Hero - Wendell Berry


I was on staff and freelanced for the Rural Advancement Fund for many years during the 1980s and 1990s. The non-profit, farm advocacy organization had its beginnings during the Great Depression as the National Sharecroppers Fund, and when I began working with them in 1985, they were approaching their fiftieth Anniversary as an active voice for farmworkers and small family farms.

A number of events were created to celebrate the Anniversary and broaden their message. One was a Citizen’s Hearing on Agriculture that was held at US House of Representatives in 1987. One of the citizens was the much-noted author, scholar, activist, and farmer, Wendell Berry. I was photographing the event for RAF and made this photograph of Mr. Berry while he was delivering his testimony. Later, we sent a copy of the print to Berry as a thank you and he used it as the author’s photograph on his novel Remembering.

For those of you who don’t know Wendell Berry and his work, his credentials and accomplishments are near impossible to list. Berry’s 1977 book The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture was instrumental in my evolution of thought about community and place. It should be required reading for everyone. Wikipedia offers a good accounting of Berry’s life and work. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wendell_Berry

I was a Conscientious Objector during the Vietnam War, one of many thousands of Americans opposed to that war in particular, and all war in general. In 1968, Berry delivered a “Statement Against the War in Vietnam” during the Kentucky Conference on the War and Draft at the University of Kentucky. It was a courageous act in that place and time and continues to resonate today.

We seek to preserve peace by fighting a war, or to advance freedom by subsidizing dictatorships, or to ‘win the hearts and minds of the people' by poisoning their crops and burning their villages and confining them in concentration camps; we seek to uphold the ‘truth' of our cause with lies, or to answer conscientious dissent with threats and slurs and intimidations. . . . I have come to the realization that I can no longer imagine a war that I would believe to be either useful or necessary. I would be against any war.