of Tuskegee Repertory Theatre & Dance Studio - Courtesy of Renee Sudderth


Tuskegee Rep Website



I know that I will be returning to Tuskegee because of the excitement, history and the great hospitality offered to us by everyone we met. I plan to visit sites where the Tuskegee Airmen made aviation history by being the first black pilots to fly during World War II.  They were given First Lady's approval when President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s wife, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt actual came to Tuskegee to be the first to test the flying skills of a black pilot, Charles Anderson. Her validation of, “Well, you can sure fly alright” started the history of Black pilots flying side by side with white pilots during the wars.


First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt making history with Tuskegee Airmen Anderson - Courtesy of Air Force Historical Research Agency


Because of the Tuskegee Airmen’s high achievement, the United States Air Force became an independent branch of the armed service in which I’m still serving proudly over 30 years.


The Honorable Tuskegee Airmen being honored at Robins Air Force Base, GA, December 2011; Courtesy of Renee Sudderth


I thank God I was part of Martin L. King’s 50th Anniversary March that led me to the South to learn more about our American History which included those cotton picking years.  Knowledge is Power and you can take that where ever you may go in life.  You should not only want to learn history but strive to be part of history.  Thanks goes to Dr. Martin L. King Jr. and others who paved the way and made our extraordinary history want to be told from generation to generation.


Beautiful Cotton at it's begininng - Courtesy of Renee Sudderth


Martin L. King Jr. 50 years ago at the March on Washington - August, 1963 Courtesy of AFP/Getty Images

Copyright © 2014.January This story written by Renee Sudderth  for Splash Magazines. It is not to be sold or reproduce without written permission of Renee Sudderth


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