By: Davis Houck
Several hundred yards north of the Wright house on Darfield Road (also known as Dark Ferry Road, and Dark Fear Road) was the home of Grover Cleveland Frederick, a white plantation owner with whom Moses Wright had a good economic relationship.
Not only had Wright worked on Frederick land for nearly 40 years, but he also rented a six-room house that the Frederick family used to live in.
Frederick owned 150 acres of prime cotton land here in Money in 1955, and Moses Wright cropped shares on 25 acres of that land. Depending on the landowner, the system known as “sharecropping” could prove extremely exploitative or it could yield small profits for tenants “sharing” their crops. Typically, a white landowner would have several tenants who rented a house/cabin/shack, tenants purchased their supplies from a planation-run commissary, as well as cotton seed and other farming tools needed to raise a crop. Revenues were to be split 50-50 between landlord and tenant. While many Delta blacks were held hostage by this system—if living expense credits amounted to more than cotton debits—that difference would have to be worked off the following year.
Perhaps because of his education and intelligence—locals called Moses Wright a “cut above”—the sixty-four year old former preacher managed to eke out a living for his family, including owning an automobile and having some indoor appliances. Clearly, Wright had reached an economically amicable agreement with Frederick. In a word, both men trusted the other.
When Mamie Till received a phone call back in Chicago on Sunday morning, August 28, and told that her only child was missing, she immediately went into problem solving mode. One of her first phone calls was to Grover Frederick since the Wrights did not have a telephone and she was desperately seeking information from the family. Unfortunately, at least in Mamie Till’s account of the call, it did not go well: “The man [Frederick] said he was too old to hear. He didn’t have a pencil. He didn’t know where the paper was. He was just in a helpless condition. He couldn’t even call anybody to the phone who could take the message.” Whether it was a bad connection or Frederick was in fact hard of hearing and/or home alone, we would do well to remember that Moses Wright and Grover Frederick had worked and lived together side by side for a long time; surely he would’ve helped his black tenants (friends?) if he was able. Then again, in the volatile, and sometimes lethal, world of southern race relations, perhaps Frederick’s relationship with the Wright family only extended as far as the next cotton crop.