N.C. A&T State University librarian Netta S. Cox and  Antoine Alston, Ph.D., agricultural education professor, are delving through years of memorabilia from the New Farmers of America. The collection may be the largest anywhere.

About a century ago, an N.C. A&T professor named S.B. Simmons started a new statewide organization to train young Black males to be farmers.

The North State Farmers of North Carolina generated a steady stream of letters and reports and other documents, so Simmons put all those papers into folders and the folders into file cabinets.

That simple act of organization grew into a unique collection fathered over four decades of more than 150,000 items. Simmons wasn’t just a teacher trainer in A&T’s agricultural education department. He also was a founding pioneer and a top national officer in New Farmers of America, the organization that during segregation trained generations of Black youth to be farmers, leaders and men of character.

A young Jim Hunt, who would later become North Carolina’s only four-time governor, chats with NFA state president Marvin Rountree — Alston’s godfather — in an archival photo from the 1950s.

The New Farmers of America History and Legacy Collection, held by F.D. Bluford Library, is more than just correspondence and photographs and national convention programs that for the most part have never been seen publicly. What’s believed to be the largest collection of NFA materials assembled in one place tells the story of rural Black youth and Black farmers in the American South.

The university recently received a three-year grant of $324,422 to organize and digitize the collection and ultimately put it online for students, scholars, researchers and the general public. Funding came from the National FFA Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the National FFA Organization.

University librarian Netta S. Cox, the project’s principal investigator, said the grant will pay for a full-time digital librarian and a team of graduate and undergraduate students to go page by page and photo by photo through the contents of 18 file cabinets.

“We wouldn’t call it tedious,” said Cox, an associate professor of library services and head of serials and government documents at F.D. Bluford Library. “We would call it finding jewels that have been hidden for many years. This gives us the opportunity to share with the university and our community the Black experience regarding agriculture in the state and the country.”

New Farmers of America began in the 1920s as state organizations in North Carolina and other Southern states to promote vocational agriculture education in public schools. These state groups combined in 1935 to form the national NFA, a new organization similar in mission and structure to Future Farmers of America that had started seven years earlier.

What connected NFA to A&T was Sidney Britton (S.B.) Simmons. A 1914 A&T graduate, Simmons played a key role in agricultural education across the state for decades. In 1924, the governor appointed him to be State Supervisor of Vocational Agriculture of Negro Schools in North Carolina, a position he held for more than 30 years. Simmons later represented North Carolina at the first NFA convention at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.

Simmons was named NFA’s first executive secretary-treasurer, and A&T was NFA’s headquarters until operations were transferred to the U.S. Department of Education in 1941. Simmons then served as NFA’s executive treasurer until 1955. Throughout NFA’s existence, faculty members at other historically black colleges and universities held other state and national positions within the organization.

NFA played an important role for generations of Blacks in the South, said Antoine J. Alston, a professor of agricultural education and associate dean of academic studies in the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences. In three decades, NFA grew to 58,000 members in 1,000 chapters before it was merged into FFA in 1965, a year after the federal Civil Rights Act banned racial segregation.

“NFA was responsible for a lot of students going to college — not only to major in agricultural science but going to college, period,” said Alston, the project’s co-principal investigator. “It was because of their ag teacher and the exposure they got to college through NFA — coming here for conventions and what have you — that really inspired and provided opportunities for rural black youth to have their first exposure to coming to a college campus.”

As NFA grew, so did A&T’s collection. For decades NFA documents had been stored in Noble Hall and later Carver Hall; Arthur P. Bell, Ph.D., an agricultural education professor and department chair, cared for the collection for decades. Alston inherited the collection in 2000 when he joined the agricultural education faculty and got the office connected to the department’s storage room, where the NFA files were kept. In 2018, the entire collection was moved to Bluford Library for safekeeping. Cox said the NFA materials are generally good condition despite their age.

Today, Cox estimates the collection has about 150,000 items: correspondence, state and national convention programs, brochures, official NFA records, photographs, videos, banners, medals and audio recordings of NFA’s national radio show. Though other institutions have some NFA materials, Cox believes A&T’s NFA collection is the largest in existence.

Cox and Alston found some intriguing items when they searched the collection for photographs for a book they’re publishing later this year. The collection includes letters from W.E.B. Du Bois, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Simon Haley, an A&T alum, an agriculture professor at Alabama A&M and father of “Roots” author Alex Haley. There’s a photograph that captures an Oval Office meeting with national NFA student leaders and President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Another photo from the 1950s shows NFA state president Marvin Rountree — Alston’s godfather — talking with a teenage Jim Hunt, who later became North Carolina’s only four-term governor.

A few items from the collection were included in “Better Living in North Carolina,” a collaboration between F.D. Bluford Library and the N.C. State University Libraries to digitize primary sources on agricultural extension in North Carolina. In 2018 and 2019, two classes of history students organized some NFA materials into 68 archival boxes. But Cox said the overwhelming majority of the NFA collection hasn’t been examined closely in years.

“That’s the big question,” Cox said. “We know we have quite a few items. We don’t know exactly what we do have. When we go through this, we may discover other people who are famous. We just don’t know until we get our hands and eyes on it.”

The one thing the collection is lacking — and the one thing Cox and Alston hope to find — is an official black corduroy NFA jacket, a possession prized by NFA members.

“I get calls all the time from former NFA members,” Alston said. “They’ve got a jacket, they have a picture.”

“We want the jacket,” Cox said.

“That’s a hard piece to get folks to give up,” Alston said. “But we’ll find somebody.”


“The Legacy of the New Farmers of America” will be published May 2 by Arcadia Publishing. The 126-page book contains 200 photos from the New Farmers of America History and Legacy Collection held at A&T’s F.D. Bluford Library.

The book’s authors are Netta S. Cox and Antoine J. Alston of N.C. A&T and Dexter B. Wakefield, Ph.D., professor and associate dean of academic programs in the School of Agriculture and Applied Sciences at Alcorn State University.

To order the book when it’s available, visit www.arcadiapublishing.com.