“Interview with Samuel Mockbee”
From PBS’s EGG The Arts Show, “Gimme Shelter” series.
EGG: Could the Rural Studio exist anywhere else?
Samuel Mockbee: Alabama and the Deep South — Mississippi, Alabama, the great Deep South that I know and love — does not have a monopoly on poverty. We could go anywhere in the country and find it. I mean, we could go to Maine, we could go to New York, we could go to California, we could go to New Mexico, we could go to Ohio, and we’re gonna find conditions that members of the American family should not be living in. For some reason that I’m not aware of — why this still exists in these United States — we could find that anybody could go ten miles outside of their radius and find conditions where they wouldn’t let a child spend the night. And that can happen just about anywhere in the United States. And you go, damn, how in the hell has this happened? At the end of the 20th Century or the 21st Century, why has this happened? In this case, the black belt of West Alabama and Hale County, Alabama, these families are living in conditions that are substandard. They may have water, but they’ve just now gotten water. Most of them don’t have water, which if you start to think about not having water in your house, what that means… They do have electricity. These are basically shacks that they have built themselves, and it gets cold down here. In January, February we get North Pole air that you all send down from up north to us and it gets, a couple weeks, it gets really down into single digits often and we had people freeze to death down here. So it gets cold and these are conditions, again, I’ll repeat myself, these are conditions that none of us would let our child spend the night in, much less raise a child in circumstances like that. Just the other day, I asked one of the children why he wasn’t in school, a little second grader, why he wasn’t in school. Well, he didn’t have water; his mother couldn’t wash his clothes. He didn’t have clean clothes for him to go to school with. That’s the kind of conditions we don’t think actually exist in America anymore. I think, basically, we have become blind to that or ignored it to the point we don’t want to pay, as an American family, we don’t want to pay attention to those members of the American family who really need our help.