My niece Cathy's e-mail regarding Percys back in 2006
Dear Bill, Anne, and Billy Percy:
I am sending this email to all of you because of the Percy legacy, now in the limelight for both positive and negative reasons, due to obvious comparisons between the 1927 flood depicted in the book, Rising Tide, and the PBS special based on the book, and the events of the last year in New Orleans. As this year's hurricane season approaches, I predict interest will rise in the history of the area and the Percy legacy, past and present will become more public.
Bill, you have proposed and are presumably working on another film about the flood, using the information from Rising Tide and other sources. I would like to give you my response to the PBS special, as you requested, but wanted to send these comments also to you, Anne, and to you, Billy Percy, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in Greenville.
The Percy family has a complex history, and as the film portrays, can both present the positive values of courage and upholding honor in acting on behalf of others, or can pervert those values as LeRoy Percy did in his nemesis at the time of the flood, using the appearance of these same values to exploit others, manipulating their futures for his own gain. Bill, you propose to make this film, I am assuming, to correct the record, presenting other sides of the story, such as emphasizing LeRoy's manipulation of his own son. I think the PBS movie does a relatively good job of suggesting that side of the story as well.
I would like to suggest another tactic altogether. Rather than working to edit the historical record, which will always be conflictual as regards the Percys, I would like to suggest that the Percys and their descendents instead use their influence, sense of honor, and courage to do what the Percys have always done best: make history.
Right now the world markets are in an uproar over American cotton, creating a related flood as Brazil and the West African cotton producing countries protest the large subsidies given to American cotton farmers. Billy, when we met we discussed briefly your ground-breaking work on creating a coalition of cotton farmers committed to the sustainable farming of cotton on at least 80,000 acres. I believe the time is ripe for farming to become socially sustainable as well as ecologically or environmentally more sustainable. I think the Percys could use the best part of our collective heritage, including the inherited sense of honor and courage, to influence American cotton farmers and cotton consumers to do the right thing, and support impoverished West African farmers. I don't pretend to know anything about cotton farming, but I do know about Mali, the second largest cotton producing country in West Africa, and also one of the poorest countries in the world. I spent nearly four years living with Malian farm families in remote rural villages, while in Peace Corps, and have studied and taught about it since.
I would think the Percys could do a greater service to the world, and repair some of the damage they caused to descendents of West Africa now living in the Delta, by openly talking about our concerns to make reparations, and then to create history by making those reparations. Addressing the issue of making cotton farming sustainable both socially and environmentally would be an prime opportunity to correct the historical record not in the past but in the present and for the future. I am not sure whether organic cotton is an option, but I do know from working overseas in international development that the current pessimism about the ability of West Africa to farm organic cotton is misplaced. * To learn more about the situation, you can google "mali cotton" and read some of the many current news articles and view film clips by nonprofits in Mali and elsewhere.
I think, Bill, you should make the movie about the current issue of farming cotton in West Africa and in the Delta, as well as the movement of the African population to the United States against their will. I think you should fund the film as planned, but you should hire both African-American and African film directors to film in both the U.S. and Mali, and other parts of West Africa, and the film should focus on the African and African-American experience. Billy Percy, I know you have been an influential and generous organizer and board member of several important nonprofits in the Delta region, and perhaps if you like this idea you would consider the possibility of working to help it succeed.
Anne, you are an expert on fiber art, and have interests in African-Americans interpretations of their lives in the United States through fiber arts, including their dependence on cotton farming, from slavery to share-cropping to the present. African cotton-based art illuminates West African cultures before the destructive force of slavery recreated that art in the American forms.
I think the Percys have an excellent opportunity to bring influence to a period suffering from a great deal of destruction both natural and human-caused. I hope you will consider my comments, as a Percy descendent, ever mindful of the past, but hoping to leave a positive mark for the future.