The name of the 1970 Ossie Davis-directed Blaxploitation film, Cotton Comes To Harlem, has taken on a new twist in 2016.
Willie Morgan, who hails from Georgia, grows actual cotton in Harlem to teach children in his neighborhood about slavery. Cotton, of course, was the cash crop that allowed the United States flourish in capitalism during the 19th century. The free labor of enslaved people allowed the country’s economy to grow by leaps and bounds.
“I tell the kids … that the jeans they’re wearing come from cotton. They don’t know anything about it,” he said in a recent interview with the Independent. “I give them the cotton and they can take it into their classes.”
Morgan began planting his cotton plants in 2005, and they now sit right at an iconic Harlem statue of Harriet Tubman at the junction of 122nd Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard.
“This is what slavery was about. They did not have machines. They needed people to pick it…[That way] they know about the cotton, they know what their forefathers did.”
Morgan plants the seeds in June, and harvests them in September and October. He also plants peanuts, collard greens, okra, onions and stevia in his own plot of land not too far from the statue of Harriet, also known as Black Moses.
— Chef Toni (@ChefToniNYC) September 25, 2016
Morgan has been in Harlem since 1969, and today has six customers he shares his bounty with. Fox5 also notes that he is a chef and runs a small catering business.
Alas, many of those neighbors have been forced out with the rising prices of rent happening in Harlem, and all over New York City.
“The prices are going up,” Morgan says ruefully. “They are putting up more buildings than ever.”