North Carolina 4-H History


In 1909 North Carolina witnessed the dawning
of new technologies in agriculture. Spearheaded by a charge from the US Department of Agriculture
for states to improve farming practices. And it was felt that in order to introduce
new technology it might be easier to do it through young people who are a little more
receptive to new things than the adults were. And so it began that way. It was first called
the corn club. They were trying to introduce a hybrid corn as a way and so they got the
young people to use hybrid corn and the adults were receptive to it.
After seeing the success of boys and their corn crops—ones that often out-produced
their parents’ crops many times over– these new corn varieties soon took root across the
state. The first corn club program director, Ira Schaub and his successor Thomas Brown
then expanded the club to include poultry, pigs and livestock.
4-H members were known to try new things on an acre of corn or some other crop. And then
generally speaking the farmers of that neighborhood would probably follow what they saw through
the 4-H projects. So they were really kind of innovators and really didn’t know it (laughs)
That same innovative spirit brewed in girls as well. Jane McKimmon, for whom the McKimmon
Center on NC State’s campus is named, led the first tomato canning clubs and the Home
Demonstration program for the state. Here girls learned about food preservation, cooking
and sewing. In 1914 Congress passed the Smith-Lever Act
which provided federal money for state cooperative extension services to enhance work in agriculture
and home economics. The North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service was headquartered at the
state’s two land-grant universities—North Carolina State University and North Carolina
A&T State University. In the 1920s, L.R. Harrill united the boys clubs and the girls clubs
and the group officially became 4-H. During both World Wars 4-H’ers used their
skills to support food production on the homefront… growing victory gardens and participating
in the national Feed A Fighter campaign. we had victory gardens and scrap iron drives
during the world wars. And I think 4-H has always responded to sort of the needs of the
nation as well as those of the community. As North Carolina became more urban, 4-H broadened
its programs to include areas like photography, fashion, horses and science.
4-H was in the schools. So your extension agents and things would come around to the
schools. They would probably come about once a month. we participated in the public speaking
contest. We did demonstrations. and of course we did community service projects and things
like that. It was just wonderful. Until 1965 4-H across the country had been
two separate programs- one for white students and one for blacks.
camp Mitchell as we know it today, was the camp where African American young people went.
Cut to: So you had people like… John Mitchell who was very instrumental in helping to negotiate
that particular area. They established a foundation to help support the club. And then you had
people like Bill Cooper that actually worked w/ putting the program together there at Mitchell
that made it a wonderful experience My children was crazy about the camp and we
would raise money for them to go to camp. We would sell candy, cookies. And I would
go along with them and we really had a good time.
just as in other communities, I feel that 4-H in the African American community actually
just opened a number of doors of opportunity for young people to enhance their knowledge
and learn the skills that would enable them to be productive citizens.
For many, State 4-H Week marked the highlight of the year. 4-H’ers from across the state
gathered for educational programs, competitions and awards. White students met on the campus
of N.C. State, black students—at A&T. We came to Greensboro, stayed on campus. You
would have about 8 or 900 young people from all over the state that attended that. I think
it was an important part of our lives. Most of us 4-H’ers that came… we were coming
from rural areas. So I mean just to experience a college campus, just to experience Greensboro
and the bigness of it. (music) With the passage of the Civil Rights Act in
1965, 4-H, like many other organizations, had to integrate.
People from the civil rights division came down to Raleigh and said ‘ you will have
to integrate your camps this year or close them.’ I said I can’t do it this year. If
you’ll give me three years and let me work into it I’ll be able to do it.
He was able to integrate the 4-H camping system which we may look back on today and say, that’s
not that big a deal, but it was a huge deal b/c what you would have is two groups coming
from the same county on buses. One bus had white children, the other bus had African
American children. And they would come to a camp…where in the county they were separated,
but in the camp, they were together. and I think that’s a great history part of who we
are in 4-H. Since its inception, 4-H has helped shape
the lives of hundreds of thousands of North Carolina’s young people and build leaders
locally, nationally and beyond. when you think about what the impact’s been
on NC you think about the leaders that have served this state in elected office. People
like—former Gov. Bob Scott or you think about former Gov. Jim Hunt—two well-known
names in this state.—who had a tremendous background in 4-H.
Martin Lancaster was a national 4-H alumni winner, Martin Lancaster who just stepped
down as community college president. The late Jim Graham, Elaine Marshall who is secretary
of state now. For decades 4-H has sown the seeds of hard
work, hands-on learning and leadership. And for that, the entire state is continually
reaping the benefits of innovative young people. So what began with kids and corn has grown
into a movement synonymous with success. everything that’s positive, that is 4-H
4-H is the world today. You can learn anything out of 4-H!

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