Migrant Workers

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Migrant worker
Migrant workers have been an important part of our area’s agricultural heritage for the last century. Often overlooked and under-appreciated their story is seldom told. The success of many of our local farms would not have been possible without them and that is even more so today then in the past. Bob Pearson grew up in Sodus and captured working and playing with migrant workers in his book Stinky’s Tales Growing Up in a Small Village in the 1940s and 1950s (2004). You will note two difference between the migrant workers of the mid 20th century and today. Seventy years ago, the migrant workers were mostly black and from the south while today the migrants are mostly Mexican. Another difference is in those days, young people from our area worked beside the migrant workers something that is almost unheard of today. Here is Bob Pearson’s story:
Migrant workers
Sodus, New York was the temporary address during the summer months for many Black Americans referred to as migrant workers. They picked the many fruit crops in our county, starting with sweet cherries in June and concluding with apples in October, prior to their return south to pick citrus fruit in Florida during the winter. On occasion some of the migrant workers set up residence in the community and took permanent jobs. When this happened the children were in the school systems. Our schools were integrated thusly.
During summer months, migrant workers would occasionally play baseball on a rare day off against one another or against other migrant teams in the area when these games occurred they were witnessed by many fans in the area. The talent of some of the fruit pickers was exceptional. These games took place against the backdrop of the post-Jackie Robinson era nationally, and during the Luke Easter era regionally. I can remember only one occasion when the white kids from the local teams played against the teams of young migrant workers. As I remember the game it went about four innings and the score was not very good for the white kids! White boys should have played against those guys more often. Actually they should have played with them more often ! Such were the times in the mid-century.
Easter hit plenty of home runs for Cleveland and twice attained the one hundred RBI mark in the American League. He finally had trouble solving the intricacies of the curve ball. While in the International League with Rochester and Buffalo, he continued his home run feats. Fans loved his presence.
Working in the orchards with the migrants was a job many of us did to make summer earnings. The workers loved Easter and men like him for their abilities. White young men would work in the orchards for the growers they knew and keep punch cards for tallying amounts of cherries that were picked by the migrants. No one I knew could pick cherries like the migrant pickers. This skill was their existence. Whenever my buddies or I went picking anything, we did not make very much based upon pound picked. In and around the business of cherries were many discussions of baseball abilities. There were very few Black baseball pitchers during the ear. There were many hitters like Easter that captured the imaginations of the fans. Baseball was a common language in the orchards.
The Easter followers were black and white. Talent was appreciated during the middle of the twentieth century despite skin color. One of the best discussions involved hypothetical match-ups of someone like Easter or Robinson against pitchers like the Yankee’s Eddie Lopat or Allie Reynolds. When the Dodgers and Yankees played one of their many TV World Series games, people of any color could make their evaluations. Sport became the best road to integration.
There were times during harvest seasons when young boys in the county (including Sodus boys) would load up a car with vegetables and/or fruit depending upon the season, and ride around throwing these products at many targets. This was good for throwing skill development, but not a positive for community relations. Sometimes the targets were mailboxes. Sometimes the targets were signs. Sometimes the targets were barns. Sometimes the targets were rooftops and sides of houses, trailers and temporary residences set up for migrants. Despite the spirit of Luke Easter and Jackie Robinson and despite the presence of Black students in our schools, we strayed over the good sense line at times.
On one occasion, one of the riders in one of the cars on such a mission of mischief was a local Black who was a resident year around in the village. It seemed an irony that we were throwing at the migrant homes on the throwing rides. He pointed out that we also were throwing at white occupied targets. We were an integrated group of hooligans.
The rides diminished almost overnight when a car came back with shotgun pellet holes in the trunk area of the automobile. These were said to have come from a fruit farmer who did not enjoy having fruit thrown at his property. He grew the apples but he sure as hell was not going to hear apples fall on his roof or hit his property. Suddenly new forms of teen-age fun developed. In a review of behavior, this form of juvenile behavior was pretty stupid. Fortunately the activity passed when we discover dating, weekend sports and other acceptable activities.