Louisiana's sugar-cane farms; A view from the fields

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Joseph Lee leans against the doorjamb and looks out through the screen toward the sugar-cane fields, which come nearly to the edge of his modest, rent-free house on a farm here.

A few minutes later, seated at the kitchen table, this muscular sugar-cane worker, son of a cane worker, compares the past with the present.

He recalls the days when his father earned $7 every two weeks in the cane fields, and how as a child he had to walk seven miles to school while white children got to ride the school bus.

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One cold winter day it began to rain. The bus with the white children passed by. Later the driver came back and picked up the black farm children and took them to school. ''They fired that man and his boss,'' Mr. Lee 3aQs.

He also recalls one scorching summer day when he was working with a mule in the fields. The farm boss came over and told him to keep working, but to tie the mule up under a shade tree.

''Those were the good old days,'' he laughs. ''I've lived through the good old days, but thank God for these.

''I'm doing pretty good. We don't make a good salary, but we make a lot more than some people do.'' By living rent-free in a house provided by the farmer, Lee says he is doing better than he did when he held a different job and lived in Thibodaux for a number of years.

But he adds: ''As soon as you do something they (the farm owners) don't like, they say, 'You can give me my house.'

''I don't think a person should be used,'' he says. ''Your work should secure your job.'' He says he has to ''look over my shoulder - be careful about saying (to the farm owners), 'you're not right.' ''

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