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Hartselle Enquirer
A. Ray Lee ss

Every day was a labor of love

By A. Ray Lee


Although many cities and states had observed a day of recognition for workers whose labor had been essential to the development of the industrial power of America it was not until 1894 that the first Monday in September was decreed as a legal holiday to be observed in all forty-eight states. That action had little import upon family farms where every day was a day of labor.

In Alabama, the holiday came at the start of cotton picking season. Long rows turning the fields white were waiting to be picked. Mechanical pickers had not come to our area and each boll had to be plucked individually by human hands. For us, Labor Day was not one of rest and recognition of men and women of past generations who had built this great country with their hands. The all important harvest must be gathered. The only cotton pickers we knew anything about were individuals who toiled in the fields from early in the morning until late in the afternoon packing the fruit of the bolls in six feet long sacks dragging behind them until they were full. After the sacks were weighed and emptied in a wagon they were filled once again in a cycle repeated until sundown.

I was seventeen years old before I was aware that Labor Day was one of celebration and not one for doubling down on work. After graduation from high school in May, I spent most of the summer working seven days a week in Ohio erecting prefabricated houses. I was happy to have a long weekend with pay away from the job and used it to come home for a visit.

Many of my generation developed a work ethic in those days as necessity demanded that we work for the fulfillment of our needs. We learned the connection between work and its rewards, an understanding which has served us well in life. As Morgan County transitioned in the 20th century from an agrarian-driven economy to an industrial-based one, many plants moved into our area drawn partly by an ample labor supply with a strong work ethic.

Many of my parents’ generation took public jobs often working night shifts so they could continue to farm although on a reduced scale. They relished the freedom provided by self-sufficiency.

Since the fall of man in the Garden. work has been essential for the survival of mankind.

The great Apostle wrote to the slackers in Thessalonica “If a man does not work he should not eat” off the labors of others. The writer of Ecclesiastes admonishes us: “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.”