Roots of Oppression

An amazing photo album of Danish photographer Jacob Holdt who spent time over thirty years in small farming towns in the Southern US in the early 1970s.

As seen through the eyes of a foreigner this presentation is about how such racial attitudes cripple our character, whatever our color. Though there is plenty of racism in Europe, I was fortunate to have my childhood in Denmark during years when I was not severely hurt by social insecurity and racist conditioning. I was also fortunate that the first people I stayed with in America were not white. Most European visitors stay first with white Americans, who warn them, “Don’t walk three blocks this way or two blocks that way,” and immediately frighten them into accepting white fear and rigid segregation.

My experience was just the opposite. The first American home to take me in was a black home on the south side of Chicago. With all their love, warmth and openness, I immediately felt at home and saw whites only as cold distant faces on TV or in hostile suburbia.
Later, traveling into the white world, I was no longer as vulnerable to its racist patterns of guilt and fear. I hitchhiked 118,000 miles and stayed in over 400 homes in 48 states. I had arrived with only $40. Twice a week I sold my blood plasma to earn the money I needed for film.

4 times I was attacked by robbers with pistols,
2 times I managed to avoid cuts from men with knives,
2 times frightened police drew guns on me,
1 time I was surrounded by 10-15 blacks in a dark alley and almost killed.

1 time I was ambushed by the Ku Klux Klan,
several times I had bullets flying around me in shootouts,
2 times I was arrested by the FBI, and 4 times by the Secret Service.
I lived with 3 murderers and countless criminals…..
…but I have never met a bad American!

(via My2SecondShelfLife)


  1. At risk of having some fingers wagged at me I’d like to say – if he’s inclined to ignore warnings of “don’t walk three blocks this way or two blocks that way” but got mugged, shot at, ambushed and arrested I think he may be a fool!

    Sometimes people are racist, and sometimes some parts of town are dangerous.

    Lots of great historical content on that site though.

  2. If he hadn’t been a ‘fool’ and hadn’t walked into areas no white was allowed to go, he would never have got the pictures he got. Especially of those cotton plantations and sugar cane camps. It’s incredible.

    I wonder if today there are still places like that.

  3. Inti, of course there are. I read about the ones that are full of Pakistanis and Afghanis that built Dubai from another one of Chris’ links.

    Apparently, one orange plantation was owned by Minute Maid and Coca-Cola and after his pictures surfaced, they improved the conditions.

    Incredibly interesting. I look forward to reading more of his work.

  4. Picking nits probably, but if Jacob has found a way to spend thirty years in the early 1970s, I’m definitely interested.

  5. I wonder if today there are still places like that.

    Inti, indeed there are. I live in the American South (South Carolina, to be precise)… and yes, there are many, many places like that still here. Politicians like to take train rides through them during election time… but they dare not stop.

    And actually, I believe that the photo on the site where he is holding the sign “visiting USA from Denmark”, he is standing in front of the Denmark, South Carolina town-limit sign. Share-cropping, cotton farms, etc. still exist here. The level of poverty is something to behold. If you’d care to see it, you’re always welcome to visit – it’s NOT dangerous – but it is very enlightening to see the ‘forgotten’ America.

    I would suggest you take a look at the short documentary “Corridor Of Shame” about the poor schools in the South… and also, take a look at this video – this is not a Hollywood “set”… it’s just outside of Savannah, Georgia.. most likely in the Ridgeland, South Carolina area, where J.C.M. has a home and does quite a bit of charity work:

    Also, “Corridor Of Shame”:
    (if you watch this, keep in mind that S.C. governor Mark Sanford refuses to take money if it will help these schools. He will only take ‘stimulus’ money if he can channel it towards other “state debt”. I don’t believe in hell, but if I did, I’m sure Mark Sanford would go there.)

  6. Piri – I think his point was that those dangerous areas contain crime, just like everywhere else, but he survived and actually saw beauty there too – and we should re-examine our attitudes about what we’re really scared of.
    This man is my hero.

  7. I enjoyed the great photos this guy has taken over the years. One thing I noticed though, he says that Charles Smith was 134 years old at the time of the interview.I’m am not doubting that the man is old, but 134? I know there is a woman who is supposed to be 134 but I did not find anything on this guy. I would think if that were his true age it would news.

  8. Niel, I live in Clemson (originally from Alabama) and was amazed when Sanford was quoted as students should get used to mediocrity when asked about school funding. Why bother is a common attitude towards education in this state as evidenced by its 50% drop out rate.

    Thanks for the corridors of shame link.

  9. Anyone from or in the south with their eyes open knows about these facts, myself included (although it should be noted that Wounded Knee is in South Dakota, which is not in the south). It’s as ugly as humanity can get. It should also be noted that anyone who wore the cotton that those people toiled in the fields for, or ate one of the oranges they picked, or put the sugar in their coffee that came from the hellhole that is Immalokee, can share in the blame.

  10. Hey Seth!

    I’ve been through Clemson many, many times. I even lived for a short time in “Central”. Tell me… do thinking-people still visit the bar “Nicks”?

    And you’re right about Sanford- I was amazed at his remarks as well. The drop out rate is horrendous and he is worried about being a “true conservative republican”. He’s an embarrassment.

    ps. I was arrested in Clemson once. It involved a moped, a bar called ‘backstreets’ (which has hopefully been demolished), a house-fire, a couch, two rabbits, and a lot of alcohol. OH yeah, and a band called The Drovers.

Comments are closed.