Momma and Daddy said
We all had to go to college.
Cotton sold at the gin for 36 cents a pound,
And college cost $150 a semester.
Barbara, the eldest daughter, was salutatorian,
So, she had to go.
And the ten children,
Little and big of us,
Had to pitch in and pick what she needed.
1500 pounds of picked cotton
Turned into 500 pounds of ginned cotton.
That’s how Barbara got to go,
And that’s how the rest of us went,
Back when a pound of cotton sold at the gin
For 36 cents.
—An earlier version of this poem was selected by Louisiana Poet Laureate
John Warner Smith for publication in the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities
magazine, 64 Parishes (Summer 2021); the version above appears here with
Mr. Jefferson’s permission.
began writing poetry in retirement this year. His poetry draws largely, though not exclusively, from his southern and African American roots, over the years of segregation and the Civil Rights Movement. He grew up in poverty in rural Louisiana, on a small farm, with nine brothers and sisters. His parents, Mose and Angeline Jefferson, although having only grade-school educations, instilled in him a strong faith in the power of God and of education. He went on to graduate from Southern University, and Harvard and Georgetown Schools of Law. He is the first African American to serve in Congress from Louisiana since Reconstruction. Mr. Jefferson has been married for 51 years to Dr. Andrea Green Jefferson, and they are the parents of five daughters and grandparents of eight grandchildren.