Stripping burley tobacco in Ray Brewer's barn, Shelby County.  November 23, 2002.  10:33 a.m. EST.

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     Stripping tobacco is monotonous work, but most people who do it seem to like it.  The monotony of the work is easy to see.  Understanding why the work is gratifying is not so apparent.
     Once tobacco has hung in the barn to cure for a couple of months, it is taken into the stripping room, a small building usually attached to the tobacco barn.  The individual tobacco leaves are stripped off the stalks, then they are put in a press to be baled for market.  It is the same repetitive handwork, hour after hour, day after day, usually for weeks.
     For all that, the stripping room is a sort of community center.  There are no strangers in the stripping room; and as the day goes by, there aren't many secrets, either.  Conversation is almost continuous, joking, gossiping.  There usually is a radio tuned to a local station.  A wood or coal stove burns to keep out the late autumn chill.  Neighbors stop by from time to time just to see what's going on, to talk, and maybe to help out.  Many times, entire families work in the stripping room; it's something young and old can do together.
     The stripping room in the photo above is at Ray Brewer's barn.  That's Ray, at right.  He told me that for years his family would spend every Thanksgiving Day stripping tobacco, then go home at dusk for the big annual supper.
     The man at left is Wayne Ethington, Ray's brother-in-law.  On the day this picture was taken, November 23, the conversation had moved to talk about President Kennedy's assassination.  Wayne said he was stripping tobacco on November 22, 1963, and heard on a radio in the stripping room about the President's death.
     The man in the center of the picture is Earl Fortner, a longtime friend and coworker of both Ray and Wayne.  All three of these men are in a photograph on this website from September 4, 2001, where they are resting after cutting tobacco.  Click here to see that picture.
        
 

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Here's another picture from Ray Brewer's tobacco barn on November 23, 2002.  This is Ray carrying an armload of tobacco from out in the barn, into the stripping room.  
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Posted December 15, 2002.