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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. If you would like to contribute to SFA’s oral history collections, please send your ideas for oral history along with your CV or Resume and a portfolio of prior oral history work to

< Back to Oral History project: Dockery Farms


Ruth Blaylock Foster

In its heyday, Dockery Plantation covered 40 square miles and was home to hundreds of families. Ruth Blaylock Foster’s family was one of them. Her father, Sylvester Blaylock, was born in 1896, one year after Will Dockery established his massive enterprise. Sylvester and his wife, Hattie, both grew up on Dockery. When they married, Sylvester sharecropped, raising cotton, corn, sugar cane, and sorghum cane. Hattie raised twelve children. Ruth, along with her brothers and sisters, picked cotton on their father’s acreage, each averaging one 500-pound bale a day. In the winter months, they would kill more hogs than Ruth cares to remember. They also raised cows and chickens, hunted rabbits and squirrels, and made tamales using cornhusks from the field. The men would go into the nearby town of Ruleville on Saturday nights to sell their homemade bundles of meat and locally milled cornmeal.

Ruth has some good memories of her time on Dockery, being with her family and raising what they needed. When they weren’t working, Ruth and her siblings went to school and the family attended True Light Baptist Church, both on Dockery. Ruth eventually married and two of her six children were born on the plantation. One of her sons, Gentle Lee Rainey, lives in nearby Cleveland and continues the tamale-making tradition that he learned from his grandfather. Today, Ruth lives in Ruleville. Every now and then she’ll take a drive through Dockery, pass the spot where she was baptized, visit her father’s gave in the True Light cemetery, and remember.

Ruth Foster passed away on January 17, 2014. She was 83.

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

Amy Evans

Amy Evans

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The Southern Foodways Alliance drives a more progressive future by leading conversations that challenge existing constructs, shape perspectives, and foster meaningful discussions. We reconsider the past with research, scrutiny, and documentation.


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