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Oral Histories

The SFA oral history program documents life stories from the American South. Collecting these stories, we honor the people whose labor defines the region.

ORAL HISTORY

Bill Lester, Executive Director, Dockery Farms Foundation


Dockery Farms Foundation

Born in Memphis, Bill Lester attended the University of Mississippi and spent four decades teaching art at Delta State University. His great-grandfather had a large plantation in Estill, Mississippi, called Capitola, where Bill thought he’d put down some roots. But the commute was too much for his job at Delta State, so he set his eyes on Dockery. After cultivating a relationship with the Dockery family, he acquired some frontage from them and, in 1973, he built a house for himself and his wife.  For the next 40 years, Bill got to know the families who, at the time, still called Dockery home. He befriended Tom Cannon, nephew of legendary bluesman Charley Patton, and heard stories of Patton playing his signature blues in the frolicking house on Dockery on Saturday nights. He heard stories about sharecropping families who were responsible for large tracts of acreage that they called kingdoms. He even attended the last community hog killing on the farm, a tradition that was established to give a Christmas bonus to the families who called Dockery home.

Today, Bill’s is the only family left on Dockery Farms. The remaining acreage is leased out and machines do all of the work. One job remains: executive director of the Dockery Farms Foundation, a position that Bill has held since the foundation was established in 1986. Bill oversees the site and tells the Dockery story to the hundreds of Blues fans who make pilgrimages to Dockery Farms each year.

Date of interview:
2012-08-09 00:00

Interviewer:
Amy Evans

Photographer:
Amy Evans

Download Transcript

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