|Friend of the Farmer
Monument in tiny town of Point pays tribute to NFU founder
|Patti Sells | News-Telegram Feature Editor|
Sept. 10, 2006 -- With a population of only 792, nearby Point is one of those tiny towns that if you blink, you just might miss.
But it won't be so easily overlooked anymore, thanks to a very impressive historical statue erected early last month depicting Isaac Newton Gresham, who founded in 1902 what would become the National Farmers Union.
"It's a beautiful monument with flags representing 26 states," said Hopkins County resident Joe B. Minter, the great-grandson and oldest living survivor of Isaac Newton Gresham. "I think he would have been delighted because of all the hard work and sacrifice he put into the organization."
According to Minter, his great-grandfather was a newspaper editor for "The Graphic Truth," a publication first printed in Granbury and later Point during the early 1900s. His great-grandfather became sympathetic to the plight of farmers and devoted his life to helping improve income for family farmers and strengthen the economy of rural communities.
"It was really kind of a clandestine operation," said Minter. "They had to meet in secret. They sought justice in the courts trying to help get a fair price for farmers' goods."
At the turn of the century, just prior to the Industrial Revolution, farmers were experiencing dire conditions, according to Minter. He said they dealt with"thuggery and barn burnings." Farmers would sometimes burn their own crops rather than become exploited and forced to sell at unfair prices. Large corporation controlled the markets and cheapened farm produce prices at the specific time of harvest. Railroads were involved, too. They would increase the freight rates on necessities the farmers had to buy.
Seeing these injustices, Gresham pledged himself to the cause and devoted his life to organizing the Farmers Educational and Cooperative Union with a mission to protect and enhance the economic well-being and quality of life for family farmers and ranchers, as well as their rural communities.
So strong were his convictions, according to Minter, that he recruited nine other men from all walks of life: farmers, a school teacher, a lawyer, doctor and landowners to band with him in support of his dream. The group would meet in barns, school rooms and under the shade of the Live oak trees that lined the dusty streets of Point. A charter was written and signed by each one on Aug. 28, 1902, and submitted to the Texas Secretary of State on Sept. 17 of that same year.
His deep commitment and unrelenting dedication for organizing the Union made him a hero. The organization quickly spread, and within six short years membership had reached the 1 million mark. Its growth brought thousands of letters into the tiny Point Post Office.
Gresham, however, did not live to see the full success of his organization. He became ill in 1906 and died at the age of 48. He is buried in the Lone Star Cemetery in Point.
Today, the organization is known as the National Farmers Union (NFU) and has more than 250,000 members. It remains the pre-eminent voice of rural Americans in Washington, D.C., and in state capitols everywhere.
The NFU represents farmers and ranchers in all states, with organized chapters in 26.
"The key to the success and credibility of the organization has been the Farmers Union's grassroots structure in policy positions initiated locally," explained Texas Farmers Union President Wes Sims. "The National Farmers Union believes that good opportunities in production agriculture are the foundation of strong farm and ranch families, and strong farm and ranch families are the basis for thriving rural communities. Vibrant rural communities, in turn, are vital to the health, security and economic well-being of our entire national economy."
The organization is credited with forming more farmer-owned cooperatives than any other organization, and has educated millions regarding the values and contribution of agriculture, according to Tom Buis, National Farmers Union president.
" This monument memorialized the vision of 10 good men, who in the stifling East Texas summer of 1902, created a movement that would spread across the nation," he said. "For the last 104 years, the farm families that make up the Farmers Union have upheld the principles of those founders. They were right then, and they're right today."
"It's still a very powerful organization today," said Minter, a retired college professor from Mississippi State, as well as the former judge of Hopkins County. "He devoted his life and all his money to making this organization what it is. I couldn't be prouder to have a great-grandfather like that."
A memorial dedication and unveiling of the statue, located on U.S. Highway 69 in Point, was held Aug. 4-5, with a flag presentation and representatives from all 26 chapters.