‘Tiller of the Soil’

Remembering Crittenden County farmer Luther Bailey

By Ralph Hardin ralphhardin@gmail.com

In the June 26, 1999 edition of the Tri-State Defender, Wiley Henry ran a retrospective on Crittenden County farmer Luther Bailey. “Despite plighted conditions and the promise of 40 acres and a mule,” read the opening line, “a grandson remembers the land and wealth his grandfather obtained during a time when Black people were relegated to the fields.” That grandson was Velmar Bailey of West Memphis. Though his grandfather has since passed, Bailey looked to continue reminding area residents of the impact Luther Bailey had on the community. In 1949, after managing a 1,400-acre plantation for J.D. Peeples, Luther Bailey acquired an 1,100-acre farm of his own in Crittenden County. Farming was something the Bailey family was born into — albeit in the worst of circumstances. According to the Defender story, Luther Bailey’s great-great-great grandfather Henry Bailey was sold in Maryland and brought to Mississippi, “enduring the hardships of servitude.” Fast-forward five generations, and Luther Bailey’s farm and family grew exponentially. By 1955, Bailey owned or farmed more than 3,600 acres in the county, employing 120 field hands and workers at the operation’s peak, before selling off his acreage in 1978. For three decades, the Baileys grew cotton, beans, corn and milo, with Luther at the helm. Despite only a first-grade education (though Velmar says his grandfather could “read, write and count very well”), his operation flourished, with farms in Heth, Caldwell, Parkin and Shearerville.” Velmar said his grandfather worked untiringly, yet would give exceedingly. “He had his own orchard of apples, peaches, pears and plums,” he said. “Also rabbits, deer, foxes, coons, peacocks and cows… he had his own kingdom… he would kill from 14 to 22 hogs every fall and the people would come in and he would give to everybody.” The roots Luther Bailey planted in Crittenden County continue to grow. Velmar still lives in the area and holds his grandfather’s legacy in the highest regard. “For a Black man to have acquired so much during a period marred by racial strife and tension, in a country that often reduced Black men to boys, is a testimony to what my grandfather had done,” he said. “For so many years, he was a good Christian and deacon of the church, and better still, he was just a good man and provider.” Luther Bailey passed away in 1990.

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