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Tennessee Molasses Stir-off

By Joe Clark

Abstract

Narrative by Junebug Clark in the summer of 2014\ud \ud Sorghum cane stalks being gathered. Eventually the stalks are ground and the juice extracted, poured into vats and boiled down into molasses.\ud \ud Overall Background: These Molasses Making Stir-off photos were shot by Joe Clark HBSS in the early to mid-1940s. Either on the farm of Fred Whitaker about four miles southwest of Cumberland Gap, or in Cumberland Gap on the farm of Baptist preacher the Rev. Hugh Vancel. More information about these images can be found in scrapbooks in the Clark Family Collection at the University of North Texas Special Collections Library. Specifically in a Detroit news pictorial article published December 13, 1942 titles "stir-off party" where mountaineers make molasses and merriment. Also in life magazine published November 13, 1950 [page 156] titled “Stir-off Time in Tennessee, Fun Starts in Hills as Molasses Boils.’ Also in the library is the NBC Today Show story on Joe Clark HBSS by Bob Dotson. It features Joe Clark returning to Cumberland Gap Tennessee to photograph a molasses stir off taking place in the same location as some of these photographs and attended by some of the same people in the early 1980s.\ud \ud Let me briefly set the scene of the time and era that these photos were made. World War II was raging. Television did not exist. Radio reception sporadic in this mountain country. School was held only three months a year mostly during the winter months. Most news of the changes in the outside world was learned, they say, “By looking at pictures in the Sears catalogs.” \ud \ud They farmed steep and rolling hillsides of very poor land. In most of America, to help in the war effort, the rationing of food and other essentials was prevalent. Very few of these Tennessee mountaineers and hill folk had homes with electricity. None with indoor plumbing. Water came from wells which was diverted from nearby streams. Heat in the winter months from a single fireplace. It is where Joe Clark, HBSS was born and raised. Now living in Detroit Michigan, he returned to photograph and capture the memories and the good times of the people he knew so well so well and to document their lives which he saw changing

Topics: harvests, Agriculture - Farming - Sorghum, sorghum cane stalks, Social Life and Customs - Food and Cooking
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