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[Begin Tape #1, Side #1]

KLEE: The following is an unrehearsed interview for the Kentucky Oral History Commission by John Klee with Mr. John S. Berry, Sr.

: John M. Berry, Sr.

KLEE: John M. Berry, Sr., excuse me. The interview is being conducted at Mr. 's law office here in , in on May 21, I believe, 1987. Mr. , could we begin just by recounting a little bit about your background? Your family background? A little bit of your personal history.

: . . . [phone rings]

KLEE: I know [inaudible] . . . your parents, for example. Were they here from ?

: [inaudible] My grandfather, John J. Berry, came to this county after a period of service in the Army in the War of 1812. And that's my great-grandfather, I presume. And he bought a tract of land, five hundred acres situated in the northern part of the county. And I have the information about the grant and all, and that [inaudible] but I don't imagine you want to go into that. Anyway, and my people, as a result, have always been engaged in production of burley tobacco.

KLEE: All down through that family history?

: Yes sir. My father, who was . . . who was the grandson of John J. Berry . . . became . . . began . . . has always, he was always identified with the production of burley tobacco and when it was proposed that a selling organization be prepared, he signed as the marketing agent of burley tobacco.

KLEE: Now this was when you were a young . . . a young person?

: Yes. And even before that time.

KLEE: I see.

: I'll get going . . .

KLEE: That's fine . . .

: . . . because I didn't anticipate . . .

KLEE: Yeah, a history question? About your family. The . . . he became involved in that . . . in that because there was quite a bit of agitation. The price of tobacco was low . . .

: Well, you see, following World War I, tobacco went from a dollar a pound to a dollar a hundred. And there was a serious shortage of money because [phone rings] they had no bargaining power. The . . . the tobacco companies had no bargaining power.

KLEE: They formed the . . . they formed the early co-op . . .

: That's right.

KLEE: . . . and then, of course, at that time, there wasn't any legislation that protected it, so you've had . . . I guess . . . I don't know how to characterize it . . . some of the farmers that were more militant tried to enforce compliance.

: Well, they tried to enforce a decent market, a fair return. And the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative Association was organized in June of 1922, and that organization has continued down to now.

KLEE: Yes sir. Now, of course, you've been associated with that organization most of those years, too.

: All of them.

KLEE: What . . . what was . . . what were you doing when you were a young man of twenty-two at that time? Did you have any role in the . . . in the organization?

: No, not in the . . . not in the . . . not officially in the organization of the Burley Tobacco Cooperative Association. But I joined as soon as I could.

KLEE: I see.

: And my father, at my insistence, joined and . . . we had a comparatively successful experience.

KLEE: Let me ask you, the . . . what your . . . course you were raised and educated here in the area?

: Yes sir.

KLEE: And what about college? Did you . . .

: I went to in 1922.

KLEE: I see.

: And I finished . . . now wait a minute. I went to in 1918 . . .

KLEE: Eighteen, you graduated . . .

: . . . and I finished there in June of 1922. I came home because I had planned to be a farmer. And I . . . hopefully thought that perhaps something would happen to bring about a fair and competitive price for burley tobacco.

KLEE: Now was . . . that . . . at that time, of course, most of these farming operations in this area, I guess, were diversified. You did other . . .

: Mainly . . .

KLEE: . . . [inaudible] did a lot of different things.

: Yes sir, but the chief source of income was burley tobacco. And of course we had, as a part of the program for burley tobacco, we . . . we had livestock of all kinds permitted in this area that . . . they had been used in this area. Cattle, hogs, sheep, mules.

KLEE: But you saw . . . most farmers . . . that burley crop was their major crop?

: Oh no question about it.

KLEE: And of course they couldn't plan from year to year what kinds of income . . .

: They didn't know. So this organization was formed.

KLEE: Did father not think it was a good idea for you to come back and be a farmer after going to college?

: Well he . . . he didn't encourage me. I . . . I was completely satisfied . . . I was completely satisfied with our part in the production of burley tobacco, as well as general farming.

KLEE: So what happened then? You . . . did you go into farming then?

: Yes, I did, in 1922 when I finished , I . . . came home and started farming. It didn't last long, though, because prices of tobacco were dreadfully low and . . . [phone rings]

KLEE: Did you return to school at that time then? Go . . . did you go . . . did you continue schooling or . . .

: No. No, I didn't, but when I . . . in 1924, I . . . Virgil Chapman was a candidate for congress, and he heard me one day speak at , and he wrote me a letter after that. I didn't meet him that day, but he wrote me a letter that he was a candidate for congress and that he wanted me to go with him to as his secretary. I replied that I would be interested in his proposal only if I would have the opportunity to go to school there.

KLEE: Yes sir.

: Law school. He, of course, was the greatest champion of burley tobacco that ever came . . .

KLEE: Do you remember what the . . . what the occasion was? Why you were speaking? Was it related to tobacco at that time?

: Yes, it was a tobacco meeting.

KLEE: Was it? Um, hmm.

: And that was . . . I had acquired something of a . . . of a reputation as a tobacco advocate. And I wrote him back when he wrote me, that I would be interested in going to with him as his secretary only if I had the opportunity to go to law school. And in response to that position, he said . . . he wrote me to meet him in and I went there immediately to meet him. He was from Paris, and his father-in-law, who was a member of the law firm of . . . of . . . Franklin, Talbert & Chapman. And that . . . I saw the possibility of . . . of developing a connection there where I finished law school. But I did not have success in that respect. When I had finished the law school . . .

KLEE: Now he didn't . . . obviously he did get elected then and you went to .

: Yes he did get elected that year. I traveled the county here . . .

KLEE: Campaigning for him?

: . . . campaigning for him.

KLEE: What . . . do you remember what year this was?

: That was in 1924.

KLEE: I see. So you were in law school in . Where at there in ?

: . And I finished there and took the bar examination in the spring of 1927.

KLEE: How was it . . . how was it working for a congressman in in the nineteen . . . early 20's?

BERRY: Well it was . . . you didn't get . . . pay . . . I got two thousand dollars a year was all I received because that was all that he had to give me. And of course the secretaries are the executive assistants, they have some doctorate title since . . . they get forty or fifty thousand dollars a year.

KLEE: Oh yeah, today? Could you make some valuable connections there or be . . .

: No, I did not. I . . . I simply was . . . I had my hands full.

KLEE: Yeah, I'm sure, going to school and . . .

: Going to school. I went to school at ten minutes to five in the afternoon and stayed until seven-ten and that was . . . had law classes. I went to . . . came home to when they announced the examination for admission to the Bar and I took that examination. Made the highest grade of any. There was about sixty-five of us that took it. And I made the highest grade of any of the participants at that time.

KLEE: Now did you say this was in the spring of 1927?

: That was in the spring of 1927. I went back to , finished my academic year at . . . George Washington. Came home. I had announced to Mr. Chapman that I had passed the . . . the Bar examination and that I was no longer interested in staying in , that I wanted to come back. And the fact of the business is, I wrote my father that I was coming back to . . . to to practice law. And it didn't matter a damn to me whether I made a thousand or fifteen hundred dollars a year, I was much happier . . . would be much happier here making that amount if . . . and if I had to fuss with him every day. And so that's . . . that's the . . . that was the beginning.

KLEE: So you came back to ?

: In the spring or early summer of 1927.

KLEE: So was there . . . was there a firm here you were able to go in with? You just hung out your own shingle?

: Hung out my own shingle, uh-huh. And started to work.

KLEE: Your . . . your personal life at that time, were you married at the time?

: No. I didn't marry until many years after that.

KLEE: I see. I wanna bring that in when we get to that in the chronology. Let me ask you about the burley co-op. One of the reasons that you left the area was farming was, I guess, such a depressed thing at that time. Unlike, I guess, the rest of the country. The 20's were pretty successful for, I guess, everybody else but the farmer.

BERRY: Well, it . . . because of the low price of tobacco, and that was remedial, there's no question about that, we could . . . had you . . . the only trouble about it now is that the damn manufacturers are in . . . are calling the shots. And they've . . . but I've opposed them strenuously for the years that I have been in the business.

KLEE: Well, was . . . was it . . . wasn't it a similar situation then in the 1920's? There weren't . . . there just weren't enough . . . there wasn't enough competition among the buyers . . .

: Well it . . .

KLEE: . . . and [inaudible] production, I guess.

: Well, in other words, when a man pitched a crop, he plowed so many acres of ground as in . . . in relation to what he had done the year before. And he increased his production year after year, hopeful that it would bring a decent . . . a decent price. The first . . . the first time that I ever remember of waking up in the black of midnight was when he was to meet Mr. Will Bishop at the end of . And they were to go horseback to Worthville in . . . in where they were to catch, or could catch a four o'clock train that would carry them to and . . . in plenty of time to attend he market. They had shipped their tobacco down there, and it was the old hogshead market, and . . . I remember distinctly that when he had that opportunity when he had raised a crop of tobacco that he had shipped it to Louisville and as we sat around the old family fire the night before, we were speculating about what he would get, what kind of price. And he was . . . he received a dirty low price. And that's . . . made an impression upon me, and I resolved that if I could ever have the opportunity, I would do what I could on behalf of tobacco.

KLEE: Now that old hogshead market, that was an auction market, too, but . . .

: Yes.

KLEE: . . . people shipped to and the buyers came there and . . .

: That's right, they came there. And . . .

KLEE: By the 1920' they had began the warehousing . . . the warehouse market.

: Oh yes. And before that. They . . . they had started a loose leaf auction warehouse at . . . at Bowling . . . not . [long pause]

KLEE: I know we had some early ones in Maysville.

: Well, I know you did. I know you did. But you didn't . . .

KLEE: Oh yes, the first one . . .

: The first one was at , and as I recall . . .

KLEE: Well I can . . . yeah I can find that.

: I think that's right. I think they started about 1907 or `08.

KLEE: Yes, I think that's right.

: Anyway . . .

KLEE: Thinking about those, was that an annual thing that your father did? I mean, that's the way they sold their tobacco?

: That's the way they sold their tobacco if . . . unless somebody came in the barn to buy it. And there was a fella by the name of who . . . who opened a tobacco buying firm at in this county. And he employed an uncle of mine, and that was along 1910 or `11. And he bought and speculated on tobacco. And there wasn't much prospect. But anyway . . .

KLEE: Those kind of people that would out to the barn, sometimes called pinhookers . . .

: Well, not necessarily the pinhookers, but they . . . pinhookers are . . . there's a term that's derived from the auction market. And I suppose you really could call him a pin hooker. But anyway, he was at least the most innocent for them. Would call him . . . would call him a tobacco buyer.

KLEE: I see. In other words, he wasn't . . . he was a . . . had the best interest of the farmers at heart?

: Well, he's supposed . . . he was supposed to be, but that . . . that . . . that can never be when the dollar's involved.

KLEE: Yeah I understand. Right. Right. Cause he was trying to make as many dollars as he could, too.

: Of course he was. And he hired . . . hired an uncle of mine who was supposed to be somewhat proficient in . . . in tobacco, and so on. Anyway .

KLEE: Course that uncle, I guess, was . . . he was out to try to get more people to sell with Mr. Henderson?

: Bringing their tobacco to in . And they would process it there, such processing as might be necessary to change the grades or improve the . . . the lot of tobacco that they had. And . . .

KLEE: Let me take you back to that . . . back to your early law practice. You . . . your . . . you came back here and you opened up your law office.

: In June . . . July 5, 1927.

KLEE: Did . . . I guess people weren't beating down your door?

: No, but I had a considerable practice.

KLEE: Good.

: In the first year.

KLEE: Is that right?

: I remember going to . . . to George . . . a committee of people came here to see me about coming to and taking over the practice of Judge Bradley. And I considered it and thought about it . . . a lot about it . . . but I declined it because I had been to see Church Ford, who was a practicing lawyer there and became a federal judge . . . district judge, and I told him of what my experience had been. I had made about thirty-five hundred dollars the first year, and he said, "John, don't you come to , cause if you are making that much money," . . . in other words, times were hard. It didn't matter damn what . . . what your talents were . . . that you . . . you didn't get paid for them. And I came back home and communicated with John Montgomery . . . Mr. John Montgomery and . . . and Mr. . . . wait just a minute . . . I haven't thought of his name, but I think his . . . Mr. Offutt, O-f-f-u-t-t . . . and I told him that I would not be open for consideration any longer. So I lost that and it was a perfect location for a fella that wanted to practice law. But I came here and I worked every aspect . . . possible aspect of it.

KLEE: You were doing all kinds of law work?

: Anything. No special-, no specialization. I saw something about that yesterday. But anyway, you did what you could. And you were far from a specialist in law and the law covers everything.

KLEE: You . . . you started practice and almost immediately the country went into a . . . a . . . you know, a country-wide depression a couple years later.

: Well, sure I did.

KLEE: How did that impact people out in this area?

: Well it . . . people were desperate. They had no . . . they had no means, no money. And I would write a deed for $2.50, Twenty-five now is the minimum charge. And I was favored by a lot of the people here, and I got nominal employment in that respect. But that would just about pay my expenses for a day. [chuckles]

KLEE: In the early . . . course that . . . the . . . the co-op had that . . . that you had urged your father to join, remained, I guess in name from . . . I mean, it . . . it was a little inactive, but it was there structurally.

: Well, it was there structurally from `22 on. So five years.

KLEE: Right.

: And they had a membership . . . not . . . it was not unanimous. The buyers of tobacco hustled the idea that somebody else was tending to your tobacco. And as a native Kentuckian, you ought to resent it.

KLEE: Trying to play on farmers' independence. Trying to break them up.

: That's . . . that's exactly right. But it didn't succeed, and we then had what we call a type pool, by which each grower [phone rings] signed a written contract by which he would agree to deliver his entire production to the Burley Association as a marketing agent. And I can show you the . . . the . . . when it ran the five years, and they had successfully marketed their tobacco, although they didn't get it all at one time, they got a substantial part of it, the appraised value of it. And . . . but there was no enthusiasm for a sign-up. I went to before the Board of Directors of the Burley Association, and I said to them, if you will just have printed and send to me the membership contract that you propose to have every man sign, I'll get it signed. And I went . . . finally received a quantity of those blank contracts, and I conducted meetings at and Campbellsburg and so on around.

KLEE: The enthusiasm for . . .

[End Tape #1, Side #1]

[Because of difficulty with the tape, there is nothing on Tape #1, Side #2. Go to Tape #2, Side #1]

[Begin Tape #2, Side #1]

KLEE: This is tape number two with John M. Berry, Sr. of for the Kentucky Oral History Commission. We were talking about the motivation, which you said was from just helping the farmer as much as you could.

: I didn't get a penny out of it. But I was quite willing. And I had . . . I had developed the reputation of wanting to do something about it. And for example, one day I was planting corn with a two-horse planter and two-mule team. And I saw the . . . mail carrier coming down the road, and I decided that I would drive them out to the end and hitch them to a fencepost and go get the mail. And lo and behold, there was an invitation in it from a fella by the name of Green down at English in . And he had known and gone . . . and run around with my father and all, and he . . . and I accepted his invitation to come and talk tobacco. And that petered out, as everything else did.

KLEE: Seemed to, uh-huh.

: Yes.

KLEE: You didn't tell me that while you were . . . were you still doing a little farming while you were in your law practice, or overseeing some farmland?

: Well, I had . . . course had . . . my father had four hundred acres that he had made and accumulated. And . . . but there wasn't a God's thing to do.

KLEE: Yeah I see.

: In this country. Not a thing.

KLEE: Now you said, in this . . . that . . . that what had happened is that some of the farmers have had . . . that were members of the co-op felt they were making things better for those that weren't members.

: And they refused to sign . . . I wanted to continue that . . . at these meetings, I would talk and now's the time and we've got to do something else . . . the contract is gonna expire and you'll be free to do as you please. And that would please a lot of people of course. And [phone rings] there was no chance of getting people to sign or to renew their membership in the Burley Association and so it went from that condition on 'til 1939.

KLEE: Yes sir. And what happened in 1939?

: That's when there was agitation for a marketing arrangement that would improve the rights. It didn't . . . that didn't . . . in other words, nothing came of it at that time. But that . . . but then when they got the contract for growers to sign who, because of one foolish reason or another, refused to do, then there came along the Roosevelt era in which there were more Christian concepts provided for the average citizen than any . . . than had been proposed by anybody. And they got the AAA Act [Agriculture Adjustment Act] that embraced everybody. Whether you wanted to be included or not, you were included. And so the organization had a faithful member, or had . . . I'm getting ahead of my story.

KLEE: That first AAA Act, I think, was in 1933. [phone rings]

: That's true. And that was declared unconstitutional. And then they came along with some slight changes and made it . . . made it constitutional, and then they organized . . . went for the AAA Act. [difficulty with microphone] It's all right. And they enacted the [inaudible] Loan Statute, you know.

KLEE: Now we haven't talked about what you were doing in this interim period. Was . . . did you have any . . .

: I was practicing law. As hard as I could. Because it was . . .

KLEE: Because of the Depression.

: . . . because it was fourteen or fifteen years that period was, and I was beginning to get my foot on the ground and . . . and get something done.

KLEE: Did you have any official capacity with the co-op through that time period?

: None in the world but membership.

KLEE: You were just a member.

: Was just a member.

KLEE: And probably knew a lot of the individuals involved since you . . .

: Of course I did. But . . .

KLEE: Was it after this second . . . this 1939 act where the farmers . . . I mean, they were pulled into the program by force by the government or . . .

: By enactment of a law that said if you produce tobacco and market tobacco, this is how you'll do it. And as time went on, from nineteen . . . January 1940 . . . I'm sure I can't . . .

KLEE: Oh, well those dates aren't . . . that central cause I can find them. I . . . you know, just want your recollections, but . . .

BERRY: Well we . . . we . . . we used our influence, everybody, to increase the sign-ups for people who would go the ASC offices and find out that . . . the malcontents and then they would proceed to operate an influence on them.

KLEE: So you actually went out and talked to farmers saying, you know, this is a good program, you ought to participate?

: Well I . . . and it proved out to be.

KLEE: Oh yes.

: No question about it. 'Till we got a bunch of damn Republicans up there that . . . that . . .

KLEE: Tinkered with it?

: . . . that would have let it gone by. They didn't . . . they believed that . . . that . . . the first thing that I've complained about over the years, and my files will show it, that . . . that the . . . the . . . [long pause] my powers of recall have left. I had a light stroke.

KLEE: Yes sir. I understand.

: Well, I did have and . . .

KLEE: You were talking about the . . . one of the . . . one of the criticism the Republicans had, did it have to do with production and supply or . . .

: It was the regulation. Too much government. That's all their carte blanche . . . their carte blanche criticism of all the New Deal measures. But my God almighty, people would have suffered bankruptcy [phone rings] and lost everything they had and I think it could have been revised so as to continue on indefinitely because we . . . and I'll get to that if you want me to . . .

KLEE: Yes sir. Yeah, we'll get . . . we'll get up to there. And what you're referring to is this almost complete change in the program? Throwing a lot of it back to the farmers and . . . as far as costs and . . .

: Yes, they . . . they criticized every aspect of cooperative marketing. Yet, cooperative marketing wasn't a single thing in the world but the selection of somebody and some organization to market and handle their tobacco.

KLEE: And of course, it's gone on for forty years successfully?

: Well . . .

KLEE: The effort.

: Well yes. We've gone on . . . I drove to every Wednesday for fifty years.

KLEE: Is that right? Well that takes us . . . when did that start? Was that in 1940 or . . .

: That was about 1940.

KLEE: Uh-huh. That you started being the . . . what? The attorney for the co-op?

: No, not a damn thing in the world, but a . . . half-hungry country lawyer. And of course, a lot of them thought . . . and I've seen the manifestations of that attitude toward me as an attorney, that they thought I was a rabbit-eating, briar-jumping son-of-a-bitch from down [chuckles] . . . down in Henry County, and he won't provide anything for you. But I've . . . success, I've had marked success. One year, we tried to . . . we tried cases in twenty-one counties of . To show you what . . . the extent of our influence and the extent of our patronage was.

KLEE: Now what were those cases in reference to?

: Anything. Cow getting out, getting killed. Destroying somebody's crop or, you know . . .

KLEE: Yeah, talking about the firm's business then.

: Yes.

KLEE: It had expanded to that point.

: That's right.

KLEE: Now this program really . . . then what you're saying, it really went into effect pretty strongly in 1940, and of course . . .

: That's when the agitation . . . and I wanted to look . . . no wait just a minute . . .

KLEE: Look up some of that . . . some of those specifics.

: [long pause] We entered the market with loans that were specified and loans to growers. They could reject, of course . . . a lot of them did for awhile. But they saw that . . . that it was a good thing. But anyway, my recollection is that we started in January 1941.

KLEE: Now of course, we . . . pretty soon . . . the tobacco business, I guess picked up because cigarette smoking had gotten very popular.

: Yes.

KLEE: Course you had the war in , and I guess there was a demand for cigarettes . . .

: That's right.

KLEE: . . . from that source.

: And . . . but it turned out that the loan rate as an advance to the grower was in excess of the market to the grower. And we proposed at that time . . . I never shall forget it and I was talking to . . . to the assistant dean at the who was there . . . and he said, "I remember what you proposed. That you . . . that you . . . that the loan rate on different grades of tobacco be restudied and reduced because the loan rate was the equivalent of the market. And it . . . it . . . and should . . . should have been." But I tried to . . . I tried every way that I could to get Bill Lanier, who was head of the tobacco division in the Department of Agriculture to come around and let us have a . . . a meeting dealing with the high price supports, high loan rate. And he . . . he was . . . well . . . [chuckle] he didn't accede to a single thing that I suggested. In fact, [inaudible] I couldn't even see him. I was in on a tax matter sometime before [phone rings] . . . after . . . after the program was going on and I didn't [inaudible]. And I went to try to see him. And I . . . the . . . his secretary reported to me that he was in town but that he had gone to this office or that office or something else. So I followed him and tried to find him, but I never was able to succeed. To successfully contact him. And he was a rather arrogant fella, but anyway I . . . failing to contact him personally, I went back to his office and asked his secretary to give me a pencil and paper, and I wrote him a note: "Bill . . . Dear Bill, the price support for burley tobacco has reached an unreasonable high and we've got to do something to reduce the loan rate. He . . . I never heard a cheep out of him. Yet, he was supposed to be a devotee of . . . of the tobacco program. And I was so sold on it, and . . . as I am now, that it can be adopted and bent to conform to the . . .

KLEE: Conditions?

: . . . the conditions for any [inaudible]. For any farm produce. It can be. But they wanted to get votes and they would . . .

KLEE: That's why they kept the price up that high.

: . . . they . . . they wouldn't consider lowering the price. Here . . . here was a . . . here was an organization that was promoting the act because we had known of its success. We had . . . as we had administered it in . It was eminently success-, successful. And . . .

KLEE: You didn't wanna see this program go by the wayside the way so many other things had happened?

: Oh, that . . . that was the crime of the ages. They . . . they now enacted and we have had a representative up there in the person of . . . of . . . [Larry] Forgy. We've hired him. I . . . I found out about him and I thought there wasn't anything to do but to play politics as much as you can. So I found out about him and I contact him and he was available to us, running for United States Senate. And . . . and that was one of the features of his campaign was that he's now . . . I don't know whether you know Lawrence Forgy or not, but he's a fine boy and I've devoted to him and all that, but . . . well, he's shy about . . . he doesn't have perspective.

KLEE: Well, you know, certainly not like . . . not having seen how desperate farmers were at one point without this program, as in your . . . in your case.

: That's right. I had known its history. Forever.

KLEE: I wanna get into your . . . you said that your relationship with the co-op, you were . . . what . . . how did that become more . . .

BERRY: Mr. Jones of North Middletown, John W. Jones, who is a saintly fella, and Mr. Frank C. Taylor came to see me one afternoon, or one Sunday afternoon after the program had been installed, and they wanted me to become a member of the directorate and a member of the . . . and I acquiesced in it. And they . . . they were right and I was elected by . . . then, vacancies on the board were filled or supplied by action of the board until the regular election would come around, and then I . . . oh I . . . I've . . . I've been in and out of it so miserably. And then they gave me fifteen hundred dollars a year, and that was what Tom Forcey at Owenton was getting. And they wanted me to come into the organization to be the countervailing influence to Tom Forcey. And . . . well, anyway, I've had lots of experiences and disappointments.

KLEE: Were there rivalries between the two attorneys then?

: No, Tom Forcey was a banker.

KLEE: Oh I see. All right.

: And . . .

KLEE: They just wanted you on the board to kind of balance . . .

: They thought that would be a strategic move. And sure enough, it . . . it came about and I was elected vice president of the Burley Association. And I never shall forget Mr. John Jones. We were . . . I was presenting a thing to the . . . to the board of directors one day, and he said at my conclusion, said, "John's my man," which was the endorsement of me as coming to be president of the association.

KLEE: So he . . . he was a proponent of you on the board?

: Oh very, very much so. And so was Mr. Frank Taylor, who was the best-informed tobacco man that I ever encountered in all the years I've been identified with it. But Frank C. Taylor knew . . . he had studied his lesson, and there's a lot to cooperative marketing. There's a lot to the production of a crop out here on a , hillside that he can't take care of himself. He's not of sufficient stature to do anything. And here we've provided him with the . . . damn it . . . provided him with the mechanism by which it . . . he could be . . .

KLEE: He could make a living.

: . . . he could make a living and that he would have bargaining power. And here you don't . . . without it, you don't have it.

KLEE: Oh yes. That's right.

: You know the story that's frequently repeated how seven or eight dealers or manufacturers, and maybe a dealer . . . how they . . . the four . . . the market would sink one day, and they'd come out the next day with the . . . a price for B4F and they never would pay that . . .

KLEE: Same price.

: Same price. And here we came into the picture and we had . . . we had available to us all the expertise that we could wish for, and we studied our lessons and we . . . and I, for years as president of the Burley Association, I've said to them, study your lesson. Acquaint yourself with what there is to be known and then use your cards to your best advantage.

KLEE: Sure. When this program was initiated, you know, through the . . . there's legislation in the 1930's and then you said it really came to fruit with the whole system being in place in 1941, did people in Washington come back to Kentucky and talk to people about setting up the program or . . . define [inaudible]?

: Well, we had contacts up there and there were well informed men, too. And dedicated people.

KLEE: I was gonna ask you what . . . you mentioned, you know, that this Mr. Chapman that you worked for earlier, was he in congress at the time or . . .

: Yes. Throughout the whole time.

KLEE: Yeah. So he had some input into it, I guess, through the Department of Agriculture?

: Well, of course he did. And they would heed us. Here in this damn thing that they've got now is ridiculous. They've gone around, clear around the barn and come up with something that doesn't apply. All we needed to do was to lower the loan rate and stop the flow of tobacco under loan into our custody. And we proposed it. And I tried manfully to contact Bill Lanier and . . . because he was the spokesman for tobacco. For example, he came from and he's . . . I think he's got a . . . a brother down there that . . . that is a veterinarian. And I never did confirm that, but anyway . . . for example, we had a problem, a serious problem. And we sent for him to come down to a meeting at the Springs Motel . . . one night. And he . . . he appeared and he made . . . he had this comment, and it's stuck in my craw ever since. "Mr. thinks he knows," yet it was what I wanted that was right, but he said, "I'm damn sure I know," and he . . . he didn't . . . referring to that recently to , if remembered it over there. And he did remember. But we . . . we knew and the . . . the association kept abreast of the supply situation, and we didn't hesitate to take a cut, or recommend a cut. Now the warehouse people would always come to the conferences and advocating an increase cause they . . . they . . .

KLEE: Big percentage.

: . . . yeah . . .

KLEE: For them.

: That's right.

KLEE: Now that . . . that short-range problem you talked about, where the price support was too high in the 40's, did it work itself out then?

: No it did not. It continued on , and got us in trouble. And a lot of those fellas up there . . . now if you can go back to the Jim Thigpens and the others up there who were Simon Pure tobacco advocates, had come out of the North Carolina woods down there, realizing the necessity of a high price or a fair price of tobacco, and I . . . I once was riding on the . . . a train with Jim Thigpen and Jim made the remark that we owe . . . it's true, we owe a great amount on burley tobacco, but we owe it to ourselves. Which, in a way, wouldn't hold water defensively if you were trying to suggest . . . maintain a high level of protection [inaudible]. But Jim and Frank Ellis and oh, so many of them . . .

KLEE: Now, through these . . . from 1940 really up until the present, you've served in various capacities with the co-op. As president of the association . . .

: I was president until I was seventy-five years old. And I declined to be re-elected. And then I continued on as attorney for the association during this critical time. And we thought, maybe . . . we thought maybe something would occur cause we were desperate as far as that's concerned. And any . . . any program protective of the price rights of the grower was welcome.

[End Tape #2, Side #1]

[Begin Tape #2, Side #2]

KLEE: This is the second part of tape two of an interview with Mr. John Berry. I wanna maybe go decade by decade and talk about some of the challenges and some of the things that happened with your association with the . . . the co-op. In the 1940's, we had the war years and I guess the demand for cigarettes. Was business pretty good for the cooperative?

: Yes, it was. We jumped in with sizeable supplies, you see. And we had some bargaining power for our members. Looking here a minute ago . . . and I tried to find . . . a membership contract by which the . . . the signor or the person you were interviewing at the time, would . . . would be able to say what he was willing to do and contract with the Burley Association to do it. And the Burley Association has simply stepped in his shoes by contact, and . . . it's the greatest thing that ever was.

KLEE: Let me ask you about somebody . . . somebody might be listening to this tape some day that doesn't really know what the co-op does. The government . . . it's . . . it's really a non- . . . it's not . . . it's supported through the commodity laws, but it's an independent group.

: It is. We . . . we did not sacrifice anything to government.

KLEE: When the . . . when . . . depending on what the loan rate is, a farmer . . . the co-op will take the tobacco into its possession . . .

: That's right.

KLEE: . . . and then deal with . . . they will deal with these buyers, these companies when the . . . when the market goes up.

: Well . . .

KLEE: Or when there's a demand for the tobacco?

: Yes. Now the last three or four years, the crops that we have received, we got . . . I talked to yesterday. We only got thirty-three million out of the . . . out of the . . .

KLEE: Eighty-three?

: . . . eighty- . . . `86 crop. And . . . but over the years, the proof of the pudding is in the benefits that come from organization. We, over the years, took tobacco that nobody wanted on the market. We took it and processed it and aged it and so on.

KLEE: Stored it, uh-huh.

: And . . . in all of the time since January, 1941 we have collected and distributed to growers thirty-two million dollars.

KLEE: You know, people don't realize . . . I mean, they . . . and people that don't know tobacco over the . . . we're talking about a forty year period here, and they criticize and say, well the government's . . . it's cost the government money. But in fact it hasn't cost the government really anything.

: No, not a dime. Now because of the lack of revision of the loan rate, which we foresaw, and I proposed to Bill Lanier in the . . . in the meeting that we were having down at . . . where we go to have our meetings down at the . . . well . . .

KLEE: Not in ?

: No, no. No. It . . . it would be the Burley and Dark Leaf banquets.

KLEE: Right. Um, hmm.

: We . . . that's where new ideas by the conflicting interest groups can be worked out. In other words, if the loan rate is too high, then it ought to be . . . no question about it . . . it ought to be, ought to be lowered. And I proposed there that day we were in a meeting and Bill Lanier was addressing, and he then asked for questions. I said, what do you think about the loan rate? I think it's too high and it's gonna . . . it's gonna wind us up. And the arrogant type that he was, he didn't . . . he didn't warm to the idea at all.

KLEE: But just . . . just to repeat, it's only been the last, say, five years that there's been a different situation. That . . .

: That's . . . that's . . . that's . . .

KLEE: Throughout the history of the program, you-all were able to market the tobacco that was taken in?

: That's right. To the tune of thirty-two million dollars in profits.

KLEE: Yeah, those are actually refunds back to farmers.

: Be refunds back to . . .

KLEE: They had gotten paid . . .

: Yes sir.

KLEE: . . . first, but now, you know, when you-all sold it, it [inaudible] . . .

: It . . . it'll get . . . in other words, we have a contract with the warehouse which they will pay for the tobacco as it . . . including our advances.

KLEE: Yeah. Well those . . . yeah, those are essentially advances and then you pay back the commodity . . .

BERRY: Commodity Credit Corporation has . . . has the custody of the crop.

KLEE: I see. Okay.

: And . . . and . . .

KLEE: So once they get repaid, anything left over, you-all redistribute it?

: Sure.

KLEE: Back to the farmers, uh-huh.

: That's right.

KLEE: So in your . . . just in your own judgment, and I have some opinions about this too, but in that . . . in that forty year period, what has this support price and this program meant to an average Henry County farmer? farmer? Any of these burley farmers?

: My God, there's no way to estimate what's it worth. And has been worth, but . . . in the first place, they had no bargaining power. They went to the market and supinely accepted whatever a disinterested buyer or an uncharitable buyer would give.

KLEE: Like your father had to do in many years ago?

: Yeah, that's . . . that's right. And I . . . I resolved that night that we sat around the fire . . . I . . . he was very hopeful and I resolved, by God, that I would fill in the gap if I could.

KLEE: This law takes into account and through your-all's . . . again, what you-all would do is suggest to the government adjustments in these loan rates?

: Sure. We had a problem once that this is . . . this is the most eloquent suggestion that we made. It looked like, to me, and I had been up and visited the growers and they were chicken farmers and everything else, you know, [phone rings] . . . they get the high . . . the high price or the . . . the . . . they . . . even chicken business, they put all their manure from the chicken business back on the land. And I got wind of that, what they were doing up there, and I . . . Jack Hogan was up there and he was our friend. And he was a typical bureaucrat and all that sort of thing. But he would whisper to us, do this and do that. And we did it. But anyway, I discovered much to my amazement that the . . . the non-state growers of burley tobacco were siphoning it out of what amounted to our poundage . . .

KLEE: Oh, I see.

: . . . and I suggested to . . . to . . . Hogan what to do. And I said base it entirely upon what they do statewide. Don't come over and you . . . you're impoverishing growers when . . . whereas you don't have to do it. And he bought my suggestion and from that time on . . .

KLEE: That did happen for awhile, though, I think.

: Sure.

KLEE: And so that . . . due to your suggestions, that kind of . . . it . . . it protected our acreage or poundage production here.

: We wanted to . . . we wanted to continue in the tobacco business and the only way to keep those fellas from stealing our tobacco poundage . . . why they would . . . the way to do was block them as they'd undertake to leave their state and pick up. But with historic production, they would be limited to that.

KLEE: What was on that piece of property?

: Yes, that's right.

KLEE: I was talking about the change the farmer . . . in . . . in the lifestyles, how farmers were able to live and make a living. I guess, from what I . . . from what research I can do . . . farming before the . . . tobacco is a . . . for most of these farmers is a guaranteed income every year and they can . . . they can build their homes and borrow against it and this was something that was not possible for the fifteen years prior to . . .

BERRY: There was no . . . there was no supervisor sitting up here in the high seat, catbird seat, watching how people were people treated by these . . . the operation of these programs.

KLEE: And that's what the co-op essentially is doing now, or has done over the years?

: That's what we've always . . . we've never had an ambition we couldn't define to receive anybody's tobacco. We had to take it. Under the contract. I wanna show you.

KLEE: Okay.

: This is . . . [long pause] this entire cabinet represents my . . .

KLEE: Time with the . . .

: . . . time with the Burley Association.

KLEE: Gee. [chuckle]

: In other words . . .

KLEE: Lots of battles and lots of . . .

: That's right. That's right.

KLEE: Lots of work.

: Let me promise to send you . . .

KLEE: Okay, that'll be fine. I'll give you my address when we get done.

: Yes.

KLEE: And you can send me one of those contracts. We were talking about how you had to take everybody's tobacco, and that means sometimes it might not be as . . . as well produced or as nice, but you processed that and stored it?

: It would . . . that would depend upon the grade that would be assigned. In other words, we had grade experts who inspected the tobacco and labeled it P3F or C3F or C2F and so on. And that, in turn, represented money that we would advance to the grower not to flood the market, but to protect the individual. And I don't think there's anything against the cooperative effort to . . . this kind that we've had since 1940 . . .

KLEE: Right. What about your relationship with the . . . the people who will eventually buy the tobacco? The companies?

: They . . .

KLEE: Has that always been a pretty good bunch?

: Yes, we . . . we, of course, didn't . . . didn't fall for the idea of antagonism. We . . . we tried to cultivate them and all. But I . . . as . . . for example, Stuart Leet was at a quota meeting in several years ago. And he got up and described our holdings. And I answered him. I said, yes, we . . . it's true that they're all left-shoe tobacco as he had . . . that was his analogy . . .

KLEE: Expression, um, hmm.

: . . . and I said, I can tell you, I know what they've done in buying left-shoe tobacco [phone rings]. They've gone to , and they've brought in hundreds of thousands of pounds of tobacco. But anyway, it was a running . . . it was a running contest, no question about it. And we had to have advice of the foremost people in the business. There's a whole lot more to a floor of tobacco that . . . that is represented by the cry of the auctioneer and so on. He's . . . he's . . . they all are buying against supply. And we . . . we started the supply situation and made our recommendations, and they usually took our recommendations.

KLEE: Now you're talking about there, the Department of Agriculture . . . you would . . . depending on how much tobacco you'd have in stock, you'd say, well, maybe the quota ought to be frozen or maybe we ought to increase five percent or . . .

: Yes, that's right. Well, you . . . you have not only the tobacco on hand in the custody of the organization, but you have the total world supply that you have got to acquaint yourself with in order to relate it. And it's a . . . and it's effect on what you're offering for sale.

KLEE: How do you . . . [phone rings] how did the co-op, over the years, get that information? Did they talk to people at or . . .

: They . . .

KLEE: . . . in government?

: . . . public-, publications.

KLEE: Oh I see . . .

: Tobacco situation and . . .

KLEE: And outlook.

: . . . and outlook.

KLEE: Yeah, so you have to . . . you have to stay abreast, and as you say, do your homework.

: We did our homework and we never make it . . . we never did make a recommendation that we ever abandoned.

KLEE: Things . . . let me take . . . take you through a couple of these decades. I guess things in the . . . in the 40's and 50's went . . . went along fairly well. Of course, you would . . . you had to make those adjustments, like making sure that tobacco production didn't leave the state.

: Well of course, an era of ascending prices, you don't have the problems that you have when they're declining.

KLEE: Sure.

: And that's the reason I advocated the revision of the loan rate.

KLEE: I see what you're saying. In other words, during the 40's and 50's, there wasn't . . . there weren't too many problems because the price was going up and everybody was happy.

: That's right.

KLEE: But what you're saying is all it took was . . . to reduce those prices, to let supply get in . . . I don't know, in jive with the way things were supposed to be and it would have been all right.

: It would have been all right.

KLEE: People just didn't wanna bite that hard bullet, I guess.

: They didn't want . . . well, but you have to view the thing for the good of everybody. Rather than the good for yourself.

KLEE: I understand, right.

: And they've said everything about me, and that's . . . and it's all right, but I . . . for example, Jimmy Sharp and his brother and . . . and some others collared me one day in the hallway of the Burley Association, and they plied me with questions. And I, fortunately, was able to answer them and they left satisfied.

KLEE: There were some adjustments made in the . . . I'm not sure of the exact year, but we went from . . . from an acreage system to a poundage system.

: That's right. We had . . .

KLEE: Was that your-all's suggestion?

: Well, we advocated poundage production control always. Not in the beginning, but . . . and they . . . they . . . they would take a man's production and put the bridle on these . . . these Indiana and and people to restrain them. In other words, they'd, by their production rights which they had acquired under the old concept back when it first started, acreage allotments as against poundage quotas . . . it was a self-defeating thing.

KLEE: Because they were just trying to increase production on the acres.

: That's right.

KLEE: And you did say that that was a recommendation of the co-op . . .

: Oh yes . . .

KLEE: . . . and eventually . . .

: We insisted on that.

KLEE: Eventually they came around. There was . . . I guess in the 70's, there were some short crop years. [phone rings] Is . . . tell me about . . . I've heard all different kinds of things obviously, but companies started doing a lot of overseas business, or started importing more. Was there something that the American farmer or the co-op or someone could have done and should have done at that time to protect the American farmer? The American tobacco farmer here?

: Yes, revision of his loan rate. In other words, by indulging him, you indulged him out of business.

KLEE: I see. You're saying that was mostly political because people didn't wanna . . . didn't wanna reduce the rate?

: Oh . . . you ought to . . . I can recall instance after instance where the warehouse people would be represented by and enjoy capable leadership. Albert Clay, for example. And Albert and I are just like that, but we don't agree like that. And . . .

KLEE: Course those warehousemen, the more production they have, the more . . . the better the crop is for them.

: Why sure. It's . . . it's . . . a case of five or six million pounds as against . . . for his . . . the average warehouse.

KLEE: So the co-op had to take the brunt of it in a way. They . . . they were taking all this excess tobacco [phone rings].

: Yes sir. And at . . . and at a terrifically high price because parity rights had improved and increased, and we . . . we had . . . we had a lot of tobacco, for example, in 1980, that had come into our possession by the normal operation, and that was costing us too much which with the price . . .

KLEE: I see, so that . . . you're thinking . . . you're saying that that drove a lot . . . some of these tobacco businesses or tobacco companies to the overseas market? The high price here?

: That's . . . has its influence, of course. But I don't think it's the sole cause of their going abroad. Dollars and cents is what they're influenced by and I've said everything on earth about them and . . . but laughed when I did it cause I know their operation.

KLEE: Now they . . . should . . . course the Farm Bureau type people say that we should regulate the imported tobacco.

: That's not necessary.

KLEE: I see.

: Lower the price of your product and you'll stay in business.

KLEE: You think that . . . from your experience that our farmers produce a product that, even if it costs a little more, could . . . could compete in the world market?

: Yes I do.

KLEE: Tell me about these last . . . I'm sure these last five years have been as trying as any that you . . .

: Well, because of the high price of the loan rate, your high loan rate. We've picked up tobacco that we . . . normally wouldn't have come to us. We . . . we took the . . . exactly the same position that we were a buyer in the market and we should conduct ourselves accordingly.

KLEE: That's historically is what you're saying? That's the way you practiced?

: That's the way we priced it. And . . . and got to where the price that we had to get for our tobacco was inordinately high then that's the time to trim your sails.

KLEE: Right. Right. You were getting outside of your own kind of definition that . . . you know, you were buying tobacco that you . . . that the buyers weren't interested in and wouldn't have bought, um, hmm.

: At the price.

KLEE: Too much at the price, right. I understand what you're saying. It's the price.

: That's what I'm saying. And the . . . the attack on the system was to go to the price, lower the price, the loan rate.

KLEE: Do we . . . did we wait too long on that then? To do that?

: I think we did, yes. [long pause]

KLEE: This is the auction warehouse contract.

BERRY: That we had with the warehousemen. It is as . . . as modified from time to time.

KLEE: Yes sir. But this is essentially the basic . . .

: You can see how much it's involved.

KLEE: Oh wow, yeah. [chuckle] Well, you're talking about million of pounds of tobacco and millions of dollars. The legal work, I'm sure gets very . . . very involved at times.

: Well it does. And we . . . we've looked the crooks and everything else . . .

KLEE: I'm sure that's true. [chuckle]

: The damn crooks [chuckles] and they're plentiful in the . . . in the tobacco business.

KLEE: I had . . . I had mentioned that maybe we had waited too long. You . . . you mentioned before that Mr. Forgy had been brought in because of the Republican politics and you have a Republican administration to try to protect the system. I've talked to other people, and it'll be on other tapes, concerning what our system is now. We . . . essentially what the . . . what the manufacturers . . . have more of a say into the . . .

: Yes, tremendous amount. And that is not right.

KLEE: Yeah, I just want your impressions, your opinions about that.

: Well, my opinion is that . . . that they can say, "We're gonna buy so much tobacco," and you'll take that into account in setting your quota. All of them. Now, that may or . . . there's not requirement that they do . . .

KLEE: Carry through on that.

: . . . that's right.

KLEE: The other part of the program that changed is now the . . . the farmer, if there is any losses, will have to pick up . . . have to pick up those losses. How do you . . . how do you feel about that?

: Don't have to. It's a non-recourse loan.

KLEE: Oh, okay.

: Non-recourse.

KLEE: I see.

: And that's the reason, because of our situation of our own making. We ought to have reduced the loan rates. And if we had, we'd have been going right on now.

KLEE: Um, hmm. In other words, if we just made those little adjustments a little earlier [phone rings], as has been proposed . . .

: That's right.

KLEE: . . . we'd have been in better . . . better shape?

: I do . . . I don't think there's any question about it. They got into this damn thing, this circuitous . . . if you just lower the loan rate, as you had the perfect right to do . . .

KLEE: Yes, sir. Yeah, that was already in the legislation and everything.

: That's . . . that's right.

KLEE: It wasn't . . . it wasn't anything new that had to happen.

: And we could have gone up there and said B3F is . . . your loan rate now is out of the question. Reduce it by ten dollars. I wrote Joe McDaniels testimony that he delivered each time for the committee.

KLEE: You're talking about the committee in congress?

: Yes.

KLEE: That [inaudible].

BERRY: And we proposed in one of his suggestions for a remedy that we lower the loan rates, but that . . . that just got . . . this damn fella Huddleston and . . . he was running for re-election and . . . and I hope he learned . . . but . . .

KLEE: He didn't wanna take any chances that farmers would say it was his fault they lowered the loan rate.

: No.

KLEE: But at the same time, what your . . . this program was so important to farmers, that ultimately it would have . . .

: That's . . . that's . . . lower the loan rate, and then as the worm turns . . .

KLEE: Bring it back.

: . . . depending upon supply.

KLEE: It could very conceivably go back up again?

: Yes.

KLEE: What about the future? What . . . what do you see it holding?

: I think it's very dim.

KLEE: You . . . you don't think this present [phone rings] tinkering with the program is going to . . . to carry it through?

: It may . . . may for a . . . for a while .

KLEE: Short-term.

BERRY: . . . and then when they get out of any protection, the farmers will be so defeated that they won't try anything but here is a . . . I could give you . . . and I'll try to remember to send you . . .

KLEE: Okay.

: . . . my commentaries. In other words, here's . . .

[End Tape #2, Side #2]

[End of Interview]