Dorothy White

Dorothy White was born in 1939 in Valdosta, Georgia. Dorothy and her family lived without many modern amenities like electricity or indoor plumbing. Her parents worked in a cotton mill and, after high school, Dorothy picked cotton. Her husband served in the Marine Corps during World War II. 

In this interview, Dorothy speaks about segregation, her childhood, her work picking cotton, and her limited memories regarding World War II.


There was a time when you had to—we would call it the white water and the colored water. You’d walk along, and white and colored. My dad would always have to catch my braid and pull, “What are you doing?” I said, “Dad, I just wanna see if this water taste different.”
And that’s the way it was. We couldn’t go into the restaurants. We couldn’t walk uptown with shorts on like the white girls. We had to be fully dressed. We couldn’t sit at the, what do you call it, the inside of the restaurant—we couldn’t sit there.

Picking Cotton

But when we got out of high school, what did we have? Nothing. There was no jobs for us, okay? So we had to pick cotton. But that was work. One thing my father always taught us: you work for a living. You don’t sit back and want somebody to give you something. You have to work for it.

So we would get up early in the morning and catch the cotton truck. The truck come by three o’ clock in the morning, we had to catch that truck and go to work. It would come by at three o’ clock and pick us up. We’d get on that truck about three o’ clock in the morning, and everybody half-asleep and half-awake. There’d be older people on there too. And we would go to the cotton field about five or six miles away, and we’d get off and you’d see that it was still dark. By the time we got to the field, it was getting a little light, and you could get out there and get your sack—that’s what they called it—get your sack and put it on your back.

We called it a croker sack. They make them so you can put your cotton in it. So you get your row of cotton—am I boring you? [laughs]

AJ: No, no! I’m enthralled, I’m so focused.

Get your row of cotton—get your cotton bag and you pick your own row out, what you want. So I would look and see if, “Ooh, that’s a pretty cotton row.” And you’d pick cotton to sun-up to sundown. And then they’d weigh it for you. You go in, they weigh your cotton, and they have little scales, big scales for the cotton. You’d hang it up on there and weigh it. I never could pick over 100 pound, so I would make about three dollars a day.