Ruby Houston: Life in May Farm
Originally born in Jackson County in 1943, Ruby Houston moved to May Farm, a small farming community west of Havana, in 1953. Her early years were spent with her grandparents, sharecroppers who tended the land in May Farm. The owners of the farm recruited the family to work in the tobacco fields, and the Houston family readily agreed, seeing the work as an opportunity to achieve more economic stability.
The community of workers on May Farm fostered a very inclusive environment of tight-knit friends and families. Ruby remembers the community as caring and vibrant, with residents sharing farm produce with one another and aiding in food processing, such as preparing pork.
Ruby recalls the owners of May Farm as being very supportive of residents, providing food, monetary contributions, and use of the tobacco fields during yearly May Day celebrations. This event was significant to the community and was always the largest gathering of the year. Residents would cook, socialize, and play softball, enjoying the early summer day. Ruby still remembers the joy and excitement from this event, and today enjoys playing an active role in organizing events for her community throughout the year.
“The strong sense of community has changed over time.”Ruby Houston
Though she recalls living in a very communal and welcoming community, Ruby also remembers the difficulties that her family and other residents of the community faced. Living in homes without running water and with wood-burning stoves, the community often relied on coal as a source of heat, including the St. John Elementary School that Ruby attended. School supplies such as books were often battered hand-me-downs from all-white schools.
Though times could be tough, Ruby relied on her family and community to get through. She remembers a unified community, even in the face of adversity. After getting married at a young age, Ruby received technical training from Florida A&M University and began working as a paraprofessional, training people on how to find educational and job opportunities. Ruby’s 35-year career as a paraprofessional allowed her to work with residents all over Gadsden County, something she greatly enjoyed as she felt she was teaching others how to care for and provide for themselves. Even today in her retirement, Ruby still seeks to empower people, taking on leadership roles at the St. Hebron AME Church that allow her to directly assist her congregation. She feels that her love for serving her community stems from growing up in May Farm.
Today, Ruby still resides in May Farm. There have been lots of changes in the time that Ruby has lived there. Though the community is still largely rural, Ruby describes a more transient population, with families and individuals coming and going more frequently than in past years. A consequence of this is a less intimate community, with far fewer congregations. However, Ruby enjoys the six other families on her street and feels safe in her community. Change is a part of life, and Ruby has embraced that. She looks forward to many more years in May Farm.