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Interview with Frank Mitchener, August 15, 2016

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:20 - Childhood and grandfather

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Partial Transcript: So to begin with, could you tell me a bit about your childhood?

Segment Synopsis: Mitchener talks about his happy childhood in Sumner, Mississippi where he rode around the countryside and biked across town. He describes how the land was divided into small plots that were farmed by black sharecroppers. He discusses how his grandfather bought land near Sumner after fighting for the Confederacy. Mitchener talks about the negative affect of the Great Depression on land prices in the area.

Keywords: 15th Regiment, Mississippi Infantry; Battle of Atlanta; Battle of Franklin; Cassidy Bayou; College Hill Presbyterian Church; College Hill, Mississippi; Dollar Cotton by John Faulkner; Maury, Tennessee; Mississippi Delta; The Civil War; United States Army; cash crops; cotton prices; horses; prisoner of war (POW); sharecropping; slavery; tenant farming

00:10:58 - Education, farming experience, and race relations

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Partial Transcript: And, so I would imagine that some of this land along the bayou was some of the most valuable?

Segment Synopsis: Mitchener talks about how the land along the Cassidy Bayou is productive for growing cotton due to its surface and internal drainage ability. He describes attending McCallie School, a boarding school in Chattanooga, Tennessee, before going to Davidson College in North Carolina. He talks about the prevalence of sharecropping in the Delta region, but he states that he employed wage laborers when he started farming part of his father's land in 1957. Mitchener describes how the Civil Rights Movement reached Sumner with the Emmett Till trial that was held in the local court house, but he says that the movement wasn't a big issue beyond the trial. He also talks about expanding his farm by leasing other land and working the land his siblings inherited after their father's death.

Keywords: United States Army; chopping cotton; family; inheritance; land owners; racism; sandy loam; sharecroppers; silt loam; tenant farmers; tractors

00:20:38 - Agricultural changes

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Partial Transcript: So you said that in the 1950s, chemical weedant didn't come about. When did that come about?

Segment Synopsis: Mitchener describes how chemical herbicides and insecticides increased cotton yields, and he mentions how farmers would hire entomologists to check crops for insects and make insecticide recommendations. He talks about the mechanization of farming and the introduction of genetically modified crops in the 1990s. He mentions how there was not much involvement in the Civil Rights Movement beyond the Emmett Till trial and school integration.

Keywords: Delta Rainbow: The Irrepressible Betty Bobo Pearson ; Boll Weevil Eradication program; DDT; Dr. George Mullendore; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Roundup Ready crops; boll weevil; boll worm; cotton scouts; insect resistance; karmex herbicide; mechanical harvesters; mechanical pickers; pesticides

00:32:04 - Delta Council and National Cotton Council

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Partial Transcript: You became, uh, if I remember correctly from what I have seen in publications. Were you the president of the Delta Counsel at one point?

Segment Synopsis: Mitchener talks about his experiences as president of the Delta Council and the National Cotton Council which he describes as the most powerful commodity councils at the time of his office. He describes working to improve cotton commodity prices and flood control while supporting national agricultural legislation and deregulation.

Keywords: agricultural policy; agricultural support prices; flooding; insect control; irrigation; leadership; regulation; water stewardship; weed control; well licenses; wells

00:41:21 - Fighting cotton dust regulation

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Partial Transcript: We had a regulation in our textile mills about the amount of what they call cotton dust.

Segment Synopsis: Mitchener describes how he advocated to remove regulations regarding cotton dust in textile mills that were put into place to protect workers from byssinosis, or brown lung. He states that the National Cotton Council conducted research into byssinosis and found that it only affected smokers which he said made the regulations unnecessary. He talks about meeting with President Reagan and Vice President Bush and working with them to deregulate cotton dust.

Keywords: Byssinosis (brown lung); James "Jim" Baker; President George H. W. Bush; President Ronald Reagan; deregulation; labor unions; lobbying; lobbyist

00:47:45 - Senator Cochran and Representative Whitten

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Partial Transcript: What were some of the losers?

Segment Synopsis: Mitchener describes how he worked with other agricultural leaders to appoint Thad Cochran, a new senator, to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. They persuaded Senator Eastland to retire three weeks early and got the current governor, Cliff Finch, to appoint Cochran in Eastland's place which gave Cochran seniority over other new senators and enabled him to join the agriculture committee. Mitchener also describes his friendly relationship with Representative Whitten who was the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Keywords: Republicans; United States Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry; deregulation; exercise; golf; lobbying; lobbyist; regulations; tennis; walking

00:53:29 - Agricultural chemicals and the organization of the National Cotton Council

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Partial Transcript: What were some of the other regulations you faced when you were an agricultural leader?

Segment Synopsis: Mitchener describes his work with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to get certain agricultural chemicals approved, mentioning various herbicides including Karmex, Treflan, Fusilade, and Roundup. Mitchener describes how the National Cotton Council is divided into seven segments: producers, ginners, warehousers, merchants
cottonseed, cooperatives, and manufacturers. He talks about how each segment has veto power over policy which he credits for promoting unity within the organization.

Keywords: American Textile Manufacturers Institute (ATMI); Delta Council; GMO (genetically modified organism); Johnsongrass; Stonewall, Mississippi; chemical drift; free market; lobbying; pigweed; price floor; productivity

01:00:41 - Farming operation

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Partial Transcript: So what--when did you retire from farming?

Segment Synopsis: Mitchener describes how he retired from farming in 2001 because he had over-expanded his farm, and it became too expensive. He talks about using computer technology to model cotton plants which he said increased his knowledge of the plant but did not affect his yields.

Keywords: International Business Machines (IBM); computer modeling; downsizing; retirement; technology

01:06:26 - Insect control

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Partial Transcript: And so I remember--when I was going over the George Mullendore archives he kept on telling this story about how you had decided that it was too early to defoliate. Was he embellishing that story?

Segment Synopsis: Mitchener describes the influence of scientists George Mullendore and Jack Mooney on his successful decision to control tarnished plant bugs which many farmers did not do at the time due to the expense of insecticides. He also talks about the problem of the tobacco budworm which became resistant to many pesticides. He talks about how he was the first farmer to use Bt cotton, a genetically modified cotton which produces toxins harmful to insects.

Keywords: Africa; Deltapine; Lygus lineolaris; Monsanto; boll worm; genetic engineering; genetically modified organism (GMO); green revolution; organic foods; pesticides

01:15:09 - Changes in the Delta

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Partial Transcript: So back to the Delta, what has been the relationship between, you know, agriculture and people's well being in the Delta?

Segment Synopsis: Mitchener talks about how the mechanization of agriculture has caused many people to lose their jobs. He describes how people are being replaced by technology in every sector of the economy which he says will continue to happen. He states that the future of the Delta is in large-scale agriculture and not in industry.

Keywords: The Great Migration; agricultural technology; automobiles; computers; cotton pickers; skilled labor; tractors; unemployment