DRAWING THE LINE: Segregation in the NC Extension Service

What Does Segregation Have to do With Food?

Girls Watching a Cooking Demonstration

The girls pictured above are watching a cooking demonstration put on by a home demonstration agent. Notice the hats and aprons that most of the girls are wearing. 

The boys pictured below are riding on a float for Lenoir County Pig Club participants. Notice that the front of the float also mentions Corn Clubs.

It is natural to question what segregation has to do with food and the way that North Carolinians eat.  As demonstrated in the previous sections of this exhibit, race and gender played a large part in how the North Carolina Extension Service functioned.  Therefore, race and gender also played a large role in how North Carolinians think about and consume their food. 

When it comes to the positions that men and women assumed within the North Carolina Extension Service, the two different groups were expected to fulfill very different roles.  Men were expected to be working outside and providing the crops and food for their families.  Women were expected to maintain the homes, cook the meals, and handle the less physically demanding chores on the farm.  These roles enforced societal stereotypes of the early twentieth century and pushed them on the next generation of Extension Service Participants.  For the most part, many of these ideas about the roles of men and women within a family still exist today.  Is it possible that the way North Carolinians think about growing food versus how they think about cooking and eating food would be different if the Extension Service had allowed boys and girls to participate in the agricultural clubs of their choosing? 

In a similar way, the North Carolina Extension Service influenced the way that farming families consumed food through the racial segregation mandated until the 1960s.  By separating black and white farming families in this way, the Extension Service limited the knowledge that was able to be shared amongst the two groups about the newest and best farming practices.  Therefore, it is likely that both groups of farmers had the potential to be more productive.  Additionally, by underfunding the African American branch of the Extension Service through restrictions mandated by the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, the North Carolina Extension Service put African American farmers at a disadvantage to their white counterparts.  Imagine how much more productive North Carolina farmers could have been if given the opportunity to learn from each other.

Segregation within the North Carolina Extension service affected the way that North Carolinians thought about and consumed food by stifling the potential of individual members of farming families.  If participants in the Extension Service had been allowed to pursue the skills they were best at, with no consideration for race or gender, there is no doubt that the way people think about food today—it’s production and consumption—would be different.