PhD in Agriculture led to 12-year career in India with Rockefeller organization
Allie Felder: Oral History
Q – When were you born?
A – I was born August 10, 1921, in Durham, North Carolina.
Q – Tell me about your family.
A – I had two sisters. They were both older than me. My mother was from Durham. She died when I was 7 years old.
My father was born in Orangeburg, South Carolina. His grandfather was a slave.
The person who owned my great grandfather was a Swedish plantation owner. He lived in Florida. He asked my great grandfather – Harry Felder - who was a “favored” slave, to go to South Carolina and let him know what would be good agricultural land to buy. My great grandfather went to Orangeburg and recommended farmland there, which the slave owner bought.
Then emancipation came through, and all the slaves were free. So the slave owner’s rule was he would give his best slaves the land that they found. That is how my great grandfather got to Orangeburg, SC and became a landowner.
When he was freed, he married a full-blooded Seminole Indian named Louisa. He was well off because of the land, and they had 21 children. Louisa died at the age of 103.
Q – What was your father’s occupation?
A - My father had a BA in Industrial Arts from a college in Orangeburg, South Carolina that is now South Carolina State College.
He was a teacher of Industrial Arts (with a specialty in stone and bricklaying) at a rural high school near Orangeburg, South Carolina where he met my mother – Margaret - who was teaching English there
Most of my father’s bricklaying work was further north – his employer built all of Duke University. He laid all the fancy brickwork there. In the church at Duke there is a plaque recognizing my father’s contribution. His name was Allie – like my name.
Q – So you have the same first name as your father. Do you know where the name “Allie” comes from?
A – No I don’t.
Q – Tell me about your mother?
A- Her name was Margaret Goodloe. She had a Teaching Diploma from Shaw University, Raleigh, North Carolina. As I said, she was an English teacher at a rural High School near Orangeburg, South Carolina. After marriage, she was the Executive Secretary to the President of the North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company, in Durham, North Carolina. She married my father in 1914 in Durham. She taught piano and voice and sang in the White Rock Baptist Church Choir in Durham.
Q – Do you know anything about your maternal grandmother?
A –Her name was Lulu Goodloe. She was the Secretary to the President – Mechanics and Farmer’s Bank - which was the first Negro bank in the south. She died in 1930.
My maternal grandmother and my aunt Robbie Goodloe Wright raised me. My mother died when I was 7 years old, and so I lived with my father at my maternal grandparent’s home.
This grandmother was an American Indian from North Carolina.
My grandmother was very religious. Mr. Fisher, who was President Of UDC - his father, Mark Fisher - was pastor of the church that my grandmother and I attended after my mother died.
I remember all of these old ladies shouting and waiving their hands when I went to church with them
Q- What do you know about your maternal grandfather?
A - My maternal grandfather worked for the American Tobacco Company in Durham, North Carolina. He was a foreman of the place where the tobacco was stuffed. It was called Durham Bull.
My grandfather’s brother lived next door to my grandfather’s house.
I remember walking seven blocks to take my grandfather his lunch at lunchtime at the factory.
I liked doing that, because I would eat what he did not eat. He was my buddy. My grandfather had three sons. One was in management with the Negro Baseball League. The other son was in the military, and the other son was in jail half of the time.
None of his sons were home. So I was more his son than his grandson.
My maternal grandfather had a big house next door to Mr. Allen Goodloe, who was head of Mechanics and Farmers Bank. I lived there with my parents and was born in that house.
My grandfather’s sister, Lily, also lived nearby. Her daughter, Geneva, is 100 years and lives in New York City. I sometimes talk to her on the phone.
When my mother died, my father and I continued to live with my grandfather. After a while, my father remarried and wanted me to move with him to a house he bought near the college. I pitched a fit. I refused to go. I didn’t want to leave my grandfather and Warren Strudwick– my friend. Warren died recently. He was one of the best surgeons in Washington DC.
Many people in our part of town were rich black people. They were the ministers, the officials in Mechanics and Farmers Bank, and the Mutual Insurance Company. So we had the best schools, paved streets, and churches.
A – When did you learn to drive?
Q – I learned to drive at the age of 14. I was taught to drive by my aunt, uncles and father. I learned to drive on a stick shift Flint car manufactured by Ford. I obtained my driver’s permit at 18 after 4 years of illegal driving.
Q – Where did you go to college?
A - I went to Hampton Institute, now Hampton University. Hampton and Tuskegee were considered to he the best colleges for African Americans. My aunt went to Hampton. My father sent my sister to a college in Charlotte, NC.
I majored in Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology. The first year, we didn’t go home. We stayed during the summer, and we worked on the college farm. I eventually went back to Hampton and taught after I graduated.
Q – What were your interests outside of academics at Hampton?
A – I was manager of the freshman football team at Hampton and was President of the Social Club. Fraternities were not allowed at Hampton. I was also a member of the student council and student advisor to the faculty committee.
I graduated from Hampton with a BS in Agriculture and Rural Sociology in 1943.
As soon as I received my diploma, I was drafted. I remember, I went to lunch, and my aunt handed me my draft orders. I went to basic training, and then I went to Officers’ Candidate School at Aberdeen Proving Grounds. I was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1945.
In those days, blacks could be in only three areas: engineering, ordnance or quartermaster (cooks). From 1943 to 1947, I was a US Army Ordnance Officer, and the highest rank I received was Captain.
Q - What did you do after the military?
A - I went to gradate school at the University of Illinois. I got a MS in Agriculture and Rural Sociology in 1948. Then I got a scholarship to Ohio State where I got a Doctorate of Philosophy (Agriculture and Rural Sociology) in 1954.
I taught at Hampton University from 1948 to 1956, where I was an Associate Professor. One year, I was also Dean of Students.
Q - Tell me about your wife.
A - My wife was Miriam Reid. She was born in 1924 in Roanoke, Virginia. I met my wife at Hampton. She was a sophomore when I was a junior. She went to Bennett College before transferring to Hampton. She remained at Hampton when I graduated in 1943 and went into the service.
She earned a Bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Hampton in 1949 and a Master’s degree in Social Work at Atlanta University. We got married in 1948. She worked as a social worker in Richmond, Virginia.
When we lived in India, she served on the board of the American International School and was active in social organizations. When we returned home from my service in India, she joined Homemaker Health Aide Service as Coordinator of Recruitment and Training, and became the Executive director in August 1977. In 1989, she retired after almost 20 years of service.
In 1990, the President of Homemaker Health Aide Service presented her with citations praising her work with that organization, and she received testimonials from the Governor of Maryland, the Mayor of the District of Columbia and many service organizations.
My wife’s father, Jacob Reid, was an outstanding lawyer – and one of the few black lawyers in Roanoke. All three of her brothers were also lawyers.
My wife and I had a friendly separation in 1980 and remained good friends until her death.
Q - I understand that you worked in India. Tell me how that came about.
A - Nelson Rockerfellow was in close communication with the board of the Cooperative League of the USA. I was at a party where Nelson Rockefeller was talking about the good work that they were doing in South America and other developing countries. Someone suggested that they should send someone to India, which had recently become independent.
I was teaching at Hampton at the time. They knew about my agricultural background. They sent me ostensibly to India for 6 months – just to do research to study 14 villages where refugees came from Pakistan to northern Indian.
Hampton gave me leave for the first year. But my 6-month stay extended to 12 years. I resigned from Hampton after I was in India for a year.
Q - What were your responsibilities?
A –I was a consultant in India beginning in 1961 for the Joint India Fund (Nelson Rockefeller and Cooperative League of USA). My activities were mainly organizing and supervising operational research and economic development activities. I assisted in the growth of fertilizer and dairy cooperatives
One of the things I am proudest of is when I was able to help farmers get credit. When I first came to Mehrauli in India, only the richest farmers got credit at reasonable rates. The rest could borrow only from usurers, each year slipping a little deeper into debt. Because they had no credit, they could not buy good seed or efficient tools or adopt better farming practices. So their harvest was poor. And because their harvest was poor, they could not get credit.
My American coworker and our Indian colleagues had a few ideas. One was to combine lending with farm extension, such as the Farm Security Administration did in the USA during the depression. Another idea we got from credit unions: is that each man’s ability to borrow should be measured by his character and his ability to repay, and not what collateral he had. We talked over our ideas with the councils of four villages and urged each farmer to draw up an improved farm plan. We offered low interest rate loans to villagers with less than 15 acres, provided each man would borrow enough to buy good seed and better tools.
After the first harvest, every one of these farmers had enough wheat and grain to feed his family and repay his loan. Some increased their harvests enough to begin accumulating capital. We started with 40 families and it grew to 2,000 and almost all of them repaid their loans on schedule. They then did not need to borrow at all.
We found a way out of the trap. Men saw the road to freedom and a better life.
We transferred the loans to a cooperative the farmers owned. There they saw that if the co-op could lend money, it could also market grain and handicrafts to get better prices, buy good seed, tools, and fertilizer at lower prices.
Q – That is an impressive professional accomplishment. But tell me about your personal life in India. You were there with your family. What was it like living in India?
A - My youngest son, who went to Princeton and Cornell Medical School, was born there. My oldest son, who is a retired Lt. Colonel, finished high school in India.
During those 12 years, I came home every 2 years on a sabbatical. One year I taught at the University of Wisconsin when I was on sabbatical.
Q - How did you communicate with the people? Did you speak their language?
A - I spoke English, but I also spoke the Northern Indian dialects I learned it because my younger son learned Hindi and Yuridi. He speaks about 4 languages. He was born in India. My children had Indian playmates. Also, we had 7 servants. There were cooks, a sweeper, and gardeners. The servants all had children. The servants lived in the back of the house, where they cooked. My youngest child would go back there and eat with them. So I picked up the language from my youngest son.
Q – Did you celebrate holidays while you were in India?
A – We celebrated the Indian holidays: Holi, which is similar to Halloween. Diwali, which is the Festival of Lights. Dussera, which is Ramadan and of course the major US holidays such as Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day April Fool’s Day, Mother and Father’s Day, and Independence Day.
A – Because you had housekeepers in India, did your children have to do chores?
A – Yes they did. They had assigned tasks such as picking up their toys, placing their dirty clothes in the laundry basket and seeing that the dog was fed.
Q – Did you travel in India while performing your duties?
A - We would go to every state, and we would send a team of people to help people with their particular problem. We would go to about 16 or 18 states. Ford and Rockefeller stopped their people from going, because they could not understand the northern Indian language. They took me along because I was at least a minimum interpreter.
Q – Did you do recreational traveling when you were in India?
A - Every summer, we would travel with the boys throughout Europe. We saw all of Europe.
A – What years were you in India?
Q – I was there from 1956 to 1968.
Q – When did you return to the USA?
A – I came back to Washington in 1968, and I bought the house in Barnaby Woods, where I still live today.
Q – What work did you pursue after your return from India?
A – From 1968 to 1986, I was Senior Vice President of the Cooperative League, headquartered in Washington, DC. I was responsible for economic cooperative development projects in 20 developing countries in addition to India.
Then in 1986 – 1990, I was a self-employed consultant on Economic Development Programs overseas. My major projects were in India, where I continued with Cooperative League contracts and in China with a Ford Foundation and Winthrop Rockefeller contract.
After retirement, I also had pro bono board memberships, including the cooperative League Fund, Franklin Sellers Foundation, Foreign Service Asia Community and the US Department of Agriculture.
Q – You must have traveled a lot overseas in the course of doing our work?
A – Yes. I did. I traveled to all countries except the Soviet Union, Albania, Libya and a few others prohibited for citizen travel by the State Department during those years. I also never traveled to Syria and Oman. I did a lot of traveling particularly in Africa and South America.
Q – I see a lot of certificates and citations on your wall. Tell me about them.
A – I received the Jubilee Medal from Moraji Desal, who was the Prime Minister of India. It was in recognition of my contribution to the development of the Cooperative Movement in the world.
Q – I also see that you were induced into the Cooperative Hall of Fame. The certification says: “Allie Felder has been a true mission of cooperation. Through his 30 years with the Cooperative League of the USA, now the National Cooperative Business Association, he contributed to both the human and economic development of countless numbers of people around the word.” That is pretty impressive.
A – Well I loved what I was doing.
Q - I also see that it says that it says that you played a critical role in establishing the India Farmers Fertilizer Cooperative, one of the largest ;producers of fertilizer in Asia.
A – That was probably my biggest project that I worked on.
Q – I see that you were also on the Board of Directors of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. How did that come about?
A - I was also nominated by Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan in succeeding years and confirmed by the Senate to the Board. of Directors of the Oversea Private Investment Corporation.
Q – Now let’s talk about your years in Washington. When you were in Washington in the early years, did you ever experience any racial discrimination.
A – I remember once time I was visiting a friend and her husband, who I knew from my service in India. This was when I was back home on leave. Sometimes they would want me to come back to Washington for an orientation. So I was at my friends’ house for dinner. They lived in Georgetown. We got to talking about children. They had twins. The time got away from me, because we talked until about 1 in the morning.
I was walking toward the bus station. The police stopped me and asked me what I was doing there. They took me to the police station and they said “who are you?’ I had to prove that I was employed by the Nelson Rockefeller organization and AID. They were going to arrest me for loitering. They couldn’t believe that I had friends in Georgetown. Although they took me to the police station, they did not arrest me after I provided identification
Q – Did you experience any kind of discrimination once you were living in Chevy Chase?
A – No. I did not. I had very nice neighbors.
Q – What made you decide to settle in Chevy Chase?
A - My wife said if we are going to move to DC we have to find out where to send our son to school. We found out that the only school worth sending our son to was at Lafayette, In order to does that; we would have to be living in this area.
My friend, Mr. Silverstone, told me that there is a house in this area. They sent me a cable in India there is a house for a 6-month lease– fully furnished. So I cabled back and said we will take it.
Then later – in 1968 – we bought the house that I live in today. It was a great neighborhood to raise kids. Kids played football in the street.
Q – Tell me a little more about your sons.
A - As I said, my eldest son, Allie Felder III, is a career military man. He has a BA from Yale University. He also has an MBA from George Washington University. He went into the Marine Corps and retired as a Lt. Colonel. He now works as a consultant.
My youngest son, Robert, got a BS from Princeton, and he went to medical school at Cornell University. He is an internist in San Diego, California
I have 5 grandchildren.
Q – What important life experience have you conveyed to your children and grandchildren?
A – Well I conveyed what my parents and grandparents told me. If a job or task is worth doing, you should do it right or make your best effort.
I learned the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling at the age of 8 and used it and taught it to my sons as a guide for life.
My parents and my aunt who raised me reminded me that you only have one body. You will not be given another, and so it will serve you best and last longer if you treat it carefully – eat the rights foods, keep it clean, get proper amounts of sleep and exercise. Honesty and kindness keeps your mind and body healthy.
At Hampton, the motto was “Head, Heart and Hand.” We learned not only by studying books and class notes. We were taught to use our hands in a practical way and in a manner that satisfied our hearts and minds.
At Officer’s Candidate School I learned that you cannot be a good teacher unless you also learn from others.
On my overseas work and subsequently, I learned that you should attempt to learn the culture and practice of the host country and use your practical experience and academic knowledge to supplement and help improve the institutions and ideas already developed by the local people.
Q – What have been your interests since retiring?
A – I love to garden. I used to have 2 big vegetable gardens at a friend’s house on Western Avenue. And I have always had a little vegetable garden behind my house. As I have gotten older, I have given up the big gardens, but I still maintain the little garden in my backyard.
Q – Anything else you would like to tell me?
A – I have had a very happy life. I am content. I have lived in my house in Barnaby Woods many years now. I remain independent. I have people who clean my house. I also have the help of Northwest Neighbors Village. When I need to go to the doctor, they will take me. I also have a good friend, Jo, who comes every weekend and buys groceries for me and is a good companion. So if you want to stay independent when you are older, I suggest that you get the help that you need as I have done.
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