Worlds Only Monument To Insect Inspires Novel
Enterprise, Ala. It was known as “the meanest little bug in America,” and it laid waste to every cotton field from Texas to South Carolina, leaving economic ruin in it’s wake. By the time the boll weevil reached southeast Alabama in 1915, millions of dollars had been lost to what many referred to as a plague of biblical proportion. “You can only imagine how folks must have felt back then,” stated Rhett Barbaree, author of a new inspirational novel titled Thank God for Boll Weevils. “The crop that greased the economic wheels of the South was being lost year by year and lives were being affected. People were losing their homes and land. It was a sad situation.”
Two of the key people who developed solutions to the problem were H. M. Sessions, a crop speculator from Enterprise, and George Washington Carver, the agriculture professor and scientist at Tuskegee Institute, who would become famous for developing more than 300 uses for the peanut. “There is no evidence that these two men even knew each other, much less that they shared ideas,” Barbaree said. “Sessions was simply looking for another cash crop to replace cotton, and Carver had been trying for years to convince farmers to grow peanuts as part of their crop rotation–a method now widely implemented to replace nitrogen in the soil. It was Sessions, however, who would have the peanuts grown on a larger scale and soon after the first crop of 8,000 bushels came in, a chain reaction of good fortune began. The man who owned the Enterprise Cotton Seed Oil Company offered contracts to all farmers in the area who would grow peanuts the following year. The participation for the idea was overwhelming, and Coffee County, Alabama, became the world’s leading producer of peanuts for the next three years. At about this same time, Carver introduced six new uses for the peanut, solidifying the market and compelling others throughout the South to grow the plant.
And while the history of those happenings create a very unique story in itself the accolades for the novel seem to come from how such vivid pictures were painted of what ‘Southern life’ was like during that era. “There were lots of stories passed down to me over the years about our family plantation in Alabama. That more than anything helped me get the canvas right and also to create the characters and the culture for the book” Barbaree said, “they all speak in southern dialect and then also with it being set in the bible belt you’ll find that most of them have strong religious morals.” And while the book is peppered along with humorous antidotes Barbaree is quick to point out the serious side of the story. “What happened in finding a solution to the boll weevil problem was definitely a God thing, a blessing in disguise and one the people of Enterprise and Coffee County wanted their future generations to remember.” To do this a monument was erected by it’s citizens to the insect in 1919 in appreciation for the changes it made in their approach to agricultural. “You will still find the monument right down town on Main Street” Barbaree said, “a constant reminder of how something tragic became something good.”
A synopsis of the novel can be found on amazon.com/shops/tiger-iron-press
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