Sankofa Garden Homes: Growing, harvesting cotton and collard greens

Prof Freedom   collard greens
Prof Freedom collard greens

The Dallas Examiner

This month I will be addressing two crops related to the African American experience: cotton and collard greens. In my first article, the picture reflected that I was growing not only okra, but cotton and collard greens. Since that article, many of you have asked me, “Why are you growing cotton with collard greens and okra?” While many DABA – or Descendants of Africans who Built America – people are ashamed of cotton and associate it negatively with the African American experience, as recently done in the Hobby Lobby incident, I am not ashamed of it.

First let me clarify my position. I separate the product (cotton) from the condition (slavery) and do not identify the persons who picked it as slaves, but rather as enslaved-Africans – West Africans in particular. While we all agree that slavery/racism was among one of America’s great sins – the other being the removal of native peoples from their homeland – we cannot and should not condemn cotton, but instead condemn the institution of slavery/racism in all of its complex forms, i.e., spiritual, economic, political, educational and environmental.

Having grown up on a cotton plantation – a large area of land where crops are grown and harvested, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary – with my great-father who raised cotton for commercial purposes, paid his workers well and supported his extended family, I have very fond memories of cotton.

For me and other DABA people who lived in the country where I grew up, cotton was a way of life that supported many African American families. Many may not know that before supporting African American families, cotton supported many African families in West Africa, where it was grown, woven into fabric (such as Kente and mud cloth) and made into beautiful fashions.

It was this knowledge of cotton and other products that made our ABA – or Africans who Built America – ancestors targets of slavery given their skills that built centuries old West African empires like Songhai, Mali, and Ghana in and around Timbuktu.

I have always found cotton to be a beautiful plant that retains its natural beauty if not altered negatively by human hands. For that reason, I have continued to pick cotton for over 30 years of my adult life. I have exhibited, spun cotton bracelets and shared raw cotton with thousands of individuals over the years. Visit my YouTube page, Professor Freedom Cotton Pickin’ Proud.

Given that we are in the midst of cotton harvest season, I wanted to experience again – as my great-father had – growing and picking my own cotton, especially in Dallas, which was once the site of the largest Inland Cotton Exchange Market in the nation by 1971. The 17-story Dallas Cotton Exchange Building once stood at the corner of North St. Paul and San Jacinto. Because of the cotton industry, Dallas became the wealthy city it is today, one can truly be called “Cotton Town.” (“Cotton Boll” and “Cotton Bowl” – think about it.) Research the Dallas Cotton Exchange Building when you get a chance.

It goes without saying that if Dallas is “Cotton Town,” then the role that African Americans played in making it the wealthy city it is today is not known by many of its citizens. We should be more vested in the cotton industry today and reap its wealth. For more information on the subject, research Dallas Freedman Towns.

During my research, I found that my cotton is possibly the first cotton grown in Dallas in many years. Fortunately, unlike our ABA ancestors, I don’t have to stay out of school to pick my cotton, but rather can use it in schools to educate others about cotton and our relationship to it and the building of wealth in Dallas and America. For more insight, research Joppa Cotton.

I am certain you are wondering by now how collard greens relate to cotton. During harvest, while cotton was being picked, collard greens were being planted. This sturdy green plant would grow to its maturity during the winter season. It was during this time that we would hear our elders say, “Them collard’s gonna be good and tender by first frost.” The first frost made the sturdy leaves tender and easier to cook.

As the holidays came and families gathered after picking cotton, collard greens were often central to what has come to be known as African American soul food. Often eaten during Christmas dinner and certainly on New Year’s Day, which is African American Emancipation Day (1863), or on Juneteenth (1865) in Texas, collard greens have come to be known for more than a holiday special.

Now considered among one of the super green foods when cooked without pork, collard greens when eaten in a balanced diet or juiced on a regular basis can help to alter many health problems we face as African Americans today.

Whole Foods has called collards “the new kale.” We’ve always eaten collards, but we must now eat them the right way to get the full health benefits they have to offer.

Let’s celebrate both cotton and collard greens – to our future wealth and health.

I wish you good Sankofa Gardening!

Sankofa Education Services is provided by Clarence Glover, known as Professor Freedom, for the purpose of “Taking the chains off our brains, so our minds can work.” He can be reached at clarencegloverjr@aol.com.

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