Surviving the Great Depression in Polk County

Published 11:15 pm Thursday, October 16, 2014

Personal Legacies

By Robin A. Edgar

When the Depression hit the South Carolina farm economy before it reached the rest of the country, many African American sharecroppers moved up to Tryon in the 1920s looking for work.  Unable to rely on their agricultural skills, they took any job they could find, mostly as butlers, cooks, and other domestic help.

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Frank “Pick” Brown’s family was one of those that arrived in Tryon. His father, John Brown, and his mother, Annie Ferguson Brown, settled in a home where Howard Street is today. (In those days, many of the streets did not even have names.) A former sharecropper, his father worked for several families, including the R. T. Brooks’ and the Francis Pickins Bacon’s. Frank was born at home in 1928, the third of eventually four children, and was nicknamed “Pick” in honor of Mr. Bacon.

Frank Pick Brown Photo by Lindy Schweizer Buss

“You had to get work where you could and do the best you could. My dad was a chauffer, a butler, and he was a good cook, too.  Mom also worked, taking care of children and doing domestic work in different homes. Other of our family members came with them and they helped each other with caring for the children. I always felt safe. Everybody looked out for one another; not only your family, the whole community raised you. Everybody knew everybody back then. If someone saw you do something wrong, they would “whup” you for it and then, when you got home, you might get another whuppin’ because the word got back to your folks about what you’d done.”

“I attended the Tryon Colored School on what is now Markham Road until I was 18.  We were lucky to be able to stay in school that long. The school used hand-me down books from the white school and we didn’t have any school buses, but it was easy for us because we lived near the school. Daddy had a station wagon, so the State paid him to pick up kids that lived too far to walk, in Columbus and Green Creek, and take them to Tryon Colored School in the morning and bring them home in the afternoon. He worked his other jobs in between. After a while, he bought a bus to drive the students.“

“In the afternoons, I worked at the school as a custodian with Fred Counts. We played baseball on Sundays with the South Carolina crowd who would come up and meet us where Ziegler Park is today.  Our team was called the Tryon Baseball All Stars. We also had basketball teams in school.”

The Brown family lived in several rental homes before they built a four-room house for about $900 in the 1940s. When Pick graduated, Ted King, who he knew through church, helped him get a job where he worked at Oak Hall. Since he had experience working in other inns, Miss Clara Edwards hired Pick to work there during the summer. He didn’t make much of a salary and depended mostly on the tips, but some of the customers, like Miss Eckson from Charleston, always asked for him and gave him good tips. From November to April, he found work in a hotel in Stewart, Florida to make ends meet when he wasn’t working at Oak Hall.

After he returned from the service in 1950, Pick married Rena Twitty, who he knew from school. They were married for 63 years and had three children Frank, Jr., Patrick, and Timothy. He return to work at Oak Hall and remained there for another 29 years until it closed in 1979 and he went on to work at the Stonehenge Inn on Howard Gap Road. Pick also served the community on the City Council, during which time, he was finally able to give names to some of the streets in Tryon. He and Rena named their street Tuckaway Lane. His advice for future generations is to stay in school and get all the education you can.

Did your family live in Polk County during 1929 to 1939? For more information on how to share your story, please contact Robin Edgar at or call the Tryon Daily Bulletin at 828-859-2737.


Key to survival: You had to get work where you could and do the best you can.


Advice for future generations: Stay in school and get all the education you can.